How to buy the right nursing bra

Consumer Reports News: October 28, 2008 04:17 PM

When you're a nursing mother, getting a properly fitting bra is more important than ever. A poorly fitting bra will not only be uncomfortable, but also may increase the risk of plugged ducts and/or mastitis, a breast infection.

You'll want to have three to five comfortable nursing bras that provide the right support--ones that don't bind, pinch, hike up in the back or front, or irritate breast tissue. That should be enough to meet your needs, allowing you to have a couple of bras on deck and one or two in the wash. To get the right bra, follow these fit tips:

Get fitted by a certified bra fitter. This service is usually free of charge at maternity stores. If a certified bra fitter isn't available, a lactation consultant, perhaps one affiliated with the hospital where you'll deliver, can usually help. Many lactation consultants are also certified bra fitters. When you're being fitted, you'll be measured under your arms. The tape will also be wrapped around your torso at the fullest point of the bust. The difference between the two measurements is your cup size.

Once you get your correct size, you can find a style you like and feel comfortable in, and buy online from that manufacturer or from a catalog, if you want to. If you're buying a bra you haven't tried on, double-check the retailer's instructions for measuring, since brands may be sized differently, and make sure you can return it just in case. Or play it safe by buying all your nursing bras at the maternity store where you were measured.

The big error in buying nursing bras is increasing the band size but keeping the same cup size. In fact, most women can wear their original band size, but need a larger cup size. The size the fitter recommends may be different from what you’ve worn, but the right fit makes a big difference in support and comfort—and appearance, too.

Shop as early as four to six weeks pre-delivery, but no earlier. By then, your breasts will be nursing size, so you can be sure you'll get the correct size bra. Your breasts may enlarge even more after your milk comes in, so look for bras with cups that stretch. If you're still not comfortable, you may need to be fitted again.

Shop around if you're especially large-breasted. If the bras available in your local maternity store aren't large enough, try a specialty lingerie or "foundation" store instead. These shops usually can meet your needs and even custom-make bras in your size, if necessary.

Think twice before buying an underwire nursing bra. The pressure from the underwire support may contribute to breast maladies, such as clogged milk ducts. If you feel you must have an underwire bra, it’s vitally important that it be flexible and fit properly. You definitely want to have an underwire nursing bra fitted by a professional.

For more information, see our entire nursing bras report.

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