An Overview of Nursing Bras

13 Mar

I have been breastfeeding my daughter for 36 months and she shows no signs of wanting to stop. So during this time I have amassed quite a lot of experience with nursing bras…

My Nursing Bra History

My varied relationship with The Nursing Bra started with Mothercare. On one of our circa three pre-baby trips out (hyperemesis meant I barely left the house) to purchase what we thought was necessary to get started with the whole parenting thing, I thought I might as well check out the nursing bras in Mothercare. Please forgive me. I was young and naive and thought a chain as big as this would stock a reasonable range of everything. Since then I’ve learnt their shop in my city is mostly full of tat, and when you go in looking for something specific, it’s not in stock. But anyway, before my daughter was born I didn’t know this, so I bought the bra which looked prettiest (a polkadotty one from the general Mothercare range). I at least had the common sense to buy only one because I knew my size was likely to change once the baby came out and the milk came in. I had read all about the evil of the underwire, so went for a soft padded nursing bra. It’s a shame it didn’t really have a shape and was so cheaply made it stretched and stretched and streeeetched. So it wasn’t much use.

The next nursing bra purchase happened when my daughter was 8 days old. Somehow, despite what I would now call a traumatic birth and a hospital visit at 6 days for what I thought was another haemorrhage, we thought it would be a great idea to go into town. Somehow we ended up at John Lewis where a non-plussed assistant fitted me for the only bra they seemed to sell, the Emma Jane. It was white, non-underwired, non-padded (i.e. shapeless), and generally meh. I wore this one for a while until I got bored of it, worried that being a mum meant to be forever consigned to dowdy grandma bras. Luckily after that things got better.

The reason why I think I have a good overview of what is out there is that, firstly, I’m not swimming in money, and nursing bras are usually pretty expensive, even in the sale, so each one I have purchased has been the result of a lengthy and agonising decision-making process.

Desirable Features of Nursing Bras According to Feeding Phase

Secondly, what you need from a nursing bra changes over time: first you probably want a pretty functional bra which allows some room for an increase in cup size as well as to hide breast pads, and is non-fussy and plain enough not to be too fiddly as you’re getting used to breastfeeding. Then you get used to everything and you come out of the newborn fog. You might even leave the house occasionally. This means you’d probably prefer something a little less plain now. A bra which makes you feel like your boobs are your own as well as the baby’s, and which also looks good under your clothes because at some point you might want to wear something that’s not a baggy shirt. Then, sometime later, you realise that since you’ve been breastfeeding for several months now and your milk supply is fully established, in the absence of a medal for your efforts you deserve a really lovely nursing bra, and this means underwire. But at the same time, sometimes you just want to be comfy, which means no underwire, but you’d still like the bra to give you a good shape.

So let me tell you what your options are in each of those categories.

First, it might be best to give you an overview of what’s important in terms of a bra if you’re serious about breastfeeding.

  1. Non-underwire is best during the later stages of pregnancy and the first months of breastfeeding. This is because of comfort – your ribcage expands in order to accommodate your growing baby – and health – an underwire could potentially press on delicate breast tissue or milk ducts, leading to pain and all sorts of trouble.
  2. Padded bras are best, in my opinion: I’m not particularly well endowed in the boob department, so I find that padded cups add a little bit extra and give me a more rounded shape. In addition, they also hide breastpads very well, so their outline can’t be seen through your clothes. Later, when your supply is fully established and leaks are less common than they are in the early days, you can do away with pads altogether because the padded cups give you enough security for the occasional drip.
  3. Try many different sizes to make sure you’re comfortable. The band needs to be quite tight on the biggest setting so that you still have the option to tighten it when your ribs shrink back or the material stretches. At the same time, you wouldn’t want squashed boobs, so make sure the cup size is big enough.
  4. In the early weeks and months of breastfeeding, your breast size will fluctuate quite dramatically, so try bras on or get fitted when you haven’t fed your baby for a little while so you know you can still be comfortable at your biggest size.
  5. Only go for an underwired nursing bra when you haven’t been engorged for a long time, as this is a sign that your supply has settled down. In my experience this is likely to happen when your baby has begun to eat solids.
Now for the actual nursing bras.
The First Months
Despite my disappointment regarding its look, the Emma Jane nursing bra is actually very decent. It has a wide band which sits snugly around your body, and lovely wide non-stretch straps which make you feel quite comfy and secure. I would imagine that because of these features it might be particularly  useful for the larger-busted mum. It costs around £20 in most shops, which, in my opinion is slightly too much for how plain it is. But then again it has won some award and seems very popular (most nursing bra retailers stock it).
The same brand also does a seamfree bra which looks particularly good for wearing overnight if you require a bra to hold breastpads in place or to feel generally more comfortable. They also do a bra which is marketed just as a sleep bra.
Debenhams does a range of non-wire bras, the only one I have tried is this one, which is nice enough – big straps, not too stretchy, very slightly padded. However, it did bobble quite soon after I started wearing it, but because it was cheaper than other bras and very comfy I bought a second one. Over a year after buying them I now wear these when I go to the gym.
After the Newborn Fog has lifted, but before the ‘extended breastfeeding’ begins…
HotMilk bras are very pretty, almost opulent-looking. There are quite a few different ones, and you can buy matching pants as well. None of them are underwired, and it’s great to have found proof that non-underwired doesn’t have to mean boring. I found that the straps are slightly too short for me to be comfortable, but I kept wearing my bra anyway, and after a while (and I think a minor bit of weightloss) it’s much better now. Because most of their bras are heavily embroidered/decorated, they are not ideal to wear underneath tight tops. But they do some smoother-looking ones too.
Royce, the brand of utterly sensible nursing bras, has one bra in their collection which, despite the lack of a wire and being mostly white, seems extremely sturdy and well-made: the straps are wide and possibly the least stretchy I have ever come across, and the sides are nice and wide. The cup sizes seem smaller than other brands’, so I’d suggest going up a size. It’s also very smooth, so very versatile.

Best Bras for ‘Extended Breastfeeding’

I ordered the Smooth Underwired bra by Anita Maternity a little while ago and was very disappointed. The description and pictures didn’t make it clear whether it was padded or not, but it looked so ‘taut’ in the advertising photos that I thought it was worth a try.
But one of the BEST nursing bras, which I just came across a few months ago, is the Velvet Delight Plunge bra by Cake Lingerie. It fulfils most of my essential criteria: it is underwired, so gives a great shape, it’s a plunge bra, which is quite unusual for a nursing bra, so it’s possible to wear slightly lower-cut tops, the straps don’t stretch very much and are a good width. But the best feature: the sides are boned in the middle, which means that they don’t roll up, but rather keep the whole bra securely in place throughout the day. I think this is a genius idea. It’s not uncomfortable at all, not needing to adjust the bra every few minutes is lovely. Apart from all of this, the colour is really pretty – it’s a strong lilac/purple, and the lace edging around the cups which also extends up half of the straps is adorable. Probably the most elegant nursing bra I’ve seen, and I’d probably wear it once we’re done with breastfeeding because it is so lovely. I’m keen to try out more of Cake Lingerie’s offerings, so next time I’m in the market for a nursing bra, I’ll probably go for one of theirs.

4 Responses to “An Overview of Nursing Bras”

  1. Yvonne March 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Great review. I’ve had real trouble getting nice nursing bras but for the large bus and have decided Royce’s Jasmine bras are the business. I have also been working my way through nursing bra brands and have also despaired at Mothercare’s dreadful ones (poor quality and not in stock). I also abandoned Emma Jane as I had a soft gathered front ones from the NCT and they were ugly, had too little support and showed under clothes and also at the neckline of most tops. I also tried Miriam Stoppard bras from Debenhams but they quickly lost their shape and had an annoying double layer system which doesn’t work with larger bust at all. I’ve heard good things about Hot Milk from the local lactation consultant but they didn’t go up to larger sizes in the local lingerie shop. I’m just buying online now. Next review required – nursing tops!

    • attachedmummy March 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm #


      I’m sorry, I didn’t factor in larger cup sizes at all because I will never have that issue, it didn’t even cross my mind, how ignorant! What a shame Hot Milk don’t do bigger sizes. I think for nursing bras online shopping is definitely the best option, though I recommend buying a several bras in different sizes each and then send back unsuitable ones as it’s often difficult to tell from the pictures what the material is really like.
      Also, why the virgin/whore dichotomy: it seems most nursing bras are either white and boring or over the top with lots of ruffles and lace. I have never come across just nice colours and patterns. Perhaps ‘Emily’ bras, but they’re quite pastel-y too.

      • Yvonne March 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

        I wasn’t having a go about it, just sharing my own findings from the large bust perspective. The best blogs are from personal experience and, as you say, it’s no use just seeing them online. The snags I found with the nursing bras I criticised generally became apparent after wearing them a few times so it was very frustrating and expensive to work through them. I do find it astonishing that so many maternity and nursing clothes do not accommodate larger busts at all, it’s not as if anyone’s breasts get smaller when pregnant/nursing!

  2. attachedmummy March 16, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Sounds like there’s a niche in the market!

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