A maternity bra is a more supportive and comfortable version of a regular bra, specially designed to support your breasts as they grow during pregnancy. Some of the features that add comfort are wider straps, a soft, cotton lining, and extra hooks and eyes on the band. Maternity bras don't usually have underwired cups. It used to be thought underwiring could inhibit milk flow, but while that's no longer a concern, it can still be uncomfortable or dig in so you might want to go underwire-free anyway.
To ensure you choose the right bra for the job, it's best to get measured professionally at various stages throughout your pregnancy. This is due to your changing shape and increasing bust size. Most retailers stocking maternity or nursing bras offer this service.
When should you start wearing a maternity bra?
It's a good idea to switch to a maternity bra at about 8-10 weeks. During pregnancy your breasts will grow and may start to feel more tender, so buying a wireless, stretchy maternity bra will help you to feel more comfortable.
Many women look at buying a combination of both maternity and nursing bras; some opt to switch to nursing bras in the middle of the third trimester so they can start to get used to them.
As well as getting yourself professionally measured a few times during pregnancy, if you're intending to breastfeed it's a good idea to get measured for a nursing bra towards the end of your pregnancy (on or after 36 weeks ideally) so that the fit is as close as it can be to you size when you start breastfeeding.
The very stretchy bras are excellent for the postnatal days when your breasts swell up bigger than your head
If you decide to buy nursing bras during pregnancy, make sure they give you room to grow. You may find you go up another cup size once the baby arrives and your milk comes in.
So, what are your options?
Maternity bras are softer and more supportive than a regular bra. Usually they are more flexible to the touch and made from stretchy material, which helps to support your ever-changing bust shape. They are rarely underwired, although some of them have boning in the side to help them keep their shape. One example of a simple maternity bra is our Best Budget Maternity Bra, the Mothercare Soft Cup Spacer bra.
The only real difference between a maternity bra and a nursing bra is that nursing bras have clasps or panels which allow easy access to the nipples for breastfeeding, without removing the bra. They also have a little extra room inside the cups to allow for use of breast pads. Our Mumsnet Best, the Emma Jane Alice bra, has this function.
Sports maternity bras
These maternity bras usually have a T-back design which gives you plenty of support and closely constructed straps, meaning they don’t slip off your shoulders during exercise. They are not underwired and offer extra flexibility to make movement easier.
Maternity or nursing bra tops
These combine a nursing-bra section with a built-in tank top. As a result, they offer discreet nursing for quick breastfeeding access. They're perfect for the summer and for sleeping in as they look like a vest top and many people don't even notice that they are nursing tops.