How does a nursing bra work?

I remember my first bra. It was more of a crop top really.

It was soft, wireless and unpadded. It felt really uncomfortable because my 9-year-old self was comparing it to the freedom of not wearing a bra. But I was secretly excited that I was growing boobs!

Over the years, proper underwired bras became the norm for me. I was definitely not game to go braless in public.

I  never questioned whether my bras were comfortable until I was introduced to nursing bras.

I was like Alice in Wonderland! Maybe I was just wearing the wrong bras but I never knew bras could be this comfy. I’ve been a nursing bra fan since then.

In fact, I wore nursing bras even when I wasn’t pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you’re wondering if you should buy a nursing bra, I’ll tell you all about how nursing bras work. I bet you’ll be as excited as I am about them.

But first:

What is a nursing bra?

I like to say that a nursing bra is the Rolls Royce of the bra world. They are specifically designed for breastfeeding moms. They not only have features to allow convenient breastfeeding, they also trump regular bras in both comfort and support.

Read: Nursing bra vs regular bra: A quick and easy comparison

How does a nursing bra work to give you superior support, comfort and breastfeeding convenience?

To answer this question, we’ll need to look at all the individual components of a nursing bra that makes it such a must-have for breastfeeding moms.

Let’s take a deep dive:

Convenient breastfeeding features

Clip-down cups

Nursing bras are the only bras that have B clips at the top of the cups. You can unclip these with a flick and instantly expose your breast to your hungry baby. It’s also really easy to pull your cup back up and reclip with one hand. Admittedly some clips are less fiddly than others so make sure you test the clips when you try on a new nursing bra.

Easy clip-down cups on the BRAVADO Body Silk Seamless Bra

Pull-aside flaps

Some nursing bras, usually sleep bras, have pull-aside flaps instead of drop-down cups. This makes breastfeeding even easier. All you need to do is pull your flap to the side and reposition it once baby’s done feeding. This works really well when you’re half asleep at night and can’t be bothered with clips.

 Pull aside flaps on the Kindred Bravely Organic Cotton Sleep Bra

Thin cup padding

Nursing bras have much thinner cup padding so that you can fold your cups when breastfeeding. Some are made of foam. Better quality bras have padding made of spacer material which are lighter and more breathable.

Momanda Nursing Bralette has lightly-lined cups

Some nursing bras have no padding but will have pockets for you to insert cup padding if you want.

Cake Cotton Candy Bra has pockets for nursing pads

Pumping features

There are also special combined nursing and pumping bras. These bras have slits or holes for pump flanges and drop-down cups. They allow you to breastfeed and pump at the same time.

The Momcozy Pumping Bra is a No.1 Bestseller 

Read: The 7 best all-in-one nursing and pumping bras on Amazon

Comfort features

Wireless

Most nursing bras are wireless. It’s not just for comfort but also to prevent wires from pressing on your milk ducts. Clogged ducts and mastitis are a breastfeeding mom’s worst nightmare.

Kindred Bravely Sublime Nursing Sports Bra is a great all-rounder wireless bra

Read: The 13 best wireless nursing bras on Amazon

Super soft fabric

The most common fabric used for nursing bras are cotton, bamboo, modal or high quality soft polyester. Combine this with a touch of elastane and you have in your hands a super soft, stretchy bra.

If you are a fan of lace (I am), lacy nursing bras have stretchy soft lace that can expand with your boobs.

 My favorite bamboo bra: Cake Tutti Frutti Bra

Read more about the best fabric for nursing bras

Cotton-lined cups

Especially in the first few weeks of breastfeeding, your breasts are achy and your nipples are sensitive and might even be cracked. The last thing you need is scratchy lace chafing on your sore nipples. This is why almost all nursing bras are have cups lined with soft cotton to soothe your boobs.

 The HOTmilk Show Off Bra is made of 100% cotton with cotton-lined cups

Seamless

Some nursing bras are even seamless so there are no stitches to irritate your skin. If you have very sensitive skin, choose seamless bras.

Motherhood Maternity Plus-Size Seamless Nursing Bra

Read my detailed review: Motherhood Maternity Plus-Size Seamless Nursing Bra Review

Support features

Wide under-bust band

As most nursing bras are wireless, it makes up for the lack of wire by having a wide under-bust band. The band functions a bit like a belly band and holds up the weight of your breasts. Just make sure that it sits horizontally because if it’s not fitting, you won’t get the best support.

 Kindred Bravely Nursing Bras have soft wide bands that stretch around pregnant bellies 

Wide shoulder straps

The other work horse is the shoulder straps. Nursing bras have wider straps than regular bras to lift your breasts and disperse the weight on your shoulders. This helps prevent shoulder and back ache.

 A-frame or side slings

When your cups are down, nursing bras have a sling on the side to help support and hold your breasts in place for baby. Some even have A-frame slings that provide even more support and coverage. These are good for large breasts, especially if you’re breastfeeding in public.

That’s an A-frame sling

boob seat-belts

That’s a side sling

Read: The best A-frame nursing bras for extra support and coverage

Multiple hook and eye options

Unlike regular bras, nursing bras come with at least 3 to 6 hook and eye options so you can adjust it to fit just right. Some even come with bra extenders. This way, you can probably wear a nursing bra through both pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Flexible fabric

It’s not enough for fabric to be stretchy. There would be next to no support if your bra stretches but doesn’t spring back into shape.

Nursing bras are made of flexible material. Think rubber band. It will stretch when your breasts are engorged but will shrink after breastfeeding when your breasts are smaller. This will ensure that your breasts are well-supported no matter how much they are fluctuating in size.

Flexi-wires

While most nursing bras are wireless, there are underwired nursing bras on the market. If you have larger breasts or you’re after more support, flexi-wired nursing bras are one of your options. The difference between flexi-wires and regular underwires is that they are more flexible (duh) and are in a bigger moon shape. Both these features help prevent clogged ducts.

 Cake Croissant Bra has flexi-wires

ReadCan I wear an underwire bra while breastfeeding?

However, if your breasts are still fluctuating in size, please stay away from any wired bra until they are behaving themselves. Also, you need to make sure your nursing bra fits just right. Otherwise you run the risk of blocked ducts.

Read: The 9 best underwire nursing bras that don’t cause clogged ducts

Other special features

OEKO-TEX certified

Some high quality nursing bras are OEKO-TEX certified and GOTS-certified so you know that both mom and baby are safe from harmful chemicals.

Busty options

Many maternity brands also have busty options for moms with large breasts. These nursing bras usually have even better support and comfort features.

 Kindred Bravely Simply Sublime Busty Bra 

Read: Best Nursing Bras for Plus Sized Women with Large Breasts

To wrap up

I think it’s just amazing how so much effort is put into the little details. All these combined make nursing bras work day and night for the breastfeeding mom, providing support, comfort and convenience.

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