Every woman's body changes at different rates during pregnancy and after childbirth, and experts don't all agree on when you should get fitted for nursing bras.
Pat Marcus, who founded the online company Decent Exposures after she was unable to find a comfortable bra for her larger bust, said some clients go up two cup sizes after they give birth. But in general, she says, women will find that their breasts get bigger when they first become pregnant, then their rib cage size may increase (or not). Once the baby is born, their breasts will increase again when they are ready to nurse, and then possibly decrease after a few weeks.
Marcus, who nursed her four children, tells clients to get at least one good supportive nursing bra late in their pregnancy but before they give birth, since they may not feel like going out to shop once they are home with the baby, and because their breasts might leak. "You should get one that fits your rib cage now and is a cup size bigger than what you think you need," she says.
Jan Barger, a Chicago-area lactation consultant and registered nurse who breast-fed her three children, recommends not buying more than one nursing bra before your baby arrives because your size could be bigger once your baby is born and your milk comes in.
Barger says women should focus on getting used to nursing. To establish breast-feeding in the beginning, she says, it's actually best if you don't have much in the way. You'll want your baby to figure out how to properly latch on by himself, which is critical. Meanwhile, you'll be figuring out the most comfortable way to hold him. "For first time moms, in the first few weeks, you practically need to get naked," she adds.
But since nursing bras are important, especially to avoid leaks and protect your nipples if they become sore during feedings as they adjust to the process, Barger recommends getting something inexpensive and easy to use at first. "Get some very comfortable sports bras for the first week or so, slightly larger than you're wearing now, that you can pull down easily," she says. Other experts suggest getting something similar to a sports bra, such as a "bralet" (which looks like a sports bra but has less support built into it) or a nursing "sleep bra." You can nurse with any of these by simply pulling them; they don't have hooks, snaps, or Velcro to worry about.
Once you get the hang of nursing and you're more comfortable, your size will be easier to determine. That's a great time to get professionally fitted for a nursing bra, Barger says, adding, "go out and get two or three good nursing bras."
Your ultimate goal should be to find a nursing bra that gives you good support and feels comfortable. With a little experimenting and patience, your nursing bra will become something you don't think about that often, just like your regular bra.
You can also discuss your choices with a lactation consultant. To find a one in your area, contact the hospital or birth center where you'll deliver, or go to the International Lactation Consultant Association's website, www.ilca.org. Nursing mothers can also get support and advice from La Leche League International, a group that encourages breast-feeding through mother-to-mother support and meet-ups across the country.