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Buyer's guide to feeding bras

Your new wobbly weighty wonders require a little more thought when it comes to good wrapping, particularly when they're also providing baby's meals

Posted: 13 May 2009
by Maria Muennich

If you've decided to give breastfeeding a go and want to have a good chance of succeeding then there are plenty of ways of loading the dice. One is to make sure you have a good support network from your partner, midwife and other women who have breastfed before or who are breastfeeding. Another is to make sure you have a comfortable, well fitting feeding bra that allows you to feed easily and discreetly while providing the best comfort for tender and swollen breasts. A well-fitting bra can reduce the likelihood of developing mastitis. A properly supportive bra is also important to help prevent the breast ligaments from stretching and so help you regain your figure later. And who wants sore and stretchy boobs?

Royce Cherish drop-cup £15
What to look for
  • Size - Sizing is crucial in a feeding bra. As your breasts are made heavier by your milk production you'll need a fitting close enough to give your breasts support, but at the same time your bra mustn't be too tight, or you risk blocking off your milk ducts which can lead to painful mastitis. This is made all the trickier by the fact that your breasts will change during the day as they fill and are emptied in that never-ending cycle of supply and demand. Strap positioning and good adjustability in a bra can make all the difference here. It is also well worth having a professional fitting.

    Remember also when you fit a bra that you'll probably want to use breast pads with it - it's a good idea to try the bra with the pads you intend to use for best fit. You want to make sure there's enough room for the pad, but not too much room - escaping soggy breast pads is never a good look.

    The timing of when you have your bra fitted is also important as your breasts may continue to change size and shape throughout pregnancy: Even though it's another thing to sort out near the end of pregnancy it's a good idea to leave feeding-bra fitting until the last few weeks. And before you go out and buy all the bras you think you'll need for feeding, remember that after birth your breasts will probably continue to change and you may want to buy a different size of bra later.

  • Support - Your new, weightier breasts will need more support than you have needed before, particularly as you may well experience some pain and discomfort with your breasts as you and your baby adjust to feeding. More supportive bras can be of a thicker and less discreet construction than those offering less support, often with a more matronly look, but this needn't necessarily be the case as there are increasingly prettier, lower-cut and less bulky bras made which also offer good support.

    You're probably already aware that underwired bras aren't recommended for pregnancy or feeding because of the potential for blocking milk ducts, but if you usually like an underwired bra, there are feeding bras available that mimic the support of an underwire with a reinforced lower-cup or a flexible plastic support. Make sure that straps are broad enough for good support and that they don't cut into your shoulders.

Breathable benefits

Breathable fabrics are well worth looking our for as with your leaking milk you can find that your bra starts to smell a bit sour, particularly in warmer weather.
  • Comfort - A bra may look good on the hanger, offer the right kind of support and be the right shape to wear with your clothes, but it may not be comfortable. Bra fit and comfort is a very personal thing, and while you may see a review raving about the comfort of a certain bra, it doesn't necessarily follow that it will be comfortable for you.

    It really is best to try a bra on before committing your money to it and this may have implications for how you buy. Depending on where you live, for example, you might find this quickest and easiest to do on the high street. That doesn't mean that internet and mail order shopping are out though, just check what the company's returns policy is. Etailers like Figleaves.com offer free UK delivery and free returns within the UK, so you can try the bras in the comfort of your own home without losing out.

  • Ease of use - Feeding bras open for feeding in a variety of ways. Zip cups allow each cup to be unzipped individually, with a zip shield to protect the nipple, and may add bulk. Some women will also find zip openings fiddly and slow, and there's always the potential for catching a nip too. Drop-cup bras are usually opened with hooks and eyes, poppers or clips, dropping down from the strap.

    Generally speaking the single-handed openers with clip fittings are the easiest to use and the most discreet, but when it comes to the details it's again a personal matter what you prefer. Do check that once opened the drop down cup falls away easily and far enough for easy access, as some bra cups need tucking out of the way under the bust for a feed, which can be irritating: When you're trying to be discreet or have a hungry baby in hand anything that slows you down is a drawback.

    As well as being easy to use for feeding you'll also want your bra to be easy to put on. You might find that front or rear-fastening bras are better than over-the-head bras for this, particularly when your breasts are painful and swollen as they are likely to be at some point.

    Some feeding bras have inner cups to ensure a smooth fit, but these can get in the way while feeding, so be sure to check.

Berlei's lace drop cup £23
  • Shape & fabric - This is much like buying any bra really: You'll want to think about how the shape, cut and fabric of the bra will work with the clothes you usually wear, or will wear for feeding and you'll probably need at least a couple of different styles to cover all eventualities. For example, you'll want smooth lines, rather than lacy styles to go under t-shirts, and a lower-cut bra to go under v-necks or lower-cut clothing. Heavily constructed bras and bulky material just won't work under certain clothing. The shape a bra gives you can have a huge impact on how your clothes look on you, so make sure that favourite items work well with at least one of your feeding bras.

    You'll want to consider the feel as well as the bulkiness of the fabric, the softer, the better for sore and irritated breasts. Watch out for scratchy fabrics that can add to breast discomfort. Lace need not necessarily be scratchy and restrictive, there are stretchy and microfibre-backed varieties available for softness and comfort.

    There are plenty of breathable fabrics on offer and these are well worth looking our for as with your leaking milk you can find that your bra starts to smell a bit sour, particularly in warmer weather.

Useful contacts

  • Washing machine friendliness - With leaky breasts and feeding mess you'll go through your bras' washing cycles faster than usual - maybe even using two bras a day - so this isn't the right time for delicate handwash numbers. Making sure that whatever bra you buy can be bunged in the washer without a second thought is an essential for most mums.

  • Price - What price comfort? You may ask, or you might be wondering how on earth you can scrape together the funds for yet more underwear. Either way, don't be fooled into thinking that more expensive necessarily means better fit or comfort, though watch out for the fabric quality in the cheapest bras. Expect to pay between £12 and £30 for feeding bras, you can economise by buying multi-packs of some styles once you've found one that fits well. Don't make the mistake of going for a multi-pack simply because it looks better value: the fit is key.
Mothercare's nursing sleep bra £18
  • Looks and matching availability - You may be feeling tired and frumpy enough as a new mum and there's no need for you to add to the feeling with matronly and mismatching underwear if it makes you feel more dowdy. There's an ever-growing choice of styles and details in feeding bras and plenty that offer co-ordinating underwear, so looks need no longer be irrelevant.

  • Nice touches - Some feeding bras double up as sleep bras for added comfort during the night, though these are usually the over-the-head variety some mums swear by them. And if you're a little forgetful you might want to keep an eye out for bras that have an indicator to show which breast is due the next first feed.

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