We talk a lot at Bare Necessities about how important it is to get a bra fitting when your weight fluctuates or you go through a major life event, and that definitely, 1,000 percent (still the understatement of the century) includes having a baby. In fact, if it’s your first time, expect to be shocked by how much the chest you’ve known so well for so long changes on you.
To coincide with World Breastfeeding Week, Bare it All asked our nursing bra buyer Heather Viskovic to tell all about the wild ride her own breasts have gone on two kids later, and what she’s learned that can make life easier for anyone going through it now.
How breasts change during pregnancy
Hypersensitive, tender-to-the-touch breasts are one of the first signs of pregnancy, and we’re not talking that-time-of-the-month vibes; we’re talking more like an electric current. Size increase happens more gradually: Around 12 weeks along, your bra band might start to feel snug because your rib cage is expanding to make space for a guest up in there. “Your breasts look and feel really full and firm, probably their best ever, so enjoy it while it lasts,” says Heather.
Of course, the scales may soon tip into heavy and sore territory, served up with a side of bigger, more sensitive nipples and areolae and possibly stretch marks. (Ain’t being a woman grand?) A well-made bra can help alleviate a lot of that strain and pain. Heather, who went from a UK 34G to a 36HH during pregnancy, recommends picking up some really comfortable bras right around now…not necessarily nursing bras, but something stretchy and supportive like Chantelle Norah Seamless Comfort Bra, with unlined cups that won’t add unwelcome bulk. If you’d rather wire-free, go with something like the pretty Panache Andorra, which has a firmer band to make up for the absence of a wire but is still super comfy.
About a month before your due date is the best time to buy nursing bras, as your breasts have grown about as much as they’re going to, save for when your milk comes in (more on that in a minute). A good rule of thumb on sizing is to choose the band you’ve been wearing in pregnancy (about one size up from pre-pregnancy) and a cup size bigger, but why bother to guess when you can just call a Bra Fit Expert?
Re: the great debate on an underwire or not when you’re expecting, Heather says it comes down to personal preference: “I happen to think if you wear a DD or above, go with an underwire to prevent as much sagging as possible. I nursed and slept in one.”
How breasts change after pregnancy
Now the fun really begins.
A few days after the baby arrives, your breasts become engorged with milk, increased fluid and blood flow. Hot and cold compresses help. Don’t be shy; avail yourself of the services of a lactation consultant. Leakage is also common in the early days. (Astonishing how it happens in response to your baby’s cries. Mother Nature thought of everything!) Tuck pads into your bra cups to absorb it.
Whether you’re nursing or not, your breast shape and size will probably be different than it was before. If you are breastfeeding, your breasts will still feel full before a feed, but they’re not going to get any bigger than they are; after six months or so, your breasts actually start to get smaller because not only have they settled into their new rhythm, fatty tissue also gets lost or redistributed.
The best nursing bras, according to Heather, are the Elomi Molly Side-Support Nursing Bra (for plus sizes), the Freya Pure Nursing T-Shirt Bra (for DD+), the Anita Stretch Microfiber Nursing Bra (for average to full cup sizes) and the Anita Miss Anita Wire-Free Nursing Bra (for those who don’t want an underwire). Heather recommends having four or so maternity bras in action, what with all the milky laundry that’s coming your way.
Up to three months out from weaning, you can expect to meet your new chest. Heather noticed that her breasts became softer and less voluminous than they were, morphing from all-around full into more of a teardrop shape that’s shallower up top. She also went down two cup sizes, ultimately settling into a 34F. “Give it time and see what happens. Have you lost tissue and your boobs are like pancakes? Did they return to their baseline size? Did they stay bigger? You’ll have to look for bras that are appropriate for your new breasts. I wear side-support bras to lift me up now so that I don’t look like a pair of deflated balloons.”
Her favorite bras that help compensate for lost breast tissue are the supportive, stripey Fantasie Fusion Side Support Bra, the mesh-topped Fantasie Illusion Side Support Bra, the absolutely gorgeous and widely flattering Panache Envy Side Support Balconette Bra, the warm weather-ready Simone Perele Caresse 3D Plunge T-Shirt Bra made using thin, breathable spacer fabric and the immensely popular Elomi Cate Side Support Bra (peep all those five-star reviews), which comes in an unreal range of sizes and colors.
After all is said and done, somehow, some way, you and your body will find your new normal. “You gave birth to a miracle,” says Heather, “so dress like it! When you start with a good bra, you’re going to look like you’ve got it together. Don’t do yourself the disservice of wearing your nursing bra a year later. You’ve got through enough. You deserve to look good.”
Whatever point you’re at along the way, our Bra Fit Experts know how to make this crazy hormonal time easier on you. Chat online or give them a call at 877-728-9272 x4 for a personalized fitting, shopping advice or garden variety commiseration.
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, travel and her exceptionally adorable daughter and husband.