For my first full post, before I dive into reviews I wanted to discuss a little bit about choosing bras for pregnancy and lactation, and what I personally opted to do / found worked well for me. As a reminder, I used to work as a nursing bra fitter in a boutique in NYC, so I got lots of experience with helping other people figure this out. But this was my first time applying that approach to myself! At the end, I’ll also talk about how I’m determining my current size, a few months into feeding my baby.
What happens to your chest and bra size during pregnancy and lactation
Imagine the changes in cup size during pregnancy and nursing as climbing a hill: cup size increases throughout pregnancy, hitting the top of the hill the day your milk comes in. That’s very likely the biggest you’re going to get. Once your milk supply stabilizes they, too, either stabilize or get somewhat smaller throughout nursing—descending the other side of the hill. After your child has weaned they finally return to where you started, at the bottom of the hill and at (or close to) your original size.
While this may not happen for everyone, I find the same general structure is true for most. Your hill may be tall (lots of change) or short (less change), steep (rapid change) or gentle (slow change)—but you will likely experience some version of this.
Which bras to buy, or my screed against “maternity bras”
Let me say right up front: there is no such thing as a maternity bra. They don’t exist. They are just regular bras hanging under a sign that says “maternity.” Yes, they are bigger than “regular” bras. This comes from the idea that a DD+ is freakishly large and only worn by pregnant people and Dolly Parton. But you, Hourglassy readers, already know this is not true! Often they are also non-underwire bras, I guess on the theory that pregnant people want max comfort (no argument there)… but there are also plenty of good non-underwire regular bras (I mention one below!).
Actually, instead of “maternity” or even regular bras, I actually recommend buying nursing bras in pregnancy, even if you grow out of them before the baby arrives. Why? You can likely wear them again—when you’re going back down the other side of the “hill,” so the investment of buying good, comfortable bras to wear in pregnancy will be worth it. You can also explore your nursing bra options before you’re busy with a new baby, and hopefully you’ll have a couple that fit right away or soon after your milk comes in.
How to choose a size
Most people find they gain several cup sizes during pregnancy. The “average” is 1-2. Of course, I’ve fit people who have barely changed at all, and others who went from a DD to a K. Changes may happen slow and steady, or in “growth spurts” (often in the first or third trimesters, but really can happen any time!). Most people can wear their end-of-pregnancy bras for the first few days. When the mature milk comes in, engorgement can make your cup size go way, way up for a day or two, and then goes down a bit, then stabilizes (often around 1-2 cup sizes above your pregnancy size). Then it begins its months- or years-long descent down the other side of the hill.
Since you can’t predict how much you’ll grow (or when), don’t buy way-too-big cups assuming you’ll grow to fit. Instead, if you’re on the edge of one cup size, buy the next one up. One suggestion of which I’ve heard a lot for buying nursing bras before you actually give birth is “get a bra that you can fit your fist into”—as in, put the bra on and then shove your fist into it to make sure it will have enough space for you later. Maybe that works for some people, but if it doesn’t then you’ve just wasted that money. My suggestion is to buy one or two comfort/sleep bras (discussed below) that fit you a little generously and have room to stretch. Use those for the first few weeks. Where are you going, anyway? Aren’t you enjoying a babymoon, sitting around in bed with people bringing you breakfast on trays?? (Okay, or at least sticking to home while you get to know your newborn.)
The first few days after the milk “comes in” (changes from the early milk to the mature milk) may be really intense in terms of size for some people. If this is you, be reassured you will NOT feel and look this way forever! Cup size usually decreases after those few days, and then many people notice things “calm down” again somewhat between 3-6 weeks when supply regulates a bit more. So that 3-6 week mark is a good time to invest in bras that are fitted properly to your actual size—not to some guess from when you were 36 weeks pregnant.
A couple fitting tips: When trying on bras, think about how much you change size between feedings. If you change a lot, try on bras when you’re relatively full so you can make sure the bra will fit comfortably even right before a feeding. Often one side will make more milk than the other (sometimes a LOT more!) and be large—fit to your larger side.
To sum up: in pregnancy, buy bras sparingly at each size. Consider buying nursing bras, and don’t feel obliged to buy “maternity” bras. Towards the end of pregnancy, buy a couple “comfort” bras and wait to shop for more bras until your supply has regulated more around 3-6 weeks.
So what did I do?
As I grew out of most of my pre-pregnancy bras, I kept wearing my non-underwire Sugar Candy bra (the regular version that I purchased years ago) in size small. It was a little bit too small for me but it was so comfortable—and I was home all the time during COVID, so it didn’t matter. I also purchased another Sugar Candy (the nursing version) in medium that fit better, and the Bravado original full-cup nursing bra.
I avoided underwire bras—both because I wanted maximum comfort (see above re: home all the time dring COVID) and because I didn’t know how my size would change after birth*. Trying to fit to an exact cup size was too tricky; I wanted soft, stretchy bras that would stretch with me as my size changed. If I’d needed something more smoothing or shaping, I would have considered one underwire bra (but still gotten a nursing bra).
I ended up being very happy with this approach. At 3-6 weeks I was still overwhelmed working out all of our feeding and supply challenges and was in no place to go bra shopping, even online. But the bras I had were working for me, and I happily ordered another medium Sugar Candy to tide me over (only having two bras in rotation got limiting after a while, especially given how many times this baby has spit up into my bra). Now at 13 weeks out, we’ve overcome many of our challenges and I’m ready to expand my repertoire—and I’ll be sharing my search for new bras with you! The Sugar Candy has been reviewed several times before on Hourglassy, including for nursing, so I’ll just direct you to those reviews and agree that it’s great. My first review will be of my Bravado original bra, as well as the Bravado “clip-and-pump” pumping bra. Look out for that soon!
(*There’s also some debate about whether underwired bras can cause plugged ducts. Here’s my take: I met someone who could get a plugged duct from a seat belt across her chest on a long car ride. And I’ve met people who never once had a plugged duct, even wearing too-small underwire bras. So I think you should play it by ear. If you hate underwires or you think you’re plugged duct-inclined, avoid the wires. If you can wear them with no problem, more power to you. But maybe don’t invest in them up front. I’ve had two plugged ducts so far and they were NOT fun. I will be very cautious with underwire bras and very careful about fit.)