Pregnant lady holding belly while coooking in kitchen

Maternity Bras

When choosing a maternity bra, the options are endless. But don’t think that just because you’re pregnant you need to toss the style book out of the window. Gone are the days of ugly fabric held together by more hardware than a building site – maternity bras have been revolutionised and there’s no reason why you won’t be able to find a bra which fits you comfortably and also makes you feel pretty good too.

If you’re always bought the same size bra since your breasts stopped growing during adolescence, you may be in for a surprise. Don’t assume you’ll need the same size bra now that you’re pregnant. Now more than ever it’s important to be properly fitted by a bra fitting specialist. They work in large department stores and within specialty lingerie stores so you won’t need to look too far.

But I’ve always bought my own bras!

Leave your modesty at the front door when you need to be measured and fitted for a maternity bra. The risk of buying the wrong style and shape for your body is too great. Even if you’re not too keen to bare your breasts to a stranger, this is a time in your life where you will need expert guidance. Remember that the staff who are employed to sell lingerie and maternity underwear are almost always women and have often had personal experience themselves. They will help you to feel comfortable and at ease.

Be mindful too, that although this is a new experience for you, they do this every day. Let them know if you’re feeling awkward and shy. You’ll be surprised about how much they can help you feel more relaxed.

When should I buy a maternity bra?

An ill-fitting maternity bra can lead to neck, shoulder and back strain. For many women, it’s not until they wear a comfortable bra that they learn there’s an alternative.

In the first trimester of pregnancy, most women’s breasts undergo significant change. Tenderness and sensitivity as well as an increase in size mean that most women become more aware of their breasts. Individual women experience their own unique breast changes, but generally there is always an increase in the size and weight of breast tissue.

The majority of breast changes during pregnancy occur within the first 3-4 months. By then, the breast anatomy has done most of its pregnancy expansion and the hormones which lead to early pregnancy breast changes have begun to settle down.

These hormonal and weight changes are essential during pregnancy and unavoidable. They prepare the breasts for lactation. Rapid changes in the breast tissue, size and shape mean that breasts can become very uncomfortable if they are not well supported. Even if you usually avoid wearing bras, or find you can just get away with wearing a crop top or t-shirts with built in shelf bras, you may need to re-think your underwear options when you are pregnant.

Why should I buy a maternity bra?

Because they are designed to provide a different level of support to normal bras and every pregnant woman needs this. Maternity bras don’t contain rigid wires and tend to have wider straps and more hook and eye options. They are also better constructed and have more “engineering” and design built into them. They are very different to normal bras which are designed for non-lactating breast tissue and can often have fashion and appearance as a priority.

Does it matter if I don’t wear a maternity bra?

You don’t have to do anything, and whether you wear a bra at all is entirely up to you. Some women find that they can’t bear to wear a bra – the irritation of the straps and feeling of confinement is just too much for them.

But wearing a bra certainly helps to avoid stretching of delicate breast tissue which leads to sagging. It is also more discrete and gives a better silhouette to clothing.

What should I look for when buying a maternity bra?

Three words will answer this question – comfort, support and appearance. And really, each of these factors is equally important. We’ve all had the experience of wearing an uncomfortable bra and when we do, all we can think about is getting it off. What woman hasn’t come through her front door after a long day, closed the door and removed her bra with a great sigh of relief?

For big breasted women, having the support of a well constructed bra means that they may have the opposite experience and find that going braless is just too uncomfortable for words. Some women even wear a bra during their sleep. Even for those who’ve never considered doing this, pregnancy may change their mind.

Can I wear the same maternity bras for each of my pregnancies?

Yes, you can, as long as they are still in good shape and haven’t lost their support properties. Too much wearing and washing erodes fibre tension and like any other item of clothing, maternity bras have their “use by” dates. So don’t be afraid to relegate those which have really seen better days to the bin and invest in some new ones.

Remember too, that if you’ve been pregnant before and breastfed, your breast shape will have changed. Each pregnancy places new demands and hormonal changes on a woman’s breasts and you may find that the rate of growth of your breasts is different for each pregnancy.

Other important factors to look for when buying a maternity bra

  • A well fitted bra which has a flexible wire option may be more comfortable. Look for one which does not “dig into” your breast tissue and is comfortable and does not restrict you.
  • Don’t feel as if you have to forfeit every bit of personal preference when it comes to choosing a bra. You have to like what you’ve chosen otherwise you’ll just feel unattractive and unhappy.
  • When you are trying on maternity bras choose one which sits under your breasts and doesn’t ride up. It’s important that the weight of your breasts is well supported into each bra cup.
  • Lean forward into the bra and allow your breasts to “fall” into the cup rather than drag the bra down over your breasts and then lift them into the bra cup.
  • Bra bands are sized according to body size. So for example the 34 or 36 sizing relates to chest/back measurement and the cup is allocated an A-B-C (and so on) for the breast size. Cup size and band size need to be clearly stated on each bra’s individual label as there is no consistency between the two.
  • Make sure your breasts are not squashed or flattened in the bra. They need to be sitting separately and not merging into each other’s space.
  • Look for a band which does not ride up at the back so it sits higher than the base of the bra underneath the breasts. If this is happening, you will need to adjust the straps so they are shorter and providing more breast support. Remember the golden rule – If the back rides up the front sags down – it’s just one of those bra rules which every woman needs to know – pregnant or not!
  • If the straps are digging into your shoulders, then they may be too narrow and/or too long and need shortening.
  • Choose a bra which is produced by a well-known manufacturer. The truth is that the big names often have more money to invest into research and development and their products end up more comfortable and long lasting. Although you pay for this at the outset, in terms of longevity and “price per wear” value, it makes more sense to buy them.
  • The bra should fit comfortably when the hooks are closed. Remember to allow for rib and diaphragm expansion as you breathe and as your pregnancy advances. This generally happens from around the second trimester onwards.
  • Don’t buy a bra which is firm and tight, thinking you’ll “break it in”. After all, buying a bra is not like buying a horse or a pair of shoes. Likewise, don’t buy one with the view that when you are lactating you’ll fill it – use the hooks and eyes and straps to individualise the bra to your particular breast shape and size. Just make sure you can slide your hand into the bra to asses if there’s enough room for expansion.
  • You need to be sure that the bra fits you, not the other way around.
  • Fluid retention in the breasts can mean that the breasts swell and feel tense, even if they are not producing milk. Towards the end of the third trimester this is more common.
  • Don’t overlook tube bras or maternity singlets with built in bra supports. These can be a good option for women who have smaller breasts.
  • Crop tops which include a built in bra are another good option for sleeping in as they don’t include hooks and eyes which can dig in when lying down.
  • Practice with opening and closing the tab closures which open the bra flaps for breastfeeding. Most are designed to be used with one hand but some are just better designed ergonomically than others. You will spend a lot of time opening and closing your bra flaps so it makes sense to invest in bras which make this process as easy as possible.
  • Maternity bras generally carry the same sizing as normal bras. They are not bigger sizes or makes.

Ideal bras for each trimester

You will probably find that you need to buy new bras at least twice during your pregnancy. Remember, most maternity bras have more hook and eye options than normal bras – some have up to six pairs.

From 0-3 months

Look for a bra with stretchy fabric and which doesn’t have seams. Because of the glandular development in the breast in the first trimester and increase in breast size, it’s important to have a bra which has some accommodation for stretch. You may even like to investigate options of boob tube and bandeau styles.

From 3-6 months

This is the stage when breast tissue development slows down, but the mother’s ribcage starts to expand. So you may find that your cup size is consistent with your first trimester but the band size is different. Bras with flexible wire, not static wire, with lots of hooks and eyes and adjustment options as well as a contoured cup shape are ideal. You may also find the stretchy fabric more comfortable, especially if your breasts are not very large.

From 6-9 months

Bras which you buy now should last you for at least the first month or two of breastfeeding, if not longer. Again, you have choices of wearing a maternity bra with flexible wires (or not) and contoured cups. Check out how much adjustment options there are because as your breasts lactate, they will need to be well supported by the same bras you are wearing now.

For breastfeeding

Nursing bras and maternity bras mean the same thing. Be aware that if you are sourcing bras from an American company, they often refer to breastfeeding as nursing. Most maternity bras come in one of two styles; a drop flap or an A Style design. The drop flap type is where the bra flap is attached to the shoulder strap and when it is released, the whole flap drops and exposes the breast. The A style is where an A shape of fabric frames the breast and just the nipple and a portion of the breast are visible.

A bra which has good support and allows for flexibility will become essential. As your breasts fill and empty, your bra needs to maintain as much support as possible. You may also need to use nursing pads to cope with leakage.

A maternity bra which does contain wires (or may not) and is stretchy and seamless is important in terms of offering a non-restrictive environment for your breasts. There is a risk of mastitis developing if your bra digs in to your breasts or prevents lymphatic drainage into and out of your breast tissues.

Some bras are constructed with low gauge “flexi” wires, which are designed to flex and bend more readily. These can provide additional support without the risk of digging into the breast tissue and increasing the risk of blocked ducts or mastitis. Some women choose to buy no wire bras to wear during their pregnancy and once they are lactating, change to maternity bras containing flexi wires.

But I hate buying bras!

Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to be buying your maternity bras. This means not being tired or hungry and certainly not planning a shopping expedition at the end of the day when you’d much rather be at home.

Plan your shopping trip and bra research to happen at the beginning of the day, when you are fresh and well fed. You need to have the mental energy and focus to make good, wise decisions and not be rushed into making “that’ll do” choices.

When you get home don’t be in too much of a rush to cut the tags off your new bras or throw away the receipt. If your new maternity bras are not comfortable and don’t suit you then you can always return them. Just make sure you check the returns policy at the store before making your purchase.

How many maternity bras should I buy?

This is really up to you. If your breast size is changing rapidly and you are finding your breasts are not well supported and comfortable because your bras are becoming too small, then you have no option but to get larger sized bras. First of all make sure you have adjusted the back strap as much as you can. Pregnant mothers can certainly find that they can get more wear out of their maternity bras by adjusting the bra’s shoulder and back straps first, before assuming they need a larger size.

We all become accustomed to automatically doing up our bras on the hooks in the same position. But remember that straps and hooks always have different options and it just makes sense to adjust them as necessary.

If you find a brand which suits you and helps you to feel comfortable, consider buying three of them. Maybe just in different colours so you have some variety. One bra to wear, a clean one as a spare and one in the wash is a good creed to go by.

Can I buy my maternity bras online?

Yes, absolutely you can. But it is worthwhile being fitted and sized correctly first and doing some research around your on-line choices. We all know that clothing and underwear sizing is not universal and there is huge variation between brands and designs. But if you are confident that you know what’s right for you in a particular brand and your sizing, then you may want to order on-line. Prices vary as well, and we all know that there is a lot of competition for the consumer dollar.

Online companies are experts in offering competitive price matching and discounts and pregnant mothers are a lucrative market. So do some practical research first so you can see and feel what’s right for you. Then spend some time on-line and make your own decision regarding how much you want to spend. Don’t forget to check the specials and clearance options. Often amazing savings can be made during end of season timeframes and when old styles are being phased out.

Caring for your maternity bras

Although manufacturers may recommend hand washing, really, what new mother has time to do this? However, it’s true to say that if you look after your maternity bras they will look after you and last for longer than if you subject them to laundry assault.

Avoid hot water washing because this will only destroy the Elastene fibres and whatever lace is included. A warm wash in a gentle cycle in a laundry bag will suffice. Just make sure you do up the hooks and eyes first to avoid bending of the wires and also to protect your washing machine.

Have more questions on pregnancy? Join a support group (if you have not done so!). Motherhood represents a completely new phase in your life, so you want to find a community of new mothers who can journey together with you. Pregnancy tips, parenting tips, free diaper samples and exclusive diaper offers shared on the Huggies Club platform can ensure you are best prepared for your newborn child too.


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