If you’re thinking of breastfeeding, you’ll need (1) a lot of patience and (2) the essentials—starting with the best nursing bras. Aside from accommodating your ever-changing breasts, a supportive and comfortable nursing bra can help provide easy access, catch leaking breast milk, and just help you feel more like yourself.
Whether you’re nursing your first baby or your third, breastfeeding is anything but easy—or comfortable. But there are plenty of regular and plus-size options—moisture-wicking sports bras that you can pull down, lace bralettes with detachable nursing clips, and T-shirt bras with removable pads, to name a few—that can help you (and your boobs) make the transition.
We know too much choice can be overwhelming, especially if all of it is new to you. So we went to women who have been there—15 moms (slash designers, writers, bloggers, podcast hosts, and chefs)—to find out which brands and bra styles worked best for them during breastfeeding. (They also shared their favorite maternity underwear in case you’re looking for other intimate upgrades.)
Ahead, shop the 16 best maternity and nursing bras—and in the meantime, learn more about what to look for in nursing bras, when exactly to buy them, and how they can make life much easier for breastfeeding mamas.
Why should I buy a nursing bra?
If you’re thinking about breastfeeding, it’s important to have a bra that fits well, protects you from potential leakage, and allows for easy nursing access. New York-based doula and Motherfigure advisor Robin Douthit, explains that a good nursing bra has twofold appeal: It can provide support “[when] breasts become heavier from colostrum (baby’s first milk), increased blood volume, and breast tissue plump with increased body fluids” as well as easy access to your boobs.
What are the benefits of wearing a nursing bra?
“There are so many different benefits you can get from wearing a nursing bra,” the experts at Hatch tell Glamour. For starters, they explain, you’ll be able to breastfeed without having to entirely take off your bra, because most lingerie pieces for nursing moms come with unique features you won’t typically find in nonmaternity styles. Think wire-free racerbacks, extra hook and eye closures, adjustable straps, space for extra nursing pads, clip-down cups (or drop-down cups), and soft seamless fabrics you can easily pull aside.
Having the freedom to whip out a breast at a moment’s notice to feed a baby is obviously very important, but so is remembering that your breast size will change throughout the day as you build up and release milk supply. Hatch’s experts also point out that buying a bra that can stretch without losing shape is key to accommodate those fluctuations.
What’s up with pumping bras?
Not every parent has the ability to nurse a tiny human from their breasts around the clock, and pumping bras can be a great solution for lactating mothers who like to keep extra breast milk on deck. They differ from nursing bras in that pumping bras are “designed to accommodate the pumps themselves with inserts or flaps that you can place, hold in, and pump hands-free,” the experts at Hatch say.
Most pumping bras resemble tight bandeaus with slits at the nipples where you insert the breast pumps, so unless you buy a convertible bra, you may need to alternate between your nursing and pumping bras. What pumping bras may lack in style (except if your Rachel McAdams), they make up in convenience by freeing your hands to do other things, like text, type, or take selfies with your little one.
What to look for in a nursing bra…
Like pretty much everything in this world, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what nursing bra will (or won’t) work for you. That said, there are a few things women should consider when shopping for nursing bras.
- Comfort: The appeal of a nursing bra is first and foremost comfort. Unlike with maternity bras and regular bras where you concentrate on support, ob-gyn and PH-D Feminine Health adviser Ruth Arumala, D.O., says you’ll want to be at ease for long periods of time in your nursing bra. Think of it this way: If it’s good enough for napping, it’s definitely good enough for nursing.
- Padding: Next up is padding, which Arumala says can help absorb any leaking breast milk. A long-line bralette with foam cups or a strapless nursing bra with molded cups that unhook in front are both solid options if you want to feel free but also supported.
- Bra extenders: The number of hooks is also key, Arumala says, “which can expand the bra size to accommodate your breasts as they grow.” Bra extenders, which can give your bra band a few extra inches (and yourself some wiggle room), can help you avoid having to purchase another bra if your cup size stays the same.
- Breathable fabric: Pregnant and lactating mamas can experience hot flashes due to fluctuating hormones, so Douthit recommends keeping an eye out for breathable, natural materials like cotton to help you stay cool (and be more gentle on sensitive nipples).
- Wireless bras: It all depends on what feels good to you, but most women prefer wireless over underwire nursing bras. Douthit warns underwire “can pinch or compress breast tissue and possibly cause a clogged milk duct or even worse, mastitis [breast infection].”
- Alternative bra styles: A.k.a sports bras and nighttime bras. Arumala specifically vouches for nighttime bras (or nursing sleep bras), which can absorb leaky breast milk while you snooze and be easily pulled aside for feeding thanks to the soft, stretchy fabric. Board-certified perinatal R.N. Tanya Singleton also recommends considering styles that are supportive and flexible for daytime use, like a spandex sports bra with wide shoulder straps that won’t dig into the shoulders.
When should you buy a nursing bra?
While nursing tank tops or bras can be purchased during various stages of pregnancy, Singleton suggests holding off on buying a nursing bra until the very end to get an accurate sense of your new cup sizes and band sizes. “Breasts change so much in the first two to six weeks after birth [and] what’s comfortable during pregnancy might not be during that early transition,” she explains.
Douthit echoes this sentiment and says that “fit is everything.” She too recommends waiting to add to a nursing bra to cart until the mature milk has come in and your breasts have reached their most “swollen-with-milk size.” With that, read up on 16 recommended nursing bras from the women who swear by them.