Great question. We could get into an interesting debate over where a nursing bra falls in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs or sing the Beatles song "All You Need is Love" but we'll save that for another blog article.
In all seriousness, let's get down to the nuts and bolts about why you need a nursing bra in the first place. Well, breastfeeding can bring about some changes in your breasts. They might become fuller, more sensitive, or even leak milk at times (hello, embarrassing wet spots!). Nursing bras are designed to accommodate these changes. They have features like quick-release clips that allow you to nurse your baby without having to remove your entire bra. Plus, they provide the right level of support to keep you comfortable throughout the day.
Another great thing about nursing bras is that they are usually made from soft, breathable fabrics that help prevent irritation or chafing. They also have adjustable straps (did you know front adjust is important?) and extra hook & eye closures and extenders, so you can customize the fit as your body changes. They also typically have broader bands since 80% of your breast support comes from your band and your breasts will likely be the largest they have ever been in your life when you start breastfeeding. A broader band will help combat the dreaded boob sag.
When selecting a nursing bra type, first, you will need to determine how you intend to feed your baby. Will you be exclusively breastfeeding, combo nursing + pumping or, exclusively pumping? There are bra styles designed to support your preferred feeding method.
These are the basic building blocks for all types of nursing bras. Features you want to look for are:
- Drop-down cups that you can easily unclip when it's feeding time for your baby.
- The cups are made of soft, breathable fabric for the early days of breastfeeding. As you move beyond the first 6-8 weeks you can explore other styles that have more shape and support with fixed padding in the cup. We recommend avoiding underwire in the first couple of months. Underwire can be worn as your milk supply matures, however, make sure the wire does not press anywhere on your breast tissue especially if you are prone to clogged ducts. That pressure could lead to mastitis.
- Bra straps that adjust in the front so your breasts have room to expand and contract as they fill and empty. Front adjust is crucially important. Imagine having to adjust your bra strap length as your breasts fill and empty by reaching around to your back where non-nursing bras have the adjust. What a pain!
- The bra straps also have a "sling" that connects the bra strap to the base of the cup. This is important so your bra strap stays in place when you drop the cup to breastfeed. Some bras have a "triangle sling" that leaves only a small opening for the areola and nipple. This style is not ideal if you are trying to get the hormonal bonding benefits of skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Look for a style that has a "sling" that runs along the outside edge of the breast.
- Finally, padding. When you start breastfeeding, or pumping, your nipples are going to swell and get larger. You will want at least a light layer of padding to keep your headlights on dim. Some bras have removable pads while others have fixed pads. If you use shaped nursing pads, and your bra has removable foam pads you can often replace the pads that came with your bra with the shaped nursing pads in the bra pad "pockets" to create a leakproof layer in your bra. If your bra has fixed padding, your nursing pad should be placed up against your breast to double up on the leakproof protection and provide extra nipple discretion.
We've leveled up the basic features of a nursing bra in our Undercover styles that have two pairs of detachable bra straps so you can convert these styles to wear as a normal bra or nursing bra. How? One pair of straps has nursing clasps while the other does not. This means you can wear these styles while you are pregnant without wearing the plastic nursing clasps. No need to waste money on buying larger regular bras! Once you give birth, switch out the bra straps for the ones that do have the easy drop cup nursing clasps. If your breastfeeding journey ends earlier than the wearable life of the bra, you can convert this style back to a "normal" wear with no visible nursing clasps or keep it in reserve for your next pregnancy when you need a larger bra but don't want to wear one with nursing clasps.
This is the swiss army knife of bras for the multi-tasking marvels amongst us. Building on all the features of a nursing bra, a nursing + pumping bra also includes features that support your breast pump hands-free via an extra layer in the cup of the bra that has openings for the insertion of breast pump flanges. This means that while wearing the bra, a mother can easily attach her breast pump and express milk without having to undress or remove her bra entirely. This feature is particularly helpful for mothers who need to pump breast milk regularly, whether they are at work, traveling, or simply prefer the convenience. Our specific SuperMom styles take the convenience one step further with our patented, dual function stacked SimpleClasp™. The benefit is you only need to undo one clasp to breastfeed or one clasp to pump. You do not need to undo both clasps to breastfeed. While this may seem like a small thing, it's a huge deal when you are holding a hungry, crying baby. You can even nurse & pump in tandem! Some moms, especially in the early days when building a healthy milk supply, pump on one breast while nursing on the other.
This is a stretchy band that wraps around your chest, over your nursing bra, and holds the breast pump flanges in place. It provides support and compression to keep the flanges secure while you pump. If you plan to only pump occasionally and don't need hands free pump support as a built in feature of your all day wear bra, or, if you plan to pump in the first 6-8 weeks postpartum, when your breast size is changing the most significantly, our Adjustable Pumping Bra is the gold standard because you can adjust the size by up to 11 inches, giving you flexibility, comfort and most importantly the proper fit for ideal compression and suction of your pump as your breast size changes throughout the day and over the course of the first couple of months as your milk supply establishes. We suggest pairing it with our Sleep Lounge Bra for the ultimate comfort in those early weeks of nursing + pumping. Once your milk supply has established and breast size stabilized you can move into a dual function nursing + pumping bra in Bralette, T-Shirt or Sports Bra styles.
Ah, sleep—that elusive something you definitely need as a new mom! Sleep nursing bras are specifically designed for nighttime comfort but they are often worn during the last few weeks of pregnancy and first few weeks postpartum 24/7 because they are so darn comfortable! They usually don't have underwire, making them super comfy to wear while you catch those precious Zzz's any time you can throughout the day. They provide gentle support and quick pull-to-the-side access for nighttime feedings without needing to undo a clasp. These can also double as pumping bras is you are using a wearable pump like the Elvie or Willow.
If you're a fitness enthusiast or just want some extra support during physical activities, a sports nursing bra is a fantastic option. These bras are designed to provide excellent support, without too much harmful compression, and minimize bounce while allowing easy access for breastfeeding. They typically have wider straps and a sturdy band to keep everything in place. We offer these styles with nursing only function or combo nursing + pumping functions.
Some women prefer the added support and shaping that fixed, molded foam cups provide particularly as they return to work and are looking for more of a "normal" looking bra. These bras provide extra lift and shape while still allowing you to easily nurse your baby. This type of a bra is a happy midway point between the ubiquitous "sports bra" style nursing bras and an underwire bra without the harmful pressure from a poorly fitting wire. We recommend avoiding underwire unless you can find a fit that doesn't press on your breast tissue, as that is a leading cause of clogged ducts which could lead to mastitis. This style is available in nursing only or combo nursing + pumping styles.
In summary, nursing bras are extremely helpful for breastfeeding moms. Are they essential like shelter, food, water, air, love...no, but they will make breastfeeding and/or pumping more convenient. Make sure you match the correct style or styles to suit your needs....just like with normal bras, you may find more than one style supports your specific lifestyle and feeding routine. So go ahead and treat yourself to several bras—you deserve the convenience!