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.
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.
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|
|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.