Top Nursing Bras and Tips for the Already Well-Endowed DD+ Mama, Part Two: Best Underwire and Non-underwire Nursing Bras

well-fitting underwire nursing

{You’re in for a treat: StackDD+ reader Patricia is sharing her hard-earned nursing bra tips and picks in a week-long guest series! Yesterday, Patricia shared her top tips on how to manage your first few weeks of nursing by waiting to buy a nursing bra and using sleep nursing bras in the meantime. Today she helps you navigate the wild world of full-busted nursing bras. Enjoy! XO, Sarah}

Now that your milk production has settled into its groove about 2.5-3 weeks post-partum, you’re ready for your new bras. As I mentioned yesterday, I initially bought a lovely regular bra in my new size, which was a model I had loved before I got pregnant. But it simply did not do as a nursing bra substitute, for a few reasons, which brings me to…:

TIP #1:  Get a proper nursing bra. Consider one with stretchy cups if your size fluctuates a lot throughout the day.

Why?

  • Your baby (or a pump) will need very frequent access to your breasts early on, and it really does get to be a pain to constantly unhook a regular bra. Nursing discreetly pretty much becomes impossible.
  • The volume of your breasts may fluctuate quite a bit depending on how engorged you are and the nature of your milk production. While larger breasts do not make more milk, they can supposedly hold more. My record for volume pumped in one sitting from both breasts combined is a whopping 19 ounces. That is a lot of fluid! So, as I go through my day and my milk volume fluctuates, a non-stretchy cup sometimes seems loose and full of gapes and other times tight and overflowing. Either way is uncomfortable. Stretchy cups do a better job of accommodating size fluctuations. (I think I might experience more dramatic fluctuation because I pump exclusively, too – full-time nursers, any thoughts on this?)

I have found that nursing bras are generally not nearly as supportive as regular bras, but I’m willing to trade some support for superior comfort, accommodation of my volume fluctuations, and easy access flaps. Also, my breasts are often tender these days, so I like a little more give in my bras. Plus, wearing a tighter bra can negatively affect milk production and possibly encourage clogged ducts, so the fit of a bra that I would normally wear, while much more flattering and even comfortable, isn’t an attractive option to me right now. So, I’ve accepted that this is one more early-motherhood sacrifice at the altar of vanity that I’m going to have to make, for now at least. After weaning, I will definitely treat myself to some new regular bras that give me the excellent support I’m accustomed to.

MY TOP NURSING BRA PICKS

The two bras that I like best both feature the stretchy cups I prefer for breast volume fluctuations, in super soft microfiber fabrics. A couple of downsides to the stretchiness: first, less support, especially on a down fluctuation, and second, nursing pads sometimes show through the thin material depending on what I am wearing – so I do wish the material were a bit thicker. Both bras are by Anita Maternity, and I found them on Bare Necessities, which has a great selection of nursing bras in bigger cups and smaller bands.

(Also available on Linda’s Online, another favorite site of mine, and Amazon, among others. Anita has a store locator as well if you want to try and locate these models to try on in person, but do call first, as when I tried this, it yielded some stores that did not have the bras in my size.)

1. Anita Maternity Underwired Nursing Bra, Style #5068 (Sizes 32-44 C-I, $55 at Bare Necessities)

Anita Maternity Underwired Nursing Bra, Style #5068

This is my favorite nursing bra. Its ultra-thin matte microfiber looks and feels great under just about any clothes. Because of the stretch and give of the cups, the size that fits best is my size when on the empty-side milk-wise – 34G. This size is still comfy when I’m engorged and more like an H or I cup. The coverage level is perfect (not too full, so it doesn’t peek out of the tops of shirts) and the underwire fits comfortably against my body, not touching my actual breast tissue. I also like the one handed nursing clips, perfect for whipping ‘em out in an emergency. Sufficient and comfortable support for day-to-day, though not, of course, as much as a regular bra. I bought one in Skin and Black. (Also comes in white and red, according to the Anita website – but availability varies depending on where you look.)

 

2. Anita Maternity Underwired Nursing Bra, Style #5035 (Sizes 32-44 B-I, $62 at Bare Necessities)

Anita Maternity Underwired Nursing Bra, Style #5035

Slightly more coverage in the cup than style #5068 above, and slightly more support as well. This bra features super-soft padded shoulder straps evocative of the phrase “boulder holder.” The fabric is thin and comfy, and the cups and band are a good fit for me. The slight flower pattern doesn’t show under regular weight clothing. I have it in Skin, and it also comes in Black and White. The size 34G works perfectly for me.

ALSO RECOMMENDED

Anita Breastfeeding Cotton Nursing Bra, Style #5051 (Sizes 32-48 D-J, $64 at Biggerbras.com)

Anita Breastfeeding Cotton Nursing Bra, Style #5051

I got this bra at Enchantress, a local shop here in San Diego that carries a good selection of large cup/small band bras. It doesn’t have underwire, and the cups are not really stretchy – more of a roughish cotton material – but it is decently supportive and comfortable. (I think that without an underwire, stiffer fabric is needed.) I wore it more in periods where I was struggling with clogs and didn’t want to risk wearing an underwire, as well as when I was battling mastitis. (It’s been a long road.) It doesn’t look nice enough under clothes to wear out in public – it doesn’t do much for shape or lift – but I like it for around the house. Also, it’s pretty darn ugly. Not that I really care, but still – a wee bit demoralizing. I sized up to a 34I in this; it only comes in white.

You might be able to tell by now that I really prefer underwired nursing bras; in my experience, non-underwired just don’t lift, shape, or support as well with a full bust in my experience. And that brings me to:

 

TIP #2:  Try an underwire for more support. You will probably have to order online.

The vast majority of nursing bras I found did not have an underwire. There is a rumor floating around (echoed by some lactation consultants I spoke with) that underwires cause clogged milk ducts. Once you’ve had a clogged duct, this rumor will strike fear in your heart and send you running and screaming from any underwired options. (I have had my share of clogs, as I call them, while pumping full time, and they are as bad as they sound.)

However, in my experience, this rumor is unfounded. Having something poking at your breast tissue can cause a clog – once, I think a corner of a too-firm pillow I slept on overnight caused one for me, for example. But I think the origin of this misconception is that most women wear the wrong bra size to begin with (70-85%, according to many reports – see, for example, this one in Time), so the underwire may then be touching their breast tissue. In that situation, the pressure of the underwire hitting where it shouldn’t be could absolutely cause clogs (see the image below; if the underwire is hitting the breast tissue, it could be much too close to the ducts). However, with a well-fitting underwire nursing bra in the proper size, sitting underneath my breast tissue, I have had zero problems with clogs.

well-fitting underwire nursing

Other women, of course, may have had different experiences. Please comment if you have thoughts to share on this topic!

In my case, I needed the underwire something awful, for both comfort and support. All the non-underwire styles I tried left my heavier-than-ever girls pointing awkwardly south. Recovering from childbirth and inhabiting a postpartum body are hard enough without suffering such indignity! While Enchantress, the shop I mention above, is excellent for large cup/small band bras generally, it did not carry any nursing options in my size with an underwire, and when I called around, I couldn’t find any other local shops (such as Intimacy) that carried them, either.

So, while I generally hate ordering bras without trying them on, I ended up ordering a bunch from Bare Necessities (I liked their vast nursing bra selection and good customer service). I ordered my cup size (based on bras I tried on at the shop), plus one size up and one size down in the band, and returned what didn’t fit. As with regular bras, nursing bra fit seems to vary across brands and styles, so to make things even the tiniest bit easier on you:

 

TIP #3: Figure out what size you are by trying on all the nursing bras you can at a shop, if possible – but call first to make sure they have bras around your size.

Even though I didn’t find any underwired nursing bras at the shops, it was really helpful to try on different styles so I could figure out approximately what my new bra size was.

Just remember to:

  • Bring nursing pads so you don’t leak on any of the merchandise!
  • As always with bra shopping, call ahead to make sure they carry a wide range of small band/large cup sizes. After all, your new, milkified cup and band size may surprise you, and leaving the house can be hard in the early days with a newborn – it would be a shame to make all that effort for no reward!
  • If you can, bring someone with you to keep an eye on your little one. Or, better yet, if possible, leave baby at home with your partner or a trusted family member or friend so you can focus on the task at hand.

With nursing bras covered, Patricia tackles pumping bras and tips in Part Three! Stay tuned and in the meantime, share your thoughts, comments, and experiences in the comments!

Patricia Shepard is an attorney and, most recently, law school teaching fellow, turned stay-at-home mom.  She lives in San Diego, California with her husband and baby boy.

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