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Pregnancy & Lingerie: Breasts, Nursing Bras, and Body Image Post-Partum

Today's article is a guest post from June of Braless in Brasil. June is a breastfeeding, working mom of two who started to fall in love with lingerie when she lost more than 80 pounds and realized Brazil didn't carry anything in her size... so she turned to the internet and became obsessed. June's favorite brands are Ewa Michalak, Fantasie, Decent Exposures, Freya Active and Curvy Kate and she wears a size 32J thru 36K. You can follow Braless in Brasil on Facebook and Twitter.

pregnant woman lingerie

Pregnancy is a life changing experience in more ways than one. Not only do you get a new addition to your family, but you go through probably the biggest change your body will experience ever. Some women walk away almost unscathed, especially if they are young, but for the majority of us our bodies are different post-partum and we have different lingerie needs --- especially if we decide to breastfeed.

Changes in the Breasts

What you might not know is that the changes in our breasts occur whether we breastfeed or not. During pregnancy you typically increase both in band and cup size. Some women don't have any increase in size (don't worry --- this does not signify if you'll be able to nurse or not!*) and others increase A LOT (personally, I went up five cup sizes and two band sizes!!). It boils down to genetics, how much weight you gain, and where you typically gain weight. It can also vary between pregnancies AND it depends on if you're having a boy or a girl. Turns out girl babies cause you to gain more weight in your breasts than boy babies! Additionally, your areola enlarge and they darken (although, again, it depends on skin color and genetics to what extent this happens. I didn't see much darkening, but I'm also very light skinned).

In terms of development of breasts, your breast (from a medical standpoint) is not considered fully matured until you undergo a pregnancy and your body initiates lactation. There are certainly changes that I've found in my breasts post-partum (even well after I weaned my oldest daughter): my breasts are significantly softer, the nipples are longer, and I'm more bottom heavy. I'm honestly not sure if my overall cup size increased or decreased, because my weight has fluctuated too much in that time frame. Some women do see an overall increase in their cup size that remains even after weaning, others don't.

Post-Partum Expectations and Nursing Bras

Immediately after giving birth is an especially sensitive time for your breasts. You'll produce colostrum, which can last up to seven days post-partum, depending on when your milk comes in; your nipples are getting used to feeding a newborn who has a small mouth and might not have a perfect latch (make sure to have some lanolin on hand if you plan to nurse!); and you could very well see another increase of a cup size or two on top of what you experienced during pregnancy. You might feel a lot more comfortable going topless and/or braless.

If you do want to wear a bra during that time, I'd suggest looking for a soft cup bra in the most comfortable fabric imaginable. I've recently tried Decent Exposures and I highly recommend their bras when it comes to comfort. They have seven different fabrics you can choose from, and are some of the softest, most comfortable bras on your post-partum breasts. Also, they custom make all their sizes, so they will make whatever size you need. (Email them for help if you are outside of their listed size range. They will custom make a size for no additional fee.) Additionally, for an extra $10 they will turn your nursing bra into a tank.

Decent Exposures

Once your milk comes in you could deal with engorgement, because it can take awhile for your breasts to establish the right amount of flow in terms of how much milk your baby needs.** This can take weeks, so it's important to let your baby feed on demand at that point to avoid clogged ducts and mastitis (had that, it is NOT fun!) and also to let your body know exactly how much milk your little one needs. Because of the initial engorgement, it's not recommended that you run out and buy a whole slew of new nursing bras during the first week or so post-partum. You can eventually drop a cup size or two once your milk is established and your initial engorgement settles down.

If you're not planning on breastfeeding, much of the advice is the same. You'll  still probably have some initial engorgement, so it's still best to wait some time before buying new bras.

In the meantime, it's best to wear stretchy, soft cup bras --- a cup size or two up from your largest pregnancy size. Underwire bras --- even in the right size --- can run into problems, because your milk ducts go quite far back underneath your arms and the underwires can rub there. Additionally, a center gore that is too high or too wide can always cause problems and discomfort. It's also important to have large enough cups on your bras if you're nursing because a too-tight bra can decrease your milk supply (it's actually often recommended for women who are trying to dry up their milk supply to wear tight sports bras).

Eventually, your milk supply will go down (or go away if you're not nursing), and then you can return to bras with underwires. I found around four to six weeks post-partum I was able to comfortably wear underwire bras again, but there are some important things to consider when doing so --- I'll get to that in a second! Even if you're nursing, you might find that your breast feel empty at this point. It's not because your supply is dried up, but rather because your body has adjusted to your newborn's feeding pattern.

As for recommendations of more stylish nursing bras... there's a lot out there! Cake lingerie is one of the first that comes to mind. They have bras with flexible underwires that are both comfortable and cute.

Cake Lingerie Ginger Macaroon Bra

Among the more mainstream soft cup bras, Freya are my favorite. I especially like the Dotty Black Bra, which I own. Freya soft cup bras probably give the best uplift that I've seen in soft cup bras --- even in higher cup sizes.

Freya Dotty Black Soft Cup Bra

If you're looking for underwire nursing bras, I'd recommend Ewa Michalak or Comexim. Both will make ANY of their bras into nursing bras for a small additional fee.

Ewa Michalak S Ptys
Comexim Summer Time

Additionally, I've found that, eventually, I prefer to wear a low-cut plunge bra and scoop my breast tissue out of the cups, once the hang of breastfeeding has been well-established with the baby. For a further discussion of bras and breast changes during pregnancy and beyond see here.

Dealing with the Changes Emotionally

Please remember through it all that you just created a beautiful human being and it took nine months for you body to do so! Our bodies don't snap back into place overnight. The Alpha Mom has a great timeline on what you should expect when it comes to recovery time with your post-partum body. Two points in time I found especially interesting were at six months:

An Australian study found that women’s dissatisfaction with their postpartum body peaks at around 6 months after giving birth (Jolin 2009).

And at one year post-partum:

Still not lost all the baby weight? You’re in good company. 60 percent of mothers are still carrying at least a few extra pounds at this stage (Baby Center 2010).

It's normal to have some dissatisfaction with your body post-partum. It's different, and that's okay. Remember the celebrities you see blasted across the tabloids in a size 2 a few weeks after giving birth are the exception, not the rule. Just because your best friend swears that breastfeeding was "the best diet ever" and you find yourself not losing a pound with it, doesn't make you any less of a person or a worse mom because of it!

I want to add that a post-partum body can be beautiful! Photographer Jade Beall created a book, 'A Beautiful Body' of post-partum moms posing semi-nude with no touch ups --- often with their families. The book also includes written accounts of how the moms feel about their bodies and their roles as mothers. You can't tell me these women aren't beautiful!

Picture from 'A Beautiful Body' by Jade Beall

If you have the money for it, I highly recommend buying new lingerie once your body weight has settled down a bit. Even if you are covered in spit-up, a new bra can give you support while you're pushing around a stroller and give you extra confidence! It's a way to remind yourself of who you are and who you once were, and can give you a piece of self amongst all the other changes motherhood brings.

*Success at nursing depends on the amount of milk glands you have, not on the amount of supporting fibrous and fatty tissue, which is what determines breast size. There are a very small number of women who struggle with an insufficient amount of milk glands, a condition known as Insufficient Glandular Tissue. If you feel like this may be the case for you, contact a Lactation Consultant. Many women are able to successfully breastfeed in some manner while supplementing with formula. See By Baby's Rules' blog for her first hand experience.

**If you're looking for help when it comes to nursing (whether it be engorgement, lack of supply, feeding advice etc), I'd recommend finding a local breastfeeding/new moms group (the support from other moms post-partum can make a huge difference in your well-being), Le Leche League group, Lactation Consulate, or look online to Kellymom.

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

7 Comments on this post

  1. Emily says:

    Thanks so much for addressing this topic!! I’m 5 months pregnant so of course this is the kind of info I need right now! Thanks for covering all types of lingerie topics on your site!

  2. June this was a wonderful article on the changes women undergo during pregnancy and nursing! I particularly like that you talked about the emotional component of the changes in the body as I have seen too many of my customers beat themselves up for not losing the weight fast enough or feel bad about the changes in their bust. It’s a shame that women are pressured to lose baby weight and return to pre-pregnancy body shape, no matter the physical or emotional cost.

    • June says:

      Thanks so much Erica! I’ve found that the emotional aspect is one of the hardest on women. Even though we know it’s coming, often women just don’t know to what extent their bodies will change. Looking at celebrities, you’d think that losing the pregnancy weight is super easy and just a matter of will-power. Yet, I can tell you from my own experience with with diet and exercise my body likes to hold on to the weight for quite a while post-partum. These messages can be even worse for women struggling with post-partum depression or who have struggled with eating disorders and/or body image issues in the past. Moms need a lot more support and a lot less judgement about their bodies.

  3. I’m glad that mastitis was mentioned in this article, however it is important to note that there is great debate within the bra fitting community and the nursing community about the connection between underwired nursing bras and mastitis. Some boutiques do not recommend and even refuse to carry underwired nursing bras. While there seems to be little scientific documentation to support this, I personally prefer to play it safe and encourage my ladies to wear non wired styles for the first several months of nursing. It’s true, you will not get the same shape and lift from a non wired style, and this can be challenging, especially for those women in bigger back and deeper cup sizes, but this time of life is about comfort, not fashion. Often nursing moms come to me for a bra to wear to a wedding or special event and in those cases, I tell them the wire is for “one night only”. Wearing a non wired style is a temporary, small price to pay to avoid a painful condition. Eventually though, life goes on and transitioning to a wired style is something most women do as they wean their babies, and there is less daily fluctuation in size. I recommend styles with stretch lace, as they will accommodate any temporary fullness. Hot Milk is another company that makes beautiful, lacy and pretty nursing styles, Panache has recently introduced a new style that is lovely, and for simple function, Anita/RosaFaia also produce several great styles, as does Bravado! My sister in law is a slim/petite and she did very well with a stretch/microfibre bra from the “Boob” company when her little gal arrived.

    • June says:

      It’s absolutely an individual choice. As someone who had mastitis (and would prefer to never have that again, it was horrible), I can certainly understand wanting to stay away from underwires as long as possible. That being said, with a 32K chest I was starting to get a good deal of pain from sticking to just soft cup bras (granted, my Decent Exposures bra hadn’t shown up yet so I might have changed my mind if I had had that around from the beginning) but right around 4-6 weeks post-partum I switched back to nursing bras with underwires. I felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin and, thankfully, have not had any problems with that. But it’s and individual choice and if a woman doesn’t feel comfortable switching then she shouldn’t feel like she has to!

  4. Christine says:

    Where were these pretty things when I was nursing my brood? It’s nice to see that the industry has taken into consideration that practical doesn’t have to be dowdy anymore. I’ve even seen some really pretty nursing bras from brands like Marlies Dekkers!

    • June says:

      With my first pregnancy I didn’t know about any of those brands either, unfortunately! I wore the worst white bra ever that was very unsupportive and was just flat out ugly. It really did a number on my self esteem.

      It’s nice to have a second chance at it now that there are so many better options out there and I know about them too!

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