Find out how to choose and use a nursing bra.
InteliHealth Medical Content
While a nursing bra isn't absolutely necessary, many mothers find them convenient and helpful. If you are shopping for a nursing bra, look for the following:
- High quality. A well-made bra will last longer and feel more comfortable while you're lactating than other bras will.
- Breathable fabrics. Breathable fabrics allow both comfort and fit. Inner cups should be 100% cotton. The backing of the bra can consist of a 92% cotton and 8% Lycra blend.
- Supportive inner cups. The inner cups should give good support while the outer cups are open during nursing.
- Wide, padded straps. Extra wide, padded straps that prevent binding and pulling of the delicate breast tissue are an important feature.
- Adjustable back closure. An adjustable back closure allows freedom of movement and a smooth appearance. Make sure the back closure is well padded and soft against your skin to prevent irritation. This is especially important if you have a full bosom.
- Cups free of underwire. The wiring acts similarly to a dam under the breast and can lead to plugged ducts and possible infection. The wire prevents efficient emptying of the milk ducts. The bra should have adjustable straps attached to the outer cups to accommodate the growing size of the breast during lactation.
- Ease of opening. Look for a bra that can be opened with one hand. This will make it much easier to handle the baby and the bra at the same time during a feeding.
Fitting a Nursing Bra
Generally, it is suggested that mothers be fitted for the bra during the final weeks of the pregnancy. However, you may need a different size after the delivery. Some women can change two to three cup sizes during the four- to six-week period after the baby is born. Be sure to choose a bra that fits correctly at the time and remember that you may need to purchase more bras later.
Find a professional bra fitter who is mature, sensitive and self-assured. An experienced fitter can make the process of purchasing a quality bra very pleasant. Relax.
For a proper fitting, wear an unpadded bra that fits well. There are two measurements used to determine the correct size. The first measurement is the "band size." This measurement is done with a tape measure placed under the arms and around the chest with the arms held down at the sides. If the number is odd, the fitter will round up to the next even size. The next measurement is around the fullest part of the breast, making sure that the tape measure is not slipping down the back. This is called the "bust measurement." The cup size is determined by subtracting the band size from the bust measurement.
Difference between band and bust cup sizes:
Up to 2 inches, B
Up to 3 inches, C
Up to 4 inches, D
Up to 5 inches, DD
Up to 6 inches, F
Up to 7 inches, G
Up to 8 inches, H
There are also custom-made bras available for mothers with bosoms larger than cup-size H.
If you are lactating, be sure to wear breast pads to protect the merchandise while sizing the correct bra. When in the dressing room, unhook the bra and disconnect the outer cups from the shoulder straps. Fasten the bra in back at the waist, or fasten the bra in front and slide the bra around your midriff to face front. After fastening the bra, adjust the bra up around the rib cage. The bra should be snug enough so that it will not ride up in the back and cause a poor fit by not supporting the breasts correctly.
Next, bend over, letting the breasts fall away from the body. Take the bra by the tops of the cups at the straps and pull up over your breasts, gently shaking the breasts into the inner cup frames. Straighten up and adjust the shoulder straps while the straps are down. Adjust for comfort and support and put your arms into the shoulder straps. If the band is not snug enough, tightening the shoulder straps will result in raising the bra above the shoulder blades. This is not desirable.
Now you can adjust and close the outer cups. This part of the bra accommodates the fullness that is experienced during breast-feeding. Make sure that you run your finger around the outside frame of the cup and feel just below the bra to be sure that no part of your breast is being squeezed out of the bra. You should be able to run two fingers under the frame of the band. Look at yourself in a mirror to determine whether the cup is covering your breast and the back is snug to your body, and whether there are gaps.
To protect your clothing from occasional milk leakage, wear nursing pads inside the bra. There are available both non-disposable and disposable nursing pads. There are some important features to look for when you purchase the pads:
- Natural materials. All-cotton or all-paper pads allow better air circulation. Avoid synthetic materials, which can restrict air circulation.
- No dyes. White or natural colored pads help prevent possible skin irritation from dyes.
- Appropriate size. Pads should be large enough to provide for effective absorbency.
- No plastic lining or waterproofing. Liners and waterproof materials can trap moisture on the nipple area, putting you at risk of thrush or infection.