Nursing bra

A new mother wearing a nursing bra as she breastfeeds her infant.

A nursing bra is a specialized brassiere that provides additional support to women's milk-filled breasts and permits comfortable breastfeeding without the need to remove the bra. This is accomplished by specially designed bra cups that include flaps which can be opened with one hand to expose the nipple. The flap is usually held closed with a simple clasp or hook.



Like its sister the maternity bra, a nursing bra is a practical bra designed with fuller cups, comfortable fabrics, and wider shoulder straps for increased comfort. It is designed to support a woman's increased breast size during lactation and provide ready access to her breasts for nursing. The nursing bra aids breastfeeding by providing flaps or panels that form the bra cup that can be unclipped and folded down or to the side, exposing the nipple.[1] Some nursing bras can be easily pulled aside to allow an infant to nurse. The panels or flaps on the bra cup are designed to be opened with one hand, allowing the mother to hold her infant before beginning breastfeeding. This also permits women to initiate breastfeeding with a minimum of effort, allowing her to nurse without attracting undue or unwanted attention. Nursing bras can be worn under a variety of outer garments, though most nursing mothers choose tops that make it easy for her to place the baby at her nipple. Nursing bras are designed to allow the mother to insert breast pads to adsorb leaking milk between feedings.


A 1872 nursing chemise shows a movable flap that allows access for breastfeeding [2]

The first US patent for a bra was granted in 1913 to Mary Phelps Jacob.[3] Her invention is the most widely recognized as the predecessor to the modern bra and consequently the nursing bra. The first nursing bras entered the market in 1927 when William Rosenthal, the president of Maidenform, took out brassier design patents including nursing, full figured and the first seamed uplift bra.[4]

Maidenform began to lead the way in the bra industry with their ad campaign, "I dreamed I..." in 1949 which emphasized that women could be whatever they wanted.[5] Most importantly, different bras were designed for different types of activities. Thus, if you were pregnant you could purchase a maternity bra; if you were breastfeeding you could purchase a nursing bra. Maidenform's innovations included adjustable straps, maternity bras, nursing bras and standardized cup sizes. Many bra manufacturers have since built on Maidenform's designs, aiming to improve fashionable and functionality of nursing bras.[citation needed]

Selection and fit

As with all bras, finding a correctly fitting nursing bra can be difficult. Like regular bras, the band should ride on the woman's torso parallel to the floor. The cups should enclose the breast tissue with no bulging under the armpits, over the tops of the cups, or from under the cups.[6] The underside of the cups should lie flat against the woman's chest, and the center gore between the cups should lay flat against the woman's sternum.

Regular bras are not recommended for nursing mothers because they may not offer adequate support or may put pressure on the breasts. It is also more difficult to life a regular brassiere over the breast when preparing to breastfeed, putting undue pressure on breast tissue, would could increase the risk of clogged milk ducts and infection.[7]

Changes during pregnancy

Because a woman's torso may enlarge to accommodate the pregnancy, women may need to increase their bra band size.[6] An average of 80% of women wear the wrong bra size, and mothers who are preparing to nurse can benefit from a professional bra fitting from a lactation consultant.[6] Women should choose nursing bras with strong side and undercup support and an extra-wide back for optimal support. Nursing bras usually have up to four rows of hook in the rear closure to allow the woman to adjust her band size to a limited extent. However, because a woman's milk supply continually changes, her breasts will also change size during each day. Experts recommend a soft cup bra made of a blend of cotton and Lycra with cups that stretch to accommodate changes in breast size.[7] Most women buy at least two nursing bras so they can alternate between the two.

Breast sizes change

A woman's breasts grow during pregnancy, potentially several cup sizes larger. A woman who wore a C cup bra prior to her pregnancy may need to buy an F cup or larger bra while nursing.[7] Once the baby is born and about 50 to 73 hours after birth, the mother will experience her breasts filling with milk (sometimes referred to as “milk coming in”) and at that point changes in the breast happen very quickly. Once lactation begins, the woman's breasts swell significantly and can feel achy, lumpy and heavy (which is referred to as engorgement). Her breasts may increase in size by a cup or more,[6] and individual breast size can vary daily or for longer periods depending on how much the infant nurses from each breast. A regular pattern of nursing is usually established after 10-12 weeks, and her breasts will usually reduce in size somewhat. At this point the bra band size will also likely decrease and return to the size the woman wore before she became pregnant.

Changes during nursing

Depending on how much her breasts change, a woman may find it necessary several weeks after birth to buy additional nursing bras. To provide proper support and fit, to facilitate nursing, and to avoid engorged breasts or other complications that prevent an infant from nursing effectively, it is important to wear nursing bras that fit well. When a milk gland is compressed, it may clog and result in an extremely painful infection that can disrupt nursing. The infection can physically and emotionally affect the mother's ability to breastfeed.[8]

Types of nursing bras

There are an increasing variety of nursing bras designs, including softcup, underwire, seamless, and lounging styles. Some nursing bras can also serve as a sports bra, allowing a nursing mother to exercise more easily. Some outerwear like tank tops and T-shirts have nursing bras that are built in to the garment, and there are also padded and plus-size nursing bras.[7] Some experts advise against wearing an underwire nursing bra because they can restrict the flow of milk and cause mastitis. Most nursing bras have traditionally been white, but manufacturers now offer an increasing selection of colors and styles, including brown, teal, floral, and floral animal prints, and some are accessorized with lace and ribbon.[6]

Different manufacturers use different methods for fastening the flap to the cup, including squeeze, snaps, clasps and hooks. Some nursing bras are designed with cups that can simply be pulled down to facilitate access to the nipple. Experts recommend that before buying a nursing bra women should try on the bra and experiment with opening the flap with one hand.[7] Most flaps open at the apex of the bra, at the point where the should strap connects to the bra cup, while a few designs open from the side, but some nursing bras open and close between the breasts. Some designs utilize stretchable fabric allowing the woman to pull the entire bra to one side to facilitate nursing.[9]

Experts recommend nursing bras that are stretchy, absorbent, and don't bind the breasts in any way that could interfere with milk flow. Women are recommended to wear a bra that is 100 percent cotton or a cotton-Lycra blend or other stretchy synthetic.[10]

Innovations and patents

After World War II, the brassiere market increased exponentially along with the post war baby boom and the zip-up nursing bra was invented. Nursing bras saw little innovation for some time and the market was dominated by larger lingerie companies who would simply add a clip. Today the nursing bra industry is very segmented with various players including traditional brassier players such as Wonderbra but more specifically is seeing speciality brands take charge in the market with increased quality, innovations in design and added expertise.[citation needed]

Several nursing bra patents are pending or have been granted for various innovations and improvements. Bravado Designs was an innovator in the market by introducing a multi-band/multi-cup sizing system. This innovation was significant as pregnant women in the past had troubles with their nursing bras, specifically the comfort of their bras, as women's breasts can fluctuate three cup sizes within an hour while nursing.[citation needed] Other innovations included: Mary Sanchez received a patent in 1991 for the one-handed fastening method and variable adjustment of cup size.[11]

For women who need to pump their breast milk, specialized nursing bras are available that allow a woman to pump her breast milk hands-free, similar to a commercial dairy milking machine.[7]


  1. ^ "Bra Glossery". Bare Necessities. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  2. ^ US patent 132613, Henry Wolf, "Improvement in Nursing Chemises", issued 1872-10-29 
  3. ^ US patent 1115674, Mary P. Jacob, "Brassiere", issued 1914-11-03 
  4. ^ "Maidenform Company History". Maidenform. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  5. ^ "The Maidenform I Dream Collection List". Retrieved 2009-04-27. [dead link]
  6. ^ a b c d e "Nursing bras". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 16 November 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Nursing bras". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 16 November 2011. 
  8. ^ "Choosing a Nursing Bra". Grey Bruce Health Unit. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  9. ^ "Push Up Bras". Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  10. ^ "Nursing bras". Consumer Reports. 04 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-27. 
  11. ^ US patent 5024628, Mary M. Sanchez, "Maternity and nursing brassiere with strap variations", issued 1991-06-18 

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Look at other dictionaries:

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