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When Should I Buy Nursing and Maternity Bras?

By Amalah

Hey Amy!

I’m 8 weeks pregnant with my first child, and over the past few weeks my breasts have been swelling. I’m now well out of all of my bras, but I’m not sure what to do. I mean, obviously I should go buy new ones. But what kind of new bras should I get? Should I just switch to nursing bras and get it over with? Is there some sort of pregnant lady trick to selecting bras that I won’t just grow out of in another month?

To make matters more complicated, I was about a 38DD or E before I got pregnant (yeah, and that was AFTER reduction surgery). I’m not plus sized, though, and it’s always been extremely difficult to find stores that carry bras large enough for me. When I do find them they’re always expensive, so I’m not thrilled about buying a new set of bras every month or two for the next seven months.

I live outside of Baltimore (in the south), if anyone has specific local recommendations.

Please, I really need your help. Only one of my friends is or has been pregnant, and she’s only a couple months ahead of me. My mother is not the greatest source of information for this, as she has…issues with her breasts. She hates them. She routinely mashes her breasts into bras 3 or 4 sizes too small for them in a misguided (but ironclad) belief that it will make her look thinner. She also routinely criticizes me if I wear clothes that don’t actively minimize my breasts so…yeah, I don’t want to go to her for advice. So…I need help from you and your readers! Please

– Q

When — and How — to Size Up

Bah! You’re asking the boob-challenged pregnant lady what to do with your boobs. And the truth is, I don’t know. Firstly because I’m as flat-chested as your friendly neighborhood wall, and secondly because it’s just plain different for every pregnant woman.

Here’s what happened to me, and what seems to be happening again this go-around: my chest went up a little over a cup size in the first trimester (from a small A, practically AA, to a B) but the band size stayed the same (32). Then at some point in the early second trimester, I moved up to a 34B. I bought a small handful of 32B bras at Target (I admit being small-chested has its benefits, what with the cheap price tags and general cuteness of available bras) in the first trimester, and then when the bands started pinching I bought these awesome little expander things at Mimi Maternity for $2.00 (a similar option is available here). They hook onto your bras and add that extra inch or two or three WITHOUT having to buy new bras.

In the third trimester, close to my due date, I grew again, although I can’t remember what size I got. But I figured the third trimester was the right time to make the switch to “real” nursing bras. I bought two or three in my current size, and surprise! They never, ever fit properly postpartum. My cup size went up AGAIN when my milk came in, and then after we got our breastfeeding routine established, my cup size went down and my band size went up. So…yeah, I ended up at a local lingerie boutique (armed with a coupon from my lactation consultant) getting professionally measured and spending a fortune on a couple nursing bras, but wouldn’t you know it, those suckers were COMFORTABLE and I wore them until they disintegrated off my body.

This time, I plan to get through the third trimester and the early breastfeeding days with some maternity camis (again, a benefit that applies mostly to the small-chested) and supportive nursing tops. I’ll purchase the actual bras a week or two weeks later, once the initial rush of milk and swelling calms down.

So. Your instincts are right — at 8 weeks, you still have a whole heap of breast growth and changes ahead of you. But. You need to be comfortable along the way. If I were you, I probably would go ahead and buy maternity/nursing bras. You at least have a shot at wearing them longer than special-ordered large sizes that most likely won’t fit you again after you’re done nursing. If you can find it and stand it, seriously consider buying a cup size larger than you currently wear. (Buy the right band size, since you can easily expand it with the aforementioned expander thingies.) Your cup size WILL go up more, as mind-boggling as that sounds. Don’t buy anything with an underwire (wires can clog ducts and cause mastitis while nursing) and use a lingerie bag or hand wash them to protect your investment.

Maternity Bras or Nursing Bras?

A note on maternity vs. nursing bras: Some stores call nursing bras (the kind with the flaps and clasps and openings) maternity bras, while others actually sell regular non-opening bras and call these “maternity.” I’m actually unsure of whether there’s a difference between these “maternity” bras and just…regular bras. They come in the standard colors and styles, including underwire. From a cursory look at the “big” online maternity stores, they do seem to offer a pretty good price on larger-sized bras, although a 40E seems to be the max you can buy. Perhaps someone can offer some insight or other shopping recommendations for good prices on the bigger sizes.

And not to be all gross, but buy as few as possible. Since this is your first pregnancy and your mom is not offering any What To Expect From Your Boobs advice, there’s just no predicting what size you’ll be when all is said and done. Just…do a lot of wash, even if it means there’s constantly a bra drying on the shower curtain rod.

(Also possibly gross: our local maternity consignment store sells used nursing bras. I was personally too squicked to even go NEAR that bin, although I’m betting it’s full of bras women bought during pregnancy and never actually used while nursing. I’m not sure I could ever bring myself to wear secondhand underwear, but hell, if I ended up with a stack of overpriced nursing bras that no longer fit after giving birth I CERTAINLY would take some money for them.)

Sports bras are another trick a lot of women use to get through the weird not-quite-settled-on-a-size times, but again, in your size, I don’t think these are any kind of bargain either. Unless some intrepid commenters of the voluptuous variety have any tips and tricks, maternity bras are just one of those imperfect things you’ll have to muddle through the best you can.

Also, and I know this is advice you didn’t ask for, do your homework on nursing after breast reduction surgery. I had no idea that my previous breast surgeries (cyst aspirations, including a spectacularly botched one) would have such a negative impact on breastfeeding, and I imagine it’s extremely easy to assume your breasts will make a ton of milk when you’re in the upper stratosphere of bra sizes. But the truth is that even large-breasted women can have supply issues, especially those who have had reductions. But thanks to the Internet, you can find plenty of information and tips and resources to help you succeed (and don’t be afraid to interview lactation consultants right along with pediatricians and/or obstetricians, and tell them about your surgery) — but being prepared for the potential challenges makes alllll the difference.

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s Weekly Pregnancy Calendar

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 [email protected].

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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