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Do I need a new bra during pregnancy?
Yes, most likely. Like the rest of your body, your breasts are changing too, becoming bigger and more sensitive to the touch. Chalk up this metamorphosis to hormonal shifts, weight gain, an expanding rib cage, and, later in pregnancy, mammary glands that are preparing to make milk for your baby.
While it may be tempting to make do with the bras you have (think of the savings!), it's best to invest in a few good bras. Your growing breasts are heavier – the developing glandular tissues can add on a few ounces per breast, at least – and deserve some comfy support.
How do I know when it's time for a new bra?
A good rule of thumb: Tight ain't right. When you take off the bra and see indentations where the band and straps were, your breasts are spilling out of your bra cups, or your bra feels too snug, it's time to purchase a new one, says Felina Gallagher of the Upper Breast Side, a breastfeeding resource center in Manhattan.
Every woman is different, every pregnancy is different, and your breasts will change in a way that's unique to you. You may find that your cup size continues to increase throughout your pregnancy, or your breasts might grow during your first trimester and then not increase in size again until the last few months. Depending on how you grow, you may need to go bra shopping several times during your pregnancy.
What's the difference between regular, maternity, and nursing bras?
A maternity bra is a souped-up version of a regular bra – specifically designed to comfortably support your growing breasts during pregnancy. Wider straps, a soft cotton lining, and extra hooks and eyes on the band are just a few of the features you'll typically find in a maternity bra. Maternity bras usually don't have underwire cups. Note: Some regular bras offer these features as well and will work fine during pregnancy.
Maternity and nursing bras differ in one basic way: Nursing bras have clasps or panels that allow easy access to the nipples for breastfeeding.
Many women prefer a combination of both, buying maternity bras or larger sizes of their favorite pre-pregnancy bra in the beginning and switching to nursing bras somewhere in the middle of the third trimester.
If you do buy nursing bras to wear during pregnancy, make sure they give you room to grow. Your breasts may go up another cup size or two after your baby arrives and your milk comes in.
How many bras will I need?
Much depends on your budget, but plan on buying at least three bras during pregnancy, says Angela Cukar, district manager of the Bra Smyth, a specialty bra store located in New York and New Jersey. Wear one for a day or two, and then switch.
Be aware that your rib cage can expand until 36 weeks of pregnancy, so you may have to size up a few times, says Nancy Held, a lactation consultant, registered nurse, and vice president of clinical and education services at Day One, a San Francisco Bay Area center for new and expectant parents.
A bra extender attaches to the back of your bra to add length to the band. At about $5 for a pair, a bra extender is an affordable way of getting more life out of bras bought earlier in pregnancy – or your regular pre-pregnancy bras if you're not quite ready to buy new ones.
When you do buy a new bra, look for one that gives your burgeoning breasts and expanding rib cage some room to grow. Choose a bra that fits when the clasp is on the tightest setting, so you'll be able to let it out. This is definitely a good idea if you end up buying a nursing bra before you give birth since you'll grow at least another cup size when your breast milk comes in a few days after birth.
If you're on a tight budget, consider borrowing maternity and nursing bras from a similarly sized friend or sister.
What style of bra is best during pregnancy?
Pick a bra with sturdy seams and straps. Flimsy ones literally don't hold up. If your breasts are bigger than DD's, go with a bra with straps that are at least an inch wide at the shoulders. (They'll do their job better.)
Underwire bras are fine as long as they fit right and don't pinch your breasts. Many moms-to-be find them uncomfortable and opt for soft cups instead.
To prevent chafing, look for soft material like a cotton or cotton and synthetic blend with no seams near the nipple.
How do I know if it's the right fit?
The best way to make sure you're buying the correct size is to be fitted by a professional at a specialty bra or lingerie store, maternity store, or the lingerie section of most large department stores. The service is free.
Joyce Andrews, senior fitter at the Bra Smyth, suggests sitting down while wearing the bra to "see where it hits the belly." While standing up and sitting down, there should be no bunching, pinching, or sliding anywhere. If the chest band rises up into the breast area from the rib cage; the cups overfloweth (or gap); or the straps are too tight or fall off your shoulders despite adjustments, the bra won't work. A basic rule: If the bra causes any discomfort or hassle in the dressing room, it'll only get worse during regular wear.
For more tips on getting the right fit, check out our slide shows to see the five signs of an ill-fitting bra and six signs of a good fit.