During pregnancy and the postpartum period, you may find that your old bras no longer fit comfortably. You might find yourself wondering if maternity bras and nursing bras are the same when you’re searching for undergarments that fit your changing body. What is the difference, if there even is one?
Maternity bras and nursing bras are not the same. Maternity bras are designed for pregnancy with the added comfort of adjusting with your growing breasts. Nursing bras are made for breastfeeding and typically include some kind of snap to allow for easier access when your hands are full.
This guide will help you navigate buying a bra for pregnancy and postpartum so that you always have a bra that fits your body and your needs.
What Is a Maternity Bra?
During pregnancy, your body floods with hormones and prepares for lactation, which can make your breasts sensitive and sore. Because your breasts also grow, especially during the second trimester, an ill-fitting bra can be very painful.
A maternity bra is a bra designed to support your growing and tender breasts. A good maternity bra should provide support and alleviate pressure on the breast tissue for maximum comfort. Some also include breastfeeding cups.
Maternity bras have stretchy fabric and adjustable straps to help accommodate your growing breasts. You may find underwires uncomfortable and restrictive, so maternity bras have many wire-free options.
You can also find these features in bras not specifically designed for pregnancy. It is more important that you find a comfortable bra than one that specifically says “maternity” on the tag.
As long as the fabric stretches and you feel supported–but not constricted–you should be fine.
For example, Sports Bras for Women are seamless and wire-free, making it very comfortable to sit on top of your growing belly. It’s also very stretchy and comfortable, so you can wear it throughout your pregnancy.
You will typically want to find a maternity bra by the 18th week of your pregnancy or as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable in your old bras.
What Is a Nursing Bra?
Nursing bras are made for breastfeeding mothers. They allow your baby to access your breast without you having to take off your bra, usually with a snap of clip at the front. Nursing bras tend to be stretchy and supportive because your breasts can continue to change size in the postpartum period.
The changes to your breasts don’t stop after you’ve given birth. Between 3-7 days postpartum, your body will start producing mature breast milk, and you will probably feel engorged.
If you decide to breastfeed your baby, your breasts will likely stay larger than they were pre-pregnancy until your baby weans, and it’s likely that you’ll need some nursing bras just for the convenience.
When your baby is a newborn, he will eat about every two hours.
It can be an uncomfortable hassle to remove your shirt and bra for every feed or to try to discreetly pull down a bra not designed for breastfeeding access.
When paired with a cover or nursing shirts and dresses, nursing bras make it easy for you to breastfeed your baby anywhere while maintaining your privacy.
Nursing Bras With Clips
Most nursing bras have clips connecting the straps to the cups. This allows access to the breast without having to full remove the bra and gives a sense of ease when feeding.
Simply undo the clip and lower the cup to allow your baby to nurse. This one comes with band extenders to make the fit adjustable too.
Nursing Bras Without Clips
Some nursing bras do not have clips.
For example, bralettes are a great option if you prefer something different to standard bras. These bras look like sports bras or bralettes with overlapping panels over each breast. The panels are stretchy and easily fold down to allow your baby to nurse.
Tank Tops With Built-In Nursing Bras
You can also find tank tops with built-in nursing bras.
The nursing tank tops are some of the best used for new nursing parents. The built-in band supports your breasts, and the straps unclip to allow you to breastfeed your baby. You can also adjust the straps to criss-cross or halter, depending on your preferences.
What Is the Difference Between a Maternity Bra and a Nursing Bra?
Maternity and nursing bras are all designed to be comfortable, elastic, and adjustable. Many are wire-free, and they don’t constrict your changing breasts. These bras will grow with you, from the time your pre-pregnancy bras feel uncomfortable to the time your baby weans.
The only difference between a maternity bra and a nursing bra is breastfeeding access. All nursing bras have breastfeeding access, either with clips or fold-down panels. Maternity bras, however, do not necessarily have this feature as they are typically designed to be worn during pregnancy.
Consider it this way: all nursing bras are maternity bras, but not all maternity bras are nursing bras.
A nursing bra will always offer the comfort, elasticity, and support you need during pregnancy. In contrast, a maternity bra does not necessarily have breastfeeding access.
Many modern companies use the terms “maternity bra” and “nursing bra” interchangeably. Most, but not all, maternity bras double as nursing bras. They have the stretchy fabric and adjustable straps necessary for pregnancy and detachable cups for breastfeeding access.
The distinction between maternity and nursing bras seems to be an outdated one, stemming from a time when breastfeeding was not the norm. Women needed a bra to grow with them during pregnancy, not one with breastfeeding access.
However, now that breastfeeding is quite popular, almost all maternity bras double as nursing bras.
Can You Use a Maternity Bra as a Nursing Bra?
You cannot use a maternity bra as a nursing bra unless the bra has breastfeeding access. If your maternity bra does not have detachable cups or fold-down panels, you cannot easily use it for nursing.
However, it can be difficult to find a modern maternity bra that doesn’t also include breastfeeding access. These Maternity Bras by Hotmilk are some of the few maternity bras on the market that do not double as nursing bras. (Hotmilk has a separate line of nursing lingerie.)
While it is technically possible to breastfeed your baby without a nursing bra, it is neither comfortable nor convenient. Non-nursing bras are not made to be stretched, pulled, and folded, making it difficult to give your hungry baby access to the breast. Going without a bra can leave your breasts feeling unsupported or cause you to leak milk on your clothes.
If you want to breastfeed your baby, you should purchase nursing bras to save you and your baby some discomfort.
Can You Use a Nursing Bra as a Maternity Bra?
You can use a nursing bra as a maternity bra. Because your breasts continue to change even after giving birth, nursing bras are fully equipped to support your growing breasts. Nursing bras are also great for sleeping in during pregnancy.
Nursing bras are often designed to be comfortable for sleep, even if you aren’t used to sleeping with a bra. You might find yourself in late pregnancy wanting to sleep with a bra, either for extra support or to reduce milk leakage.
Your breasts can start leaking colostrum (the nutrient-rich milk your baby eats just after birth) starting in the fifth month of your pregnancy.
If you find yourself leaking colostrum onto your pajamas and bed sheets during pregnancy, try sleeping with a nursing bra. You can even pair the bra with washable nursing pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Pads from Keababies.
Even if you don’t plan to breastfeed your baby, nursing bras offer your breasts comfort and support during pregnancy.