Buying and Using a Nursing Bra

woman in nursing bra breastfeeding

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A nursing bra is a supportive undergarment designed for breastfeeding women. It has cups with flaps or panels that can be easily opened to provide access to your breasts without having to remove your entire bra.

Do You Need A Nursing Bra?

A nursing bra, or any type of bra for that matter, is not something that you absolutely need, but it is a convenient breastfeeding accessory. If you have smaller breasts, you may feel fine without a bra. A regular bra or a sports bra can be used as well. However, if you have a larger bust, or your breasts are very full and heavy, a supportive nursing bra may help you to feel more comfortable. 

Why You May Choose to Use a Nursing Bra 

  • You have large, full, heavy breasts: A nursing bra can hold up the extra weight of your nursing breasts. It can also provide support to the Cooper's ligaments which may help to prevent your breasts from sagging later on.
  • You are leaking: Nursing pads can be worn inside a nursing bra to soak up excess breast milk from leaky breasts.
  • Your nipples are sore: A nursing bra can hold breast shells in place to protect your sore nipples and help them heal.
  • You plan to exercise: It is very important to wear a supportive bra while you exercise especially if your breasts are larger and full of breast milk. Without good support, the movement of your breasts during exercise could put you at risk of developing mastitis.

Buying a Nursing Bra

  • If you decide to wear a nursing bra, be sure to choose one that fits you properly. Your nursing bra should be supportive but not tight. It should not leave any indentations or marks on your skin. If your bra is too tight, it could cause plugged milk ducts, mastitis or a decrease in your milk supply. Lingerie stores, maternity shops, and lactation centers may have someone available who can provide you with a bra fitting and help you to choose the right bra.
  • A soft cup bra is preferred over an underwire bra. The wire from an underwire bra can put pressure on the tissue at the base of your breast leading to the same problems that a tight bra can cause.
  • Choose a bra that is made from cotton or other natural materials. Natural materials are absorbent and allow air to flow to your breasts. Synthetic materials can irritate your breasts and trap moisture.
  • Try out the flaps on the bra. Pick a bra that has clasps that you can operate with one hand so that you can easily open and close the panels while you are holding your baby.
  • Since your breasts will most likely change in size at the end of your pregnancy and then again during the first week postpartum, you may not want to invest in more than one or two bras until after your baby arrives.
  • It may be helpful to have at least two nursing bras so that you can wear one while the other one is in the wash. Nursing bras can become soiled easily from leaking breast milk, sweating or your baby's spit-up and drool. Change your bra whenever it becomes dirty or wet since moisture laying on your breasts for an extended amount of time can provide an optimal environment for the growth of bacteria or fungus. To avoid skin irritation, sore nipples, mastitis or thrush, wear a clean, dry bra. Nursing pads or breast shells worn inside your bra can also help to keep your bra clean and dry.
  • Nursing bras can be purchased at maternity shops, department stores and online.
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Spencer J. P. Management of Mastitis in Breastfeeding Women. Am Fam Physician. 2008; 78(6): 727-31.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition.  Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.