How to Find the Right Pumping Bra—And the 2 Most Important Things to Look For

It all comes down to fit and breast pump compatibility

Things to Look for in a Pumping Bra

Verywell Family / Jaclyn Mastropasqua

If you don't want to sit around holding breast pump flanges to your chest while a machine next to you makes noises as it suctions breast milk from your body, chances are you've at least thought about investing in a pumping bra. Having the best pumping bras—in addition to the best breast pumps—can allow you to reclaim some amount of ownership of your time (if not your body). As the name suggests, hands-free pumping bras free your hands by securely holding the breast pump flanges in place while you're pumping.

Just because it's a bra doesn't mean shopping for the right one is as straightforward as shopping for a regular bra. There are two important things you need to factor into the decision making that aren't part of the process when shopping for another garment: whether it fits and supports your fluctuating body shape (and breast shape) before, during, and after a pumping session and whether it's compatible with your breast pump.

To help demystify the process of choosing the right pumping bra, we spoke with Ashley Blankenship, breastfeeding counselor, founder of Supported Season, and creator of Bump Up Birth Method, to determine what to look for in pumping bras. "Don't be discouraged if you try one type of bra and hate it. Just like with regular clothes, it might take a few brands before you find the perfect fit," says Blankenship. "Just because a friend likes one type doesn't mean you will too. Don't be afraid to experiment with what works best for you."

The Difference Between a Nursing Bra and a Pumping Bra

While many pumping bras are often designed to let you both pump or nurse while wearing them, the same cannot be said of nursing bras. The difference is all in the access.

Nursing bras are designed to provide access to the breast so a child can breastfeed without requiring the nursing parent to completely disrobe from the waist up. Nursing bras often feature clips on the straps that unclasp to reveal the breast, or they can be made from a material stretchy enough to allow the wearer to pull it down and reveal the breast for the nursing child.

Pumping bras, on the other hand, are designed to allow the wearer to use a breast pump hands-free by keeping the flanges in place. Pumping bras have slits in the fabric over the nipple that you can fit the flanges into, though they might also have a clasp on the strap that allows them to be used as a nursing bra as well. Pumping bras that double as nursing bras are a popular choice for parents who do both throughout the day and don't want to have to change their bra. Many of our top picks, like the Ingrid & Isabel Maternity 2-in-1 Nursing and Pumping Bra and the Bodily Do Anything Bra, can do both—and do so comfortably.

How to Make Sure Your Pumping Bra Fits Properly

The fit of a pumping bra, or nursing bra for that matter, is much more consequential than any other bra you'll ever own, chiefly because an ill-fitting pumping (or nursing) bra could lead to mastitis—swelling and inflammation of the breast tissue that can cause infection. To find a properly fitting bra and fend off mastitis, you want a bra that can accommodate your body through size fluctuations and supports the breast as it becomes full of milk before you express it.

Pumping bras, according to Blankenship, should fit snugly without being too tight. Pumping bras that offer adjustable straps and a wide size range are ideal because breast size can change dramatically throughout the months or years you breastfeed and/or pump—and even from the beginning of your pumping session to the end. These are some important characteristics to look for when evaluating the fit of your pumping bra:

Size range: Pay attention to the size range when shopping and always look at the size guide and the brand's instructions for measuring your body. We recommend measuring yourself, especially your cup size, when your breasts are full (right before a pumping or nursing session). Pumping bras are typically sized by the band and cup size like standard bras, although some brands like Kindred Bravely do use letter sizing in regular and "busty" fits for F cups and larger (Kindred Bravely bras also go up to a size 3X, or a 48 band size).

Adjustable straps: Not only do adjustable straps help you find the right fit over your shoulders, but they can also help you accommodate breasts as they fluctuate in size between pumping sessions. Before you pump, your breasts are likely full, and you may need to release more slack on the straps. After you pump, your breasts will be empty and less full, and you may want to tighten the straps to provide adequate support. A bra with adjustable straps (even better if you can adjust them from the front, like Bodily's The Do Anything Bra) means you can have a properly fitting bra throughout the day—before, during, and after your pumping session.

Adjustable bands: It's no secret your body changes during postpartum as it recovers from childbirth. Your body and shape are also changing, so it's important to look for adjustable bands on your pumping bra when picking one that will fit you properly. While many standard bras have three adjustable clasps at the back of the band, you may want even more flexible sizing at the band in your pumping bra. Our picks from Ingrid & Isabel and Kindred Bravely both have at least four clasp options for more adjustability in band sizing, plus Kindred Bravely bras come with a band extender for an even more customized fit.

Breathable, stretchy, and supportive materials: Look for a bra that offers some elasticity so that it stays put, offers support, holds pump flanges in place, and can stretch based on your changing body and breast size throughout your pumping journey. We also recommend pumping bras made of cotton since it's soft, washes well, and is absorbent. Another thing to consider with the material is how easy it is to clean. No matter how careful you are, chances are you will leak or spill milk on the bra during your pumping sessions, so you'll likely wash the bra regularly. Look for a pumping bra that won't stain and, ideally, is safe to toss in the washing machine for a thorough cleaning.

How to Tell If Your Breast Pump Is Compatible With Your Pumping Bra

Beyond how it fits, the most important thing to consider in a pumping bra is whether it is compatible with your breast pump. Most pumping bras have a universal design, which allows you to use them regardless of what pump you use. However, that is not the case for every pumping bra and it's difficult to tell just by looking at them. Brands typically list their breast pump compatibility in the product description. Luckily, we've done the work for you in our list of the best pumping bras—we list each bra's pump compatibility in the key specifications at the bottom of each review.

Nearly every single bra we recommend, like our top pick, the Isabel Maternity 2-in-1 Nursing and Pumping Maternity Bra, has a universal design. The Do Everything Bra from Bodily is the lone exception. It's compatible with the major pump brands including Spectra, Ameda, and Motif, but is not compatible with Medela flanges larger than 3.15 inches, nor is it compatible with silicone-rimmed flanges.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best pumping bra?

    After months of testing pumping bras, our top pick is the Ingrid & Isabel Maternity 2-in-1 Nursing and Pumping Bra. We found it to be comfortable and supportive without being restrictive. It let us seamlessly go from a pumping session to a nursing session and holds up beautifully in the wash. Plus, it has a top smoothing layer over the pump access, which makes it look and feel more like a normal bra.

  • Can I use a pumping bra as a nursing bra?

    “A pumping bra should really only be used if it’s also a nursing bra,” Blankenship tells Verywell Family. “Pumping bras typically cover most of the areola which will inhibit a proper latch. When nursing, you want most, if not all, of the breast exposed and nothing putting pressure or pinching the breast. Tight items on the breast during feeding can lead to clogged ducts and infections.” 

    Several all-in-one bras work for both pumping and nursing, and many allow you to do them both simultaneously, such as the Bodily Do Anything Bra and The Dairy Fairy Ruby Nursing and Pumping Bra.

  • Do you wear a pumping bra all day?

    While it’s possible to wear a pumping bra all day, it’s not necessary, says Blankenship. Consider a few things beforehand, such as your comfort and the bra’s fit. “If it’s more comfortable for you to wear a bra, do it. If it’s more comfortable not to, do that,” she said. “Use pads in your bra and change them often. Moist nipples can breed fungi. If they’re feeling raw, sore, or itchy, letting them air out without a bra or shirt can sometimes help,” she recommends.

    You’ll also want to ensure your bra and clothes are snug but not tight. “Tight clothing on your breasts is not great when lactating. It can cause all kinds of problems like oversupply, clogged ducts, swelling, pain, etc. You want supportive but not constricting,” says Blankenship. “Wires are not great for this reason. Breast tissue can extend down into your ribs and armpits in some people.”

By Katrina Cossey
Katrina has been a news and feature writer for more than six years with experience at KFOR-TV and She has covered topics ranging from local and national news as well as writing and researching for parenting content. She is passionate about sharing accurate news in hopes it will make the lives of others easier.