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How to Buy Nursing Bras Before You Give Birth

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

Congrats on your new baby! He’s adorable!

I’m expecting my first baby in January and I’ve heard from several sources that I need my nursing bras before I go to the hospital to deliver, which is confusing to me since my milk won’t be in until after the baby gets here. How do you know what size to get? How do you keep from buying a size that fits for a little while and then doesn’t later once things calm down?

Thank you!

Well, you kind of…can’t. You make a guess, really, and you make that guess based off your bra size late in the third trimester. And you make that guess knowing there’s definitely a chance that you won’t wear that bra again. Which basically means — don’t buy a ton of nursing bras, and don’t spend a ton of money on them.

Personally, I didn’t wear a bra for my first couple days in the hospital. (I had a c-section, so my hospital stay was longer — four days — than a vaginal delivery.) I was in bed, wasn’t walking around, and was sporting a lovely hospital nursing gown with the big ol’ slits down the front. The baby was nursing so often that I could barely bring myself to keep my gown snapped up at the shoulders — hooking and unhooking a nursing bra definitely didn’t seem worth it.

By day three, though, I definitely felt the very early beginnings of something very vaguely resembling my milk coming in. So I wore a “sleep bra” by Medela from Target. Kind of a hybrid nursing/sports bra thing. $19.99. Comes in idiot-proof S/M/L/XL, goes on over your head, with no cup or band sizes to worry about.
I bought two to take to the hospital. One ripped when I was pulling it off, the other one stopped fitting during my early days of crazy engorgement. No great loss. (Although I’ve been wearing it at night again lately, as Ezra ups his sleep time and having my boobs constricted is actually more comfortable.) My going-home outfit included a plain black nursing tank. These days I can get away with tanks at night or just around the house, but they’re certainly no replacement for my “real” properly-fitted and supportive nursing bras.

If nursing tanks or sports-bra-like options aren’t something you think will work for you, even as a temporary stop-gap measure, go ahead and buy some nursing bras late in the third trimester. Don’t spend a lot on them — stick with places like Target or Motherhood Maternity — but get something that seems to fit you pretty well then. Try to avoid underwires since you WILL be spending those early days in bed. I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get out for nursing bras after the baby was born, so I did buy a couple at Motherhood right before my c-section, and was lucky enough to end up with the size I currently wear. (I went for something that fit in the band but was a little roomy in the cups. Sure enough, my band size stayed the same and I filled the cups out FABULOUSLY. I was tempted to go up another cup size, but once some oversupply issues [!!!] evened out, it turned out I didn’t need to.)

Milk production is a total crapshoot, of course. With Noah, my milk took an agonizing time to come in — close to a full week, I think — while my hospital roommate would NOT stop complaining about her crazy engorgement the day after she’d given birth. This time my milk came in with a vengeance on day five, when my husband took the baby to the farmer’s market for a couple hours in the morning, and I had to call him, howling in pain to GET THAT BABY BACK HERE OH MY GOD. So you may not really NEED a nursing bra at the hospital, but you may just want a little support with some easy nipple access. Or you might need the whole shebang of bras and cabbage leaves and nursing pads right from the start.

Like everything with babies and shopping for babies, I say aim for getting the bare minimum — a tank or stretchy sleep bra — and remember that yes, you had a baby, but you are STILL ALLOWED TO GO TO THE STORE! You can totally buy things you need after the birth! You can send people to the store for you! Your mom, your sister, a friend — hell, send your husband to the nearest maternity store with your best guess at your measurements. (I may have actually done this.) (He did great!)

Don’t forget to visit our Week-by-Week Pregnancy Calendar for more of Amalah’s insights.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • CaseyD

    December 2, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Great advice and very helpful! Love this site!

  • jodifur

    December 2, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Be careful how much nursing stuff you buy before giving birth just because i bought all this nursing stuff and then had the baby that wouldn’t nurse. Huge waste of money.

  • Stephanie

    December 2, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Be very careful if you’re on the bustier side. I was a DD cup during my pregnancies, but went up to a G cup (dear God!) when I was nursing. And I don’t think you’ll have much luck at Target or Motherhood with the larger sizes. My hospital had a breastfeeding consultant (most do, these days) who could fit you for a nursing bra right in the hospital…as long as you were there on a weekday. (I delivered on the weekend and had to go back for help–but it was worth it.) I would call the hospital where you’ll be delivering and find out if they have a similar service available.
    Just my two cents.

  • Cagey

    December 2, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    At the end of my pregnancy, I bought some nursing bras from Wal-Mart, Target and Motherhood Maternity – what a waste of money, all of them were inferior quality and the gal at Motherhood had NO idea what she was doing (I found out too late, of course)
    Anyway, when my milk came in, I invested good money in good nursing bras from Bravado ( It was well worth the money and I am still using those bras 3 years later.
    Another site that I wish I had known about back then is Motherwear – they have great stuff.
    So, I say, make do with a cheapie bra or two from Target then wait until your milk comes in and gauge how your baby is nursing. Then, if all goes well? Invest good money in a good bra.

  • Reagan

    December 2, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    The Madela bra that Amy points out from Target is the type of nursing bra I LOVED. (there are other similar brands too) Easy, comfy and actually usable post nursing too!
    Good luck!

  • Lisa M

    December 3, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I can’t say enough good things about the nursing tanks from Target. Not incredibly supportive, but fine for a d-cup (even when engorged). Stopped breastfeeding a month ago, and I’m still wearing those around the house at night just because they’re so comfortable. Also, they fit even in the third trimester (didn’t even stretch out) and I think I lived in the during my entire maternity leave. Yoga pants (yes, maternity, shut up), nursing tank and cardigan for modesty was my uniform.
    Your mileage may vary, but I found those tanks to be a neccessity. Even when I started wearing real underwire nursing bras, my favorite was a cheapo from walmart that actually had great support and very stretchy cups.

  • Jae

    December 3, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for all the great ideas and suggestions!

  • brandy

    December 3, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I got two sleeping bras (i was dd and now g) they helped my back feel better and worked for the 2 week window until I went out and got fitted for proper bras. There should be somewhere locally to go. Also, if you don’t change much, you can have your regular bra’s converted. good luck!

  • Jen L.

    December 3, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Those are the exact nursing bras I bought. I LOVED them! My sister in law had given me one that she’s used. I was shocked when I discovered it was an XL because she is TI-NY. In those early days of engorgement, though, it was actually tight! I still wear my sports bra nursing bras when I go walking. They are SO comfy.

  • Jenny

    December 3, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I bought a jillion nursing bras before I got the only one that would work well. It’s the Playtex Expectant Moments. It was the best for me because I could hook/unhook it one-handed. I found if AFTER I flashed an entire upscale restaurant, including the cooking staff (so THAT’S why they were staring at me), while trying to get my screaming baby out of said restaurant.

  • Frema

    December 4, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I was not brave enough to go braless in the hospital, so I wore a sleep bra from Motherhood Maternity and just popped out the appropriate boob when it was time to feed Kara. The nursing tanks were great for when I got home.

  • SK

    December 5, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I agree with Stephanie, and I’m in this same busty category, and also just about a week away from my due date and needed something to take to the hospital with me. I had NO luck at all at the maternity shops or department stores locally — low-end or high-end (Sorry Amy — the Medela “sleep bra” at Target fit around me great but I had 4 boobs — or two boobs and the appearance of wearing a jock strap around my chest). Most bras were just really uncomfortable unless I tried on something that was 2-3 cups larger than my normal size; then I felt like I was wearing a straight jacket and yet about to fall out of them! And ladies — I have only gained 15 pounds during this pregnancy and have been wearing the same bras pre-pregnancy till now. I found that had the best selection and really the most attractive nursing bras. I will admit that I am a die hard lingerie fan and even having to look at “utility” undergarments felt kinda icky.
    I ended up getting two bras from the Elle Macpherson line — One called La Mere the other Maternelle. The Maternelle is more daywear, very soft — excellent support, good lift and separate factor on both of these bras for being wireless and also no nipple show through.
    The La Mere is actually kinda sexy — lower cut, lacy, will look good under a dress or lower cut shirt … for more outside the house wear. The thing that both bras have in common besides comfort, good construction, nice materials, and the ever important drop-cup is that they have six hook and eyes built-in so that you can truly adjust them for what I expect will be “bigger” days to come.

  • Carrie

    December 7, 2008 at 1:23 am

    Bravados are great for this reason because they allow for size changes in the cup. Moms generally go up a cup size once their milk “comes in” a few days postpartum, then get smaller after a few weeks. A stretchy bra is great during this time.

  • Timi

    December 8, 2008 at 3:03 am

    I also got the Bravados (the basic ones) before I gave birth, and loved them. I needed them during my pregnancy too because underwires were just digging in to my ribcage as it expanded. They were the only non-underwires that I didn’t have to pull down in back constantly. That said, size wise they were great until my daughter was about 9 months old and I had lost a lot of weight and my milk supply was much less so my boobs shrunk as well. I just bought a couple of new ones in a smaller size and style since I’m still nursing. But the bottom line is that I had two bravados that served me well from pregnancy through most of my nursing career. I plan on packing them away for the next time as well.

  • Amazing Weight Loss Story

    December 23, 2008 at 10:50 pm

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  • lizzie

    December 29, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    I am a mother of a ten month old baby. Right after I had my baby I wore those ugly unsupportive, unattractive nursing bras. I knew there was no way I would wear those bras for so long. I found this great website that will take any regular bra and convert it into a nursing bra for a minimal charge. I’m still breastfeeding my son Joey but I still can wear my regular pretty bras!

  • me

    September 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    You’re right about the quality of motherhood and target’s nursing bra’s, they’re not good. I bought a bra at motherhood, came home and realized that thing would never fit and the flap won’t fold down all the way, but can’t return it because of their 10 day policy. all the bra’s that target has are either non-supportive or itchy. Has anyone ever thought of cutting the wires out of a regular wired bra that clasps in the middle? The nursing tanks at target — I don’t know how they’d fit ANYONE correctly, seriously shaped weird.