What is a Nursing Bra?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A nursing bra is a type of bra used by women who are breastfeeding their children. It often features cups that are secured by a hook and eye or plastic attachment. These can be unsnapped to expose the breast allowing the baby access for nursing. Alternately, some nursing bras are made of stretchy material that can be pulled down easily to allow for nursing of the baby.

A nursing bra is used by mothers who breastfeed their children.
A nursing bra is used by mothers who breastfeed their children.

Like regular bras, the nursing bra comes in a variety of styles. There are underwire styles, bras made of soft cotton knit, and some made of stretch knit. It’s important, especially in the early stages of nursing, to own more than one. It is highly likely that you will stain or soak through at least one nursing bra a day during the first few weeks of nursing a baby.

Nursing mothers tend to lactate in response to their babies' cries.
Nursing mothers tend to lactate in response to their babies' cries.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of nursing bra. The underwire nursing bra, for example, can provide greater support, but you may need to wear the nursing bra initially both day and night. The last thing you want is a tightly fitting nursing bra, since you need room to accommodate breast pads, to soak up any leaking milk, and compression on the breasts may be very uncomfortable. Too much compression can also lead to blocked milk ducts and mastitis.

If you feel you do need the underwire support, consider a slightly less supportive but more comfortable bra for nighttime wear. The cotton nursing bra is a good choice because it is breathable. Alternately, you may be just as comfortable wearing a wireless bra during the day. Most important is comfort, since early nursing can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable to the new mom. It should be noted some moms don’t bother with a nursing bra, but just choose a bra that can be slipped up or to the side for nursing.

As pregnancy advances breasts enlarge, and this usually means you should look for nursing bras in the late stages of your pregnancy. Note that when you are nursing, the breasts will enlarge further, and may be one to two full cup sizes larger than you would normally wear. Some variants of the nursing bra have attachments that allow you to vary the cup size slightly. They have two or three hook and eye attachments, so you can lower or raise the cup and provide a bit more room.

If you’re unsure about what size you’ll need in a nursing bra, the varied size bra is a good way to go. Alternately, you can buy a few nursing bras in the styles you like but not try them on until you start to lactate, usually about two days after you’ve given birth. This way you can choose the size most comfortable when you are actually nursing. Have a friend or family member return the sizes that didn’t work.

Remember that you will need a little room in the nursing bra for breast pads. Especially in the first few weeks of nursing, the breast you are not nursing with tends to leak. Further, the breasts tend to get in cycle with baby’s eating patterns. The first time baby sleeps through the night, expect to wake up with a fairly soaked nursing bra. Using breast pads can help this, but may not completely eliminate the issue. Also, women tend to lactate in response to baby’s cries, not even necessarily of their own child. If you are around other children, you may be thankful for the extra protection of breast pads.

The nursing bra tends to have similar washing instructions to the standard bra. This means you’ll need at least three, since you may have to handwash and hang dry your bras. You can wash most nursing bras on a gentle cycle in the washing machine if you use cold water and place them in a fabric bag. Yet you’ll usually have to allow a day for air-drying.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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I'm a nursing mom, my daughter is ten months old. At the beginning I wore those unsupportive nursing bras (that were not either to attractive). I didn't want to stop breastfeeding but I couldn't stand those nursing bras until I found this great site that will take any regular bra and convert it into a nursing bras. This meant to me that I was able to still wear attractive bras even though I am breastfeeding.

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