When to Buy a Maternity Bra? What You Need to Know

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
February 24, 2023

Let’s be honest: maternity clothes are complicated--especially maternity bras. How many should you get, and when should you buy a maternity bra? These are questions I had to answer for each of my several pregnancies, and I thought you might want to learn what I found out.

So, when to buy a maternity bra? Most bra experts recommend getting fitted for your first maternity bra at around three months--right at the beginning of the second trimester.

By the second trimester, you’ll most likely have begun to experience your first size increase and will likely have experienced increased sensitivity and tenderness, and be ready for something more supportive and comfortable than a standard-issue underwire bra.

However, that doesn’t mean you need to throw down tons of money or sacrifice your comfort to save money. Keep reading for my best research on the truth about maternity bras and when to buy them!  

Do I Need a Maternity Bra?

Pregnant 1
Image source: pixabay

Here’s the truth I’ve uncovered about maternity bras: there’s technically no such thing.

Take a nursing bra, for example. A nursing bra has clip down cups so that you can nurse easily without removing your bra.

Experienced moms can make do with sports bras or with regular bras that they roll down, but when you’re new to breastfeeding or in your first months, struggling to help your baby latch and dealing with swollen breasts and cracked nipples, you don’t want to make do--you want the gear that will make your life simple and easy.

Maternity bras, however, don’t need to meet technical specifications as nursing bras do. And more often than not, marketers slap the “maternity” brand on cheap bras and then charge extra. Good maternity bras that have earned the “maternity” label, however, can solve some of the problems you might encounter during pregnancy.

Here are the Problems Maternity Bras Solve

Pregnant and Child
Image source: pixabay

Here are the problems a good maternity bra can help you solve:

  • Breasts grow quickly during pregnancy and can become extremely sensitive and tender
  • Your rib cage can also grow significantly to accommodate your growing baby, causing your existing bra to become tight and uncomfortable
  • Underwires, lace, and other typical bra go-tos can become extremely uncomfortable and even painful when you’re pregnant due to heightened sensitivity
  • The heavier breasts get, the more support you’ll need, and the better the bra needs to be to handle the extra weight--cheap construction and thin straps are more uncomfortable than they’re worth. You can also forget about strapless bras for the time being.

As you can tell, most people will likely need at least one new bra during pregnancy, however, some women are perfectly happy fitting their existing bras with bra extenders. Most experts recommend getting fitted around the end of the first trimester or the beginning of the second, and then again towards the end of pregnancy.

However, the bottom line is that every individual is different and every body grows and changes at different rates. You might make it through your whole pregnancy and never feel the need for a new bra, or you might feel the need to change things up every two months.

And, you might decide to skip maternity bras altogether, and simply go with bigger sizes in soft materials, or you might go straight to your local maternity store and stock up. Whatever the case, there’s no right or wrong way to do maternity bras.

That said, here are some tips for getting the most out of your new maternity bras, saving money, and making sure your investment (because let’s face it, bras are expensive) pays off for you.

How to Find (and Use) a Maternity Bra Size Calculator

First of all, you need to know what size you are. The best way to get fitted for a maternity bra is to get professionally fitted, but if you’re buying your bra online and can’t do that, you can also use a maternity bra size calculator.

Two great maternity and nursing bra makers have maternity bra size calculators here and here that allows you to enter your measurements to get your bra size. These aren’t foolproof, and you will need your tape measure, but they’re good stand-ins if you can’t get professionally fitted.   

Here’s What You Should Look For in a Maternity Bra

Image source: pixabay

Whether or not your bra is labeled as “maternity” or “nursing” (most nursing bras are often great for maternity, as well), here’s what you should look for:

  • Skip the underwire and instead look for molded foam cups with removable pads. No need for push-up bras now!
  • Look for soft, breathable material and skip the lace trim
  • Thick straps and racerbacks or t-backs are generally more supportive
  • Clasp closures are better than pull-on bras, but make sure you get three levels of clasps and at least five or six different settings
  • Look for stretchy fabrics that accommodate 1-2 cups’ growth

Do I Need Maternity Sports Bras and Sleep Bras?

You can also look for different kinds of bras. You might not be accustomed to sleeping with a bra but as your breasts grow you may find it’s necessary to mitigate their tenderness. A sleep bra, however, will be different than an everyday bra--while most women are looking for a day bra that provides definition and shape, a sleep bra should prioritize comfort.

Here’s a tip for sleep bras, however: get nursing sleep bras. These are just as comfortable and soft and supportive as maternity or non-maternity sleeping bras, but if you’re planning on nursing after the baby arrives, you’ll still be able to use them!

Likewise, you might not have put much thought into a sports bra before, but growing mammary glands mean you need extra support. Again, get a nursing sports bra that’s highly rated for impact, as you’ll be able to wear it even while you’re nursing. The only giveaway will be the clasps, which aren’t likely to be noticed anyways.

How Do You Determine Your Nursing Bra Size While You’re Pregnant?

Pregnant Standing Near The Flower 2100340
Image source: pexels

If you’re trying to figure out when to buy a maternity bra, it’s only a matter of time until you’re asking about how to determine your nursing bra size while you’re pregnant. While it’s difficult to know your exact nursing size until you’re there, most experts recommend getting fitted for a nursing bra at eight months. Make sure the nursing bra you get is stretchy so that it will grow with you when your milk comes in.

Related Post: The difference between a maternity bra and a nursing bra

Often what happens is that your breasts will grow quite a bit bigger at about a week after birth. Once your milk fully comes in, and your body regulates its supply a little, they’ll go back down. And that’s why stretchy, supportive material is so important!

That’s also why we often recommend using nursing bras as maternity bras because you don’t have to start over--you’ll be able to use most of those purchases again at some point, depending on how long you breastfeed.

How Many Maternity Bras Do I Need?

Cake Maternity Mousse Contour Bra.

For nursing, experts recommend having three bras: one for storing, one for washing, and one for wearing. Maternity bras are a little different, but we recommend having at least two for everyday wear so you can be wearing one while you wash the other.

Ideally, you’ll have 2-3 for everyday wear and then one or two for sleeping and another one or two maternity sports bras, depending on how active you are. My favorite everyday maternity bra right now--that, happily, also works great as a nursing bra--is the Cake Maternity Mousse Contour Bra. Cake Maternity is an awesome maternity and nursing bra maker, and the Mousse bra is wire-free for maximum comfort but still provides the definition most people want for everyday wear.

The Truth About Underwire

Some nursing experts will tell you that underwire can hinder your milk production or even cause mastitis or other problems. While that’s not always the case, underwire isn’t necessarily your friend while you’re pregnant.

The main reason is comfort--and frankly, with today’s bra technology there’s simply no reason to sacrifice. Plus, there’s a trend to move back towards natural breast shapes and away from the high, padded bras of the 2000s. Can you find underwire maternity and nursing bras? Yes! Is it ok to use them if you want to? Yes! However, don’t be afraid to try non-underwire options, too.

When Do I Need to Buy Maternity Clothes?

Belly bands

When to buy a maternity bra is highly personal--and when to buy maternity clothes is the same way. It’s up to you. Most people find that maternity clothes--like maternity bras--are exceptionally comfortable and once you start wearing them, it’s hard to go back.

However, it’s also worth noting that maternity clothes can be quite expensive, especially when you have to replace a casual wardrobe, athletic wardrobe, and a work wardrobe, so figuring out how to stretch your current wardrobe can be highly beneficial.

Using products like help you last in your regular jeans, and sizing up regular t-shirts and tops mean you have clothes to wear after your baby arrives, as well.

Image source: pexels

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