By Karen McCully from BoobieMilk
I remember back to when I was pregnant for the first time. My breasts were the first sign I was pregnant. They were really tender to the touch and they suddenly grew larger and heavier so that the bras I wore really didn’t fit or support them. They were most painful at night if I lay on my side as they would fall out of my bra in the middle. I went along to my local lingerie store and I was told that I couldn’t get a nursing bra because I was only in my first trimester. They suggested I buy some larger sized bras and then come back in the last few weeks of pregnancy to then buy some nursing bras. This didn’t really fit with my baby budgeting plan. My largest purchase before the birth was the cloth diapers, we received lots of clothing at baby showers, and I knew that I would breastfeed, so this added expense really wasn’t in the plan.
After breastfeeding for over four years now, I know that there is a much more cost effective way to stay comfortable while pregnant and breastfeeding without breaking the bank and without the need to be measured every 6 weeks for a new bra. The answer is the transitional nursing bra.
A soft cup bra (without wires) is the usual recommendation for pregnant women. During pregnancy and breastfeeding the breasts can change in size a great deal. During pregnancy the body is making mammary tissue ready for breastfeeding and then after the baby is born the body starts to increase your milk supply and makes milk around the clock on demand, so it can be hard to find a bra that can accommodate all of these changes, and a wire may fit one week but not the next. During breastfeeding an ill-fitting wire can prevent milk reaching the nipple and cause a blockage (a plugged duct) which can be painful and lead to a breast infection. Lactating breasts can get very heavy with the additional mammary tissue and milk, so an un-supportive bra may quickly lead to additional stretch marks. Remember, every woman will make milk and the body prepares for this during pregnancy. Breast sagging is often blamed on breastfeeding, but it can happen to anyone, especially those who have been pregnant.
A transitional seamless nursing bra is a soft cup bra that is made in such a way that it can accommodate changes in cup size. They are often designed with lots of band settings so that they can also accommodate the usual increase in band size during pregnancy and then the decrease after birth. I have some transitional bras in my drawer that have seen me through a few pregnancies. If you invest in a few good quality transitional nursing bras, you may not need to buy anything else as they are great for pregnancy, breastfeeding and really comfortable to sleep in.
I will admit that transitional nursing bras are not the prettiest. They can be found in a number of colours, but I have yet to find any with lace trim or flowered materials. I do believe that you get what you pay for in a bra, so you will find that some wash a little better and last a little longer than others. I also find that even though these bras are similar in design, they do fit everyone a little differently and everyone has their favourite. Prices start at just about £10.00 each and can go up to about £30.00. A woman with a smaller cup size (up to a DD-E) could definitely get through pregnancy and breastfeeding by spending a relatively small amount of money. I think that many women are unsure and apprehensive about breastfeeding because their friend may not have succeeded, so the low prices are attractive when someone is thinking that they may not wear it for a long time. When you think that a nursing bra bought on the high street might cost £30.00, you can see why something less expensive can be popular. You can have a choice of colours (white, black and nude) and still have one to wear, one in the drawer and one in the wash. For additional support for larger cup sizes you should consider spending a little more money to get adequate support and breast coverage.
Let me give you a little guidance on how to choose your nursing bras so that you can get the most wear out of them. If you are buying a bra in the first or second trimester you will want to have good coverage and support if your breasts are tender and you may still increase in band size, so make sure you have room to loosen the band by fitting it on a tighter setting. Some nursing bras come with a band extender for this purpose. You will also want to make sure that the cup has enough room for some breast tissue growth and for your milk volume to increase after birth, you can run your hand under the cup between your breast and the bra to determine if there is ample room.
If you are buying a bra at the very end of the pregnancy or after the birth you will want to fit the band on the loosest band size so that you will be able to tighten the band as your chest size decreases and you wear and eventually stretch the bra a little. The more settings you have to tighten, the longer the bra will last and the more value you will get from it. Try to fit the bra to your larger breast (we all have one) or to the breast you last fed with to make sure you have the right size after birth.
You may have heard that you can now buy some beautiful lingerie designed for pregnancy and breastfeeding from various companies. You can find some really gorgeous and even sexy lingerie for a special occasion or just “because”, a Mum does not have to feel Mumsy all the time wearing knickers up to her armpits. These stunning nursing bras with matching knickers are designed to be worn for as long as possible, so that if you are lucky and your cup size does not increase by lots of sizes you can realistically get a lot of wear and therefore value out of them. They are more expensive, and they are sized more specifically (not S, M, L). The bands have many settings so that you can buy early on in pregnancy and be able to loosen over the duration of the pregnancy and then tighten after birth. They can still provide a lot of support allowing for an increase in cup size for when the milk comes in, and even if they are a little uncomfortable during the first month of breastfeeding, you can usually start wearing them again once the milk volume settles down (as long as you don’t go up 4 cup sizes!). But, then even if you do you may still get to wear them again once you start on solids and baby takes a little less milk or during your next pregnancy because they wash and last so well (I hand wash mine in the machine and hang dry).
I have mentioned the three bra rule briefly (one in the wash, one on, one in the drawer). You may want to include a nursing vest in your three essential bras. Most nursing camisoles or vests have a built in shelf and provide pretty good support. For the larger breasted ladies, you can find bra sized nursing vests (34B/C-44F/G). Nursing vests are a really versatile addition to your wardrobe, they can be used for many different reasons in many different ways. They are great under loose fitting tops to provide coverage of the belly and warmth during nursing. The can be used to layer under cardigans, shirts and jackets for easy access for feeding when out and about. They can also make great PJ tops for easy access at night time. Many companies sell nursing vests, and prices range from around £15.00 to £35.00 each in a range of colours. Some vests come in a longer length so that they can cover the pregnancy bump fully and then after birth they can look great with leggings or jeans.
After birth, a loose fitting top over a nursing vest or nursing bra is perfectly adequate for nursing easily anywhere and everywhere. If you want a little more coverage you can easily use a muslin or baby blanket. I have written about nursing in public using different clothing and slings in my blog here – http://boobiemilk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/breastfeeding-in-public-your-questions.html
So, as you can see being adequately supported during pregnancy and breastfeeding doesn’t need to cost the earth, and you really can buy a bra that will see you well through to the end of your breastfeeding journey. To save additional money, you may want to consider washable nursing pads which can be washed along with your new baby clothes saving you the cost of disposable pads.
Many of the products named in this article are available from BoobieMilk and many other online and High Street sellers. Shop around to find the best prices and make good use of offers that are surely to be around during Breastfeeding Week at the end of June 2012.