Maternity / Nursing Bras
Women have a lot of complaints during pregnancy! And, not without good cause. Prenatal physical and emotional stresses on a womans mind and body join forces with moments of real anxiety. Add to these the wonder and excited impatience for the arrival of the new baby and you have a real dichotomy! Towards the end of their pregnancies and early post-natally, new mothers have to deal with a number of changes to their bodies, which add to their overall stress and discomfort.
Fortunately, todays moms have many more choices to deal with these changes in comparison with their mothers. Expectant moms still want to look attractive and feel feminine. Overall, though, comfort heads their list of needs and wants. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of intimate apparel specifically maternity and nursing bras. The role maternity intimate apparel plays in helping mothers feel more comfortable and at ease with their bodies has only really been addressed over the past 10 years or so. Todays expectant and new mothers now have a wide range of bra styles to meet their needs for comfort, function and fashion. They no longer have to deal with uncomfortable bras that bind, pinch, ride up, roll down and look unattractive!
Expectant Mothers Needs
Some mothers will try to continue wearing their regular bras long after theyve outgrown them. Even purchasing larger-sized, regular bras doesnt solve the problem. The construction of a regular bra does not provide the proper support needed in a maternity garment. Due to the increased size and weight of the breast, bras can cause shoulder grooves, hike up the back, slip down in front, or pinch and chafe breast tissue. These problems all relate to improperly designed and fitted bras and result in increased discomfort to expectant and new mothers.
Maternity and nursing bras should not be purchased too far ahead or in a larger size that the mother thinks she will grow into. The size will be wrong for her now, and will probably be wrong later on. Since there is no way to judge how her size will change, initially it will not provide proper support, and she may never quite grow into it. It is usually recommended that a mother purchase a maternity/nursing bra about 6 weeks or less prior to her due date. Depending on the changes her body goes through, she may still have to purchase additional bras after the baby is born to achieve the optimum fit she requires.
The needs of expectant and breastfeeding mothers are not totally alike. The expectant mother is experiencing increasing breast size as a function of her pregnancy. It is a gradual increase developing over the last several weeks prior to the birth of her baby. This woman needs a bra with the maximum number of adjustments that allow her the flexibility to adjust the bra for increasing cup and band size.
The breastfeeding mothers breasts fluctuate all through the day, varying as much as 1 or 2 cup sizes between feedings. Her bra needs flexibility in the cup area to allow for these changes in breast fullness. She also needs a drop cup for breastfeeding. This cup should provide for maximum skin-to-skin contact with her child while the baby is nursing. She also needs strong support of the breast while she is breastfeeding, usually provided by the inner cup or frame of the bra.
What Goes into Making a Good Maternity/Nursing
The following should help you to judge the merits of the maternity/nursing bras on the market today.
First and Foremost
and more Design
Look for bras with good inner and outer cup support construction. The outer or drop cup should support and lift the breast while providing separation between the cups. A lined drop cup provides extra support while providing full coverage. Seams of the outer cup should be smooth. Rough, unfinished seams can rub or chafe nipples that may already be sore and tender.
The best inner cup design is a triangular cup frame, open in the center for nursing. It provides support around the breast in a type of sling design while the drop cup is open. This is particularly important when a mother is nursing her baby. When she lowers the outer cup, the inner cup must still provide support for the breast while allowing a degree of discreet coverage for the mom during breastfeeding.
Look for inner cups that have a wider width to the sling. If the inner cup frame is too narrow, there is little or no support to the breast. When the mothers breast gains fullness during the day, a narrow inner frame can actually slide out from under the outer cup creating a peek-a-boo effect. This effect can be seen through clothing and creates an unattractive appearance. Narrow slings also can roll and bunch under or around the breast, cutting into or chafing the breast tissue.
Look for proper side, strap and back support. Support doesnt stop with cup construction. Side panels should be sufficiently wide, preferably with light boning, to keep the underarm section smooth and in place. Boning should be positioned in the underarm area and should not pinch or press upon tender breast tissue. There should be no rolling or bunching of the underarm fabric or the elastic midriff band. Definitely look for no-roll bands on softcup styles.
The back of the bra should be extra wide and include at least a 3-station back closure (preferably 4) to ensure good support and flexibility in fit. The more narrow the back, the more disadvantages. It will more likely be less comfortable as the narrow band may tend to dig into the skin. Because there is less fabric to keep the back in place, the back will tend to ride up which diminishes the bras overall support.
Straps should be adjustable and made of non-stretch fabric for extra support. Extra width and padding on the shoulder strapsparticularly in larger sizesare added features to look for.
The softcup style remains the most popular, but there is new consumer interest in other types of bras. Softcup bras that offer maximum comfort will feature a no-roll band that stays in place. This band should also be designed to provide extra support to the bottom of the cup. Softcup style nursing bras are also preferred by some lactation experts and recommended for breastfeeding mothers.
The underwire bra is still popular with women who have always worn, and prefer, an underwire style. Underwire bras present certain design challenges, however, that need to be addressed in the bras you select. Based on design and construction, those elements can aid or detract from a womans comfort. Specifically, look for wires that are flexible, padded and reinforced at each of the four tips. When a woman tries on an underwire, notice the position of the wire. It should fit comfortably under and around the breast tissue. It should never poke, press, ride up over or rest on the breast tissue.
For example, with a breastfeeding mom, the breast enlarges prior to feeding time, then reduces after the baby is breastfed. These constant changes throughout the day call for a bra designed with flexibility in the cup size. This can be accomplished two ways.
100% cotton bras can offer a three-step hook and eye ladder that allows the mother to move the hooks up or down to let-out the bra at her fullest point, and take it in at her smallest during the day.
Stretch fabric bras made of a Lycra® blend, do not require this ladder. Because of its stretch characteristics, the fabric itself constantly adjusts to changing breast fullness.
Additional points of adjustment to look for are a four-station back closure that allows the most flexibility for expansion and contraction of the band size and straps that allow adjustment in length.
Whether due to breastfeeding fluctuations or merely the differences between pre- and post-natal breast size, the best bras are designed with a great deal of flexibility to accommodate these changes. Bras that allow a mother to adjust cup size, bandwidth and strap length are also the most comfortable bras to wear.
Stay away from fabrics that scratch or chafe the skin with rough edges, lace, trims or thread. Synthetic seam tapes can cause irritation to the nipple area.
The decision on what fabric is best for a maternity/nursing bra relates to how the bra will be used more than to personal preferences. 100% cotton knit provides the many advantages discussed previously, however, when cotton gets wet, the fibers of the fabric absorb the moisture. In the case of a breastfeeding mother, the cotton bra will stay moist and will not air dry while it is on the body. Some synthetics, on the other hand, wick moisture away from the breast. The moisture is not absorbed by the fabric, but sits on top of the fibers where it more easily will air dry, even while it is worn.
Needing to put baby down to fiddle with a two-handed cup release, particularly when he or she is hungry, crying and upset, is frustrating for mother and child.
Many different types of closures are available in maternity/nursing bra lines. Two of the most convenient types are: a hook and eye ladder design, which can be operated single-handedly, and different types of plastic latch or clasp closures. The best of these are a squeeze or push-type latch design, which are both easy to operate with one hand. Plastic hooks that slide into a slot, either in the bra fabric or into another plastic part are more difficult to operate with one hand. Some plastic clasps may wear out faster, especially when they are a click closure. The tiny plastic points can wear over time and render the bra useless. Some snap closures are easy to open with one handbut require two hands to close. Velcro is another option that is offered. It is easy to open but more difficult to close, particularly if it is part of the strap and needs to be threaded through a connector. Velcro also can pull away from the bra fabric, because of the constant pull and tug on the material. Velcro and snaps have the added disadvantage of being uncomfortable materials for a bra.
Other factors that add to the convenience of a maternity/nursing bra is an outer cup that drops out of the way to allow for added skin-to-skin contact between mother and child, a factor that has been related to more effective let-down and breastfeeding success.
Bras that open in front are not recommended. Most of these have snap closures that provide only a narrow band to keep the bra from completely opening. This bra design provides no support to the breast during breastfeeding. For the mother with larger-sized breasts, this could result in her having to hold the breast during the entire nursing period. Such a bra makes it impossible for her to sip a drink or just hold her baby more comfortably with both hands.
There is a bra line on the market that provides a unique convenience feature for moms who use any of the manufacturers electric breastpumps. The complete bra line is designed to be attached to the breastpumps breastshield via an optional pumping kit that allows complete hands-free pumping. Particularly useful for working moms, the bra accommodates double pumping for faster pumping time while mom can still use both hands for eating, sipping a drink or just taking the time to relax with baby!
Decorative touches such as lace and ribbons should not be scratchy or irritate the skin. Color of the garment (even if its white) should be consistent across a size range or within a lot. One bra shouldnt be yellowish-white while the other is bluish. This is an indicator of poor quality-assurance at the manufacturing level.
Look at the quality of construction in bra lines. Is the sewing neat and even? Is it strong in places of extra stress such as where straps and elastic attach to the bra fabric?
Boning should provide support without pinching or poking. Underwires should be strong and flexible, tips should be padded and circular wire should be padded well to ensure the greatest comfort and to prevent irritation to the breast tissue or skin. Softcup bands should be no-roll style.
Recently introduced bra lines are showing off some new fashion features such as lowering the décolletage or front cut or using attractive embroidery instead of lace as a decorative touch.
As an industry, almost all intimate apparel manufacturers offer seamless stretch bras, a style that has caught on in maternity bras, as well. More manufacturers now offer a line of seamless maternity/nursing bras. The benefits are even greater in this area, because the stretch cotton/Lycra® fabrics allow for a more comfortable fit while still providing the support needed by expectant and nursing moms. Make sure the fabric has fundamentally a one-way stretch. One-way stretch means the fabric is designed for maximum stretch in one direction. The grain direction of the stretch fabric is used diagonally across the cup of the bra, providing little to no stretch vertically from the center of the cup. This allows for the stretch needed to accommodate changing breast size while providing needed breast support.
You can select a maternity/nursing bra in any color as long as it is white. A few manufacturers offer black or beige, but you wont find them offered in all styles or sizes. As contrasted to the regular bra market, which today is a sea of color, many maternity/nursing bra manufacturers have been reluctant to offer even the minimum black much less a neutral or pink. You may begin to see more variety in the future, however, which makes a lot of sense. Expectant and new mothers certainly dont change their basic fashion taste just because they become mothers. If they like color in their regular intimate apparel, theyll enjoy colored maternity garments as well!
By June Case, Marketing Coordinator Medela, Inc.