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Buying a Maternity Bra

For many a mom-to-be, the moment of truth comes at about 16 weeks. That's when your breasts, in preparation for their feeding duties, begin to outgrow your carefully-chosen fashion bras. Lingerie is an intimate item and having the rules rewritten for pregnancy is no fun. But experts agree that when your sleek and sexy undergarments no longer contain their charges, it's time for a maternity bra.

Specially-constructed and often fitted and sold by trained experts, a maternity and nursing bra affords a level of support that average lingerie just can't match. "Too many women look at the price points of a maternity or nursing bra and think, well, I don't really need this. I'll just go and buy a bigger size of my regular bra for $7.99," says Robin Polack, senior vice president of Leading Lady, a manufacturer of lingerie for moms-to-be and new moms. "But when you start coming out of your bra and you find you're adjusting the straps 30 times a day, you start to realize the importance of a specially-designed bra."

But much of what you know from years of buying fashion bras really doesn't apply to the maternity market. So here are some tips from the experts on how to buy and fit a maternity bra.

Don't just buy a bigger fashion bra. Seems like that would be an easy solution -- just size up a cup and add an inch or two of girth. But honestly, that doesn't solve your problem. The fabric may fit around your enlarged breasts, but the design and construction of a fashion bra doesn't provide the support necessary for a pregnant or nursing woman.

Buy more than one. Experts say it's important to have at least two or three and launder them often for optimum health benefits.

Be prepared for two trips. If you're buying your first maternity bra in your first or even second trimester, keep in mind that you may have to make an additional trip in the final weeks. Resist the temptation to buy your first bras with "room to grow." They won't fit properly at the onset. Better to just resign yourself to the idea that you may outgrow your first maternity bra.

Consider nursing bras. They offer the same support as a maternity bra, and they have openings to feed the baby through. You may save yourself some money by going this route, even if feeding your baby seems a long way off.

Most traditional lingerie rules don't apply to maternity or nursing bras. Consider seeking out a professional bra fitter. Although mass merchants and mall-based sellers of lingerie might have a staffer with maternity expertise, a department store lingerie department or a specialty store that caters to maternity wear will have a certified specialist on staff. She can help you make the appropriate choice. You can call ahead for an appointment.

Here are a few more fitting tips:

  • For the band size, measure around your body, just under the arms, with a measuring tape. If the measurement is an uneven number, round up to the next even number.
  • For the cup size, take a bust measurement, using a measuring tape, around the fullest part of your bust. Be sure the tape is flat against your back and level all around your body.
  • Signs of a good fit: the cup covers your breast, and nothing "spills out." The band is level all the way around, not riding up in back.
  • Try them on. This is the only way to be sure that you've found a bra with a good fit. Don't rush the process.

Underwires are a source of some controversy in the maternity bra business. There are lactation consultants who recommend against underwire bras for nursing mothers. The concern is that the rigid wire will put pressure on the breast and lead to blocked milk ducts. However, there are now nursing bras made with flexible plastic support, similar to an underwire. Most experts recommend that if you're used to wearing an underwire in your fashion bras, it's okay to try one out in a maternity bra. Be aware of any discomfort that may indicate the need for a change in bra style.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.