Saturday, June 27, 2009

How to find a bra that fits [Part 2, for pregnancy]

When we left off, we had just learned how to find a bra that fits you - the importance of band size, the changing nature of cup size, the glory of a bra that actually supports you. I also just ran across this post about cup size, with photographic illustration. It really helps show you how cup sizing works, and why your letter doesn't say anything about what your breasts look like!

On to bras for pregnancy... (I meant to do a combined post but I write too much, so I'm splitting pregnancy and nursing into separate posts.)

What happens to your breasts and bra size during pregnancy

Imagine the changes in your breasts/cup size during pregnancy and nursing as climbing a hill: they get larger throughout pregnancy until they hit the top of the hill the day your milk comes in. That's the biggest you're going to get. Once your milk supply stabilizes they, too, either stabilize or get somewhat smaller throughout nursing - descending the other side of the hill. After your child has weaned they finally return to where you started, at the bottom of the hill and at (or close to) your original size.

"OK, that is NOTHING like what happened to my breasts/bra size when I was pregnant/nursing." Every woman's body is different! The above is a general guideline and sadly, like with length of labor, if I could predict bra/cup size ahead of time I would be a rich woman.

But the hill visual is helpful, especially if you think that every woman's hill follows the same general structure but may be tall (lots of change) or short (less change), steep or gentle (quick or slow change).

Because bra size changes frequently during pregnancy and nursing, there are a few special things you want to keep in mind while choosing bras during this time.

What bras to buy, or my screed against "maternity bras"

Let me say right up front: there is no such thing as a maternity bra. They don't exist. They are just regular bras hanging under a sign that says "maternity". Yes, they are bigger than "regular" bras. They are trading on this idea that a DD is freakishly large and only worn by pregnant women and Dolly Parton. But you already know this is not true. Don't spend money on maternity bras (unless you happen to find one you like in your correct size). Instead you have two options:

Buy regular bras in new sizes:
Advantages: They should be relatively easy to find, you can try to buy cheaper ones you don't love assuming you'll change again soon and will toss them.
Disadvantages: you will have to toss them once you grow out of them, because you will probably never wear them again. By the time you're done nursing you won't be those sizes anymore.

Buy nursing bras in new sizes:
Advantages: You can wear them again - when you're going back down the other side of the hill, while you're nursing, so the investment of buying good, comfortable ones will be worth it. You can also explore your nursing bra options before you're busy with a new baby, and hopefully you'll have a couple that fit right away or soon after your milk comes in.
Disadvantages: They may be harder to find and will probably be more expensive. If for some reason you skip a size on the way back down the hill, you may not get your money's worth out of them.

You can choose to do either one, or a mix of the two. Getting nursing bras seemed to work for a lot of pregnant women at my old store - the way I see it, if you buy a regular bra you're guaranteed to be buying a bra you can never wear again. Buying a nursing bra you at least have a shot at wearing it again. But ultimately, the most important thing is to feel comfortable.

My final zinger toward the maternity bra industry: maybe there are some good bra fitters at maternity clothing stores, but I've never heard of one. Where I used to work, women would come in having been fit by maternity store people who clearly just handed them a 36DD, then a 38DD, and so on until they found something plausible. Since you know maternity bras don't exist, there's no reason to shop for bras at maternity stores unless you can't find your size elsewhere. Better to get fit someplace good.

How to fit bras in pregnancy

You measure for size exactly the same way during pregnancy and nursing as at any other time. The real difference is what you do with that information - instead of using it to buy a bra at your exact current size, you're using to it try to get something that will work for you as your size changes. How do you do that?

Cup size: Most women find they gain several cup sizes during pregnancy. The "average" is 1-2. Of course, I've fit women who have not changed at all, and others who went from a DD to a K. Changes may happen slow and steady, or in "growth spurts".

Since you can't predict how much you'll grow (or when), don't buy way-too-big cups assuming you'll grow to fit. Instead, if you're on the edge of one cup size, buy the next one up. If you keep growing and your cup threaten to spilleth over, loosen the shoulder straps - that will give you some extra room, and buy you some extra time.

Remember to not get fixated on the cup size letters. Maybe you're used to being a B. Add two sizes to that, and now you're a D. Maybe you're used to being a D, or a DD. Now you're an F or a G. It can be hard to wrap your mind around letters that don't seem to match your idea of your body. Some people just reject the letter (and the right bra) out of hand. But remember, those letters don't say anything about your body! Ignore them and find a bra that really fits!

Band size: In my experience, most women gain maybe one, maybe two band sizes in pregnancy. It depends on how you carry, your weight gain, and how sensitive you are right up by your rib cage. However, it is NOT generally a huge gain.

"But I gained at least 3 band sizes during pregnancy!" Maybe you did! But most women think they are growing a lot in band size when in fact it's the cup size that does more of the changing. Because most people don't understand cup size, they keep putting on bigger bands to get bigger cups. They also assume that their bras are tight in the band because they're getting so big around, when in fact it's their cup size causing the strain. (But since you know how sizing works you'll know how to fit it properly.)

That said - you probably will need/feel more comfortable going up at least one band size during your pregnancy. When shopping, buy bras that fit comfortably on the tightest hook when you try them on in the store, so you can expand the band size as needed.

Especially towards the end of your pregnancy, a band that had fit OK or was a little tight might start feeling very uncomfortable. Your rib cage area generally goes down as soon as you give birth so buying a bigger band size just for the last 3-4 weeks might be a real waste if you're doing the nursing bra thing. Instead, you can get a bra extender (at bra shops or at a fabric store like Jo-Ann's). It hooks into your band and gives you another inch or two. Voila! Automatic temporary band expansion.

So to sum up: in pregnancy, buy bras sparingly at each size. Consider buying nursing bras, and don't waste extra money on "maternity" bras. Remember that your cup size is probably going up more than your band size, and fit accordingly. Buy bras that fit comfortably on the tightest hook, and use a bra extender if you're sure you just need more space in the band. If choosing between cup sizes, choose the bigger one, but don't buy too big - loosen the shoulder straps if you need more room.

Next up: nursing bras!


Anonymous said...

What a useful post!

publichealthdoula said...