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Expectant Mom's Resource Center Manufacturers' Websites SHOPPING MALL Product Features

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Maternity / Nursing Bras

Women have a lot of complaints during pregnancy! And, not without good cause. Prenatal physical and emotional stresses on a woman’s 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, today’s 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. Today’s 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
Towards the end of the third trimester, an expectant mother’s body almost seems to have a mind of its own! For one thing, mothers experience the greatest weight gain of their pregnancy at this time. Babies are putting on weight for their coming debut to the outside world. Breasts change dramatically, too, during this period. After the birth of the baby, breast size will enlarge even more, particularly for breastfeeding mothers. This can be uncomfortable, not just physically, but emotionally. Most could not come close to guessing the correct bra size they should be wearing! Yet, comfort—not size—should be the issue. Discretion and a great deal of sensitivity are the key words as you work with these mothers. Be subtle as you bring her garments for a fitting; don’t announce, “Well, let’s try this 50J on you!” Let her first try on the bra. Once she feels the difference in comfort and support the right bra can give, numerical size becomes a trivial point.

Some mothers will try to continue wearing their regular bras long after they’ve outgrown them. Even purchasing larger-sized, regular bras doesn’t 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 mother’s 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 Bra?
The best bras on the market will show the expertise of bra designers who really understand these needs and the anatomy of the breast both during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The better bras will take into account not only support, but also comfort, flexibility, convenience and style. They’re also prettier, more feminine, and they can make an astonishing difference in the appearance, attitude and outlook of the expectant mother.

The following should help you to judge the merits of the maternity/nursing bras on the market today.

First and Foremost….Fit….Fit….Fit!
The best bra in the world can be an unforgiving “iron maiden” if it is not fitted properly. Actually, it is estimated that more than 80% of all women are walking around in the wrong size bra.

Design…Design…and more Design
By design, I’m referring to the actual construction of the bra and whether it does what it is supposed to do. Well-designed maternity/nursing bras have many points in common. Some, however, include more features…some less. These are the most important to look for:

If there is a single, most important factor in evaluating maternity/nursing bras it is the degree to which they provide proper support to the breast. In a nutshell, support = comfort.

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 mother’s 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 doesn’t 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 bra’s overall support.

Straps should be adjustable and made of non-stretch fabric for extra support. Extra width and padding on the shoulder straps—particularly in larger sizes—are added features to look for.

Size Ranges
It also is important to offer a wide range of sizes. Most maternity/nursing bras start at size 34 or 36B. The extended size range is quite broad and can go up to size 40L. Recently, one manufacturer announced they were introducing maternity bras starting with size 34A, to address the other end of the spectrum. To maximize your success, you need to determine the primary demand of your marketplace and purchase the bra size range that meets the needs of your target customers. One of the significant changes in the maternity/nursing bra market is with the extended size ranges now available—it is much easier to fit the larger size woman. This could offer you a unique opportunity to meet a previously unfulfilled need in your market, since it is difficult to find sizes above 38D in the mass market.

Maternity/nursing bras are available in a number of styles: softcup, underwire and, more recently, sports and sleep bras.

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 woman’s 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.

An ideal maternity/nursing bra will provide the flexibility so needed by both expectant and nursing mothers. As discussed previously, the breast begins to enlarge during the latter part of the third trimester. After the birth of the baby, there will again be an increase, particularly when the mother breastfeeds. Bras that accommodate changing breast size and fullness can help bridge this gap.

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.

A comfortable bra is a beautiful thing to own...and even better to wear! Many factors go into making a comfortable bra, the most important being fabric and other materials, construction, support and fit. The majority of maternity bras on today’s market are either 100% cotton knit or a cotton/Lycra® blend. Smooth, natural cotton is cooler to wear, doesn’t create or hold heat or perspiration, and is more comfortable next to the skin. Recently, soft, synthetic fabric bras containing some Lycra® have been introduced with great success, offering greater flexibility, style and an enhanced level of comfort. Beware of open lacy weaves that may promote air circulation and cool comfort, but where the support structure can be compromised. They look attractive, but one fitting will show how the breasts sag in front while the back of the garment hikes up.

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.

A bra that allows a mother to hold her baby and, with one hand, lower her bra cup for breastfeeding is an absolute must.

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 hand—but 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 breastpump’s 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!

Quality can be seen in maternity/nursing bras, just as with other intimate apparel. Quality construction means you should expect details like finished seams to prevent raveling or irritation and fabrics that wash and wear well. Breastfeeding moms can expect some staining, so fabrics that release stains easily (natural fabrics or a combination) are ideal. Since fit and comfort go hand in hand, bras should be expected to keep their shape and size throughout most of their life cycle.

Decorative touches such as lace and ribbons should not be scratchy or irritate the skin. Color of the garment (even if it’s white) should be consistent across a size range or within a lot. One bra shouldn’t 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.

I’ve left this feature for the very last, because so much of how a woman feels during this stage of her life has to do with how she feels personally. Maternity/nursing bras may only be worn for six months to a year. During that time, a mother still wants to feel womanly, feminine, even sexy. So bras that are strictly functional are nice and may even be required in the largest bra sizes, but bras that offer function with a bit of style are even better.

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 won’t 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 don’t change their basic fashion taste just because they become mothers. If they like color in their regular intimate apparel, they’ll enjoy colored maternity garments as well!

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