A few tips can go a long way towards helping you find a good nursing bra rather than the ho-hum varieties filling most department stores. A good nursing bra is a worthwhile investment and finding a good nursing bra is easier than you might think once you know what to look for in a good nursing bra.
1. Consider Style
Let’s face it, a lot of nursing bras are lacking in the style department. Perhaps this is because society has a hard time holding motherhood and sexuality together in one hand. Luckily, there are a handful of businesses with an empowered woman at their core who believe that becoming a new moms can be a catalyst for blossoming into a new and evolving sense of your own femininity – and they have made beautiful nursing bras! Feeling hot in your nursing bra might just be a great idea. Nursing bras, sold online (Linda the Bra Lady or Hotmilk Lingerie are geared specifically towards nursing moms) or in breastfeeding boutiques, do come in a wide variety of styles.
Looking for a style that appeals to you is not only a nice gift to yourself, it may also be an important action you can take to prevent or minimize some of the challenges in the emotional landscape of new motherhood. Believe it or not, women have complex relationships with their breasts. For some, their breasts have been a source of status, beauty, and acknowledgement. Others have feelings of shame related to their breasts and the unwanted or inappropriate attention they have received. These experiences impact emotional breast health. A positive emotional relationship with your own breasts is enjoyable, empowering, and has a beneficial impact on your physical health and capacity to breastfeed.
Women often go through complex shifts in identity when they become a mother. Shifting expressions of sexuality, which are closely connected with our breasts, is one aspect of this identity change. New moms need to feel that they are indeed sexual beings, and that their beautiful sexuality is not only compatible with motherhood, but indeed enhanced by it. Motherhood will change you, and those changes create a maturity and open-heartedness that enhance a woman’s full participation in intimacy. Perhaps supporting your lactating breasts with a nursing bra that fits your sense of self and beauty would be a good protective act, preventing you from the new-mommy pitfall of feeling unattractive or asexual.
2. Ease of Use
Don’t skimp on a cheap flap closure! Most nursing bras have an attachment between the cup and shoulder strap that can be opened to drop the cup for breastfeeding. Some of them are really hard to unclasp with one hand. You do not want opening your bra to be a two-handed cumbersome operation when you have a newborn in your arms, or if you happen to be trying to nurse in public without attracting additional attention. Try out clasps before you buy to see if they are easy to open with one hand, or return bras ordered online if you find the closure hard to work with.
3. Proper Fit
There was actually some research done on proper bra fit, and the results show that 75-85% of women wear bras that fit inappropriately. A badly fitting bra can contribute to back, neck, and shoulder pain, breast pain, numbness and tingling in the arm, as well as headaches. When you are breastfeeding, a tight bra can also increase the occurrence of plugged ducts, which lead to a hard painful lump in the breast that can be a precursor to mastitis (a breast infection). Binding the breasts is a technique used to decrease milk supply. I have had clients who experienced an increase in milk supply simply by switching to less restrictive bras.
Getting the right fit can be tricky because your breasts will likely change considerably throughout pregnancy, initial engorgement when your milk comes in, and throughout breastfeeding. Linda the Bra Lady has an excellent tutorial on bra fit throughout pregnancy and nursing. Here are some of the take-aways:
- Your cup size will likely increase 1-3 sizes.
- Your breast size at 30 weeks gestation is similar to your breast size after engorgement, so this is a good time to purchase nursing bras. A stretch cup bra, nursing tank, or sleep bra can be used to accommodate the temporary period of engorgement (3-8 days postpartum) when your breasts are larger.
- Since every women’s growth is unique, take frequent breast measurements throughout the year postpartum and invest in properly fitting bras.
- At the beginning of pregnancy, purchase supportive bras that fit on the tightest closure. That way you can move to wider closures as your rib cage gently expands during pregnancy. And likewise, purchase nursing bras that initially fit on the largest closure so that you can shorten them as your rib cage decreases in size over the months after your baby’s birth.
4. Go Breathable & Non-Underwire
Breathable fabric will assure a dry environment around your nipples. When moisture is trapped around the nipple yeast can grow causing a lot of nipple pain and infant thrush.
I also recommend non-underwire bras, particularly during pregnancy. You do not need a nursing bra during pregnancy, but nursing bras, like maternity bras, often are designed to provide extra support without an underwire. The extra support is helpful to alleviate back pain as your center of gravity changes and your breast size increases. Underwires can dig into your growing belly. As pregnancy advances, they can become extremely uncomfortable. If you take stock in Chinese medicine there is also reason to believe that underwires, if indeed made of metal, can interfere with energy flow through the meridians that run through the breast region.
On a side note, breathability is a big deal when it comes to nursing pads as well. If you leak breast milk you will need nursing pads to collect milk during sleep and to prevent milk from visibly leaking through your shirt. By far my favorite breast pads are the Lana wool breast pads. I know that the idea of wool on your nipples sounds horrible, but they are so soft and comfortable and do indeed decrease the chance of thrush. They run large, so the small size will likely be the best bet for women with a cup size of E or smaller.
While the Lana pads are my favorite, they are not entirely leak proof. If you are a heavy leaker, or if you are making an important presentation or performing on stage, I wouldn’t risk them. In this case, a silicone nursing pad is likely your best bet.
5. Take it off!
As great as a supportive and attractive nursing bra is, I also recommend that your breasts have time to sway and jiggle.
Every once in awhile I come across a woman’s health study that seems too wild to be true. That was the case when I first read about The Bra and Breast Cancer Study as discussed in the book, Dressed to Kill. These are the incredible results of the authors own research with over 4,700 women in five major US cities:
- Women who do not wear bras (or rarely ever) have a risk of 1 in 168 chance of developing breast cancer.
- Women who wear a bra less than 12 hours a day have a 1 in 152 chance of developing breast cancer.
- Women who wear a bra more than 12 hours a day, but not to sleep have a 1 in 7 chance of developing breast cancer.
- Women who wear a bra 24 hours a day have a 3 in 4 chance of developing breast cancer.
Now let me say that no major cancer associations or research groups believe that this study holds any weight. The methodology does not stand up to the rigors of the scientific method because they did not control for other variables such as weight or age, and because the subjects knew the hypothesis before taking the survey. Critics are also quick to point out that the reason they hypothesize for the correlation, that bras restrict lymphatic drainage, does not match with current understandings of the etiology of breast cancer.
I’m appreciative of the informative clarification that professionals debunking the Bra and Breast Cancer Study provide, but the study numbers speak to me all the same. I personally feel like it is worth while to take off my bra when I get home until someone scientifically proves them wrong. Not to mention the fact that there are a few peer-reviewed and published studies that also find a correlation between bra wearing and breast cancer. There are no studies I can find that support the health benefits of bra wearing, so as far as I’m concerned research still favors freedom for the girls for at least a few hours a day.
Remember that all of the potential pit falls of a too tight bra (increased clogged ducts, decreased milk supply) are also remedied by taking a bra off.
If you experience milk leakage, you will discover that it can be hard to go without a bra, as bras hold breast pads in place. Sleeping bras and nursing tanks are great products for these needs, and other casual uses. They are also the perfect solution for the days just after your milk comes in when your breasts are large and engorged.