A great maternity bra can be a true gift, but the good ones aren't cheap, and moms-to-be already have a million things on their pre-baby shopping list. Thinking moms want to know: can you get away without a special pregnancy bra, or maybe with just one or two? Here's how many maternity bras you actually need to own, and tips for finding the perfect fit.
Stephanie Retcho is the co-founder of Mia Tango, an online maternity boutique with a unique trade-in program. "Our recommendation is three to four bras for convenience," she tells Romper in an email interview. That means you have one to wear, one to wash, and one (or two) for backup. "We wouldn't recommend buying more than that, as your breast size may change over time once the baby is born — even when nursing," she explains. If you can, Retcho recommends opting for organic fabrics, which will be softer than cheap polyesters against your skin, and your baby's, too.
On Mia Tango, bras range in price from $35 to $45 dollars, says Retcho, and really, you probably shouldn't spend much less than that. "Maternity bras are not cheap, and when they are, you can tell," says Catherine Gendel, VP of Creative Marketing for the Gendel Girls. She recommends owning three, and purchasing one cup size larger than you wore before you got pregnant. When shopping, prioritize supportive straps, and a supportive back wing, she says, because bras with a flimsy closure tend to roll and shift.
Like mothers themselves, maternity bras need to be flexible, explains Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), because breasts tend to grow and shrink over the course of the day. While regular bras come with two or three rows of hooks and clasps, you'll want a bra with five or even six rows to accommodate a body that expands and contracts during pregnancy and nursing.
So, when exactly should you start shopping for a maternity bra? You definitely don't want to leave it too late and risk stretching out the bras you already own, or irritating tender skin. "As your body adjusts to pregnancy, the first thing that is guaranteed to change is your breast size, and you are going to be looking for more comfortable solutions pretty early on in your first trimester," explains Elizabeth Samet, VP of Branding & PR and Creative Director for Motherhood Maternity and A Pea in the Pod. She recommends buying four maternity bras with nursing functions. That way you won't have to do a daily load of laundry, and you're well prepared for spit-up emergencies. To help out with the four-bra goal, Motherhood Maternity and a Pea in a Pod helpfully offer buy three, get the fourth free deals. "The ultimate goal is comfort," says Samet. "During pregnancy, your skin and body change, and you will want to invest in a bra that is built to grow with you."
Generally speaking, experts agree that women need a minimum of three maternity bras, but dissenters exist. "Moms don't actually need any special type of bra," Renee Palting, IBCLC with Mindful Lactation, tells Romper. "Any bra that provides support and makes mom feel comfortable is fine." If your bra isn't riding up on your abdomen or digging into your shoulders, and if you're not spilling out or finding any gaps in the cup, you might not need to wear a maternity bra — or even any bra at all. Some moms prefer to go free, and for them, a plain or shelf cami might be plenty, says Palting.
No matter what, though, be sure to clothe yourself in breathable fabrics, especially when nursing. "Synthetic fabrics can become hot, and if you are a mom that tends to leak milk, a wet, warm environment can grow yeast," Palting explains. "A good fit is important because poor fit can lead to plugged milk ducts." With that in mind, happy shopping.