Breastfeeding? Choose the best nursing bra
Just when you're happy with your maternity wardrobe, it turns out you need a whole new nursing one (with secret panels) for breastfeeding.
While that's not entirely true - you can totally get away with some strappy tops and button-up shirts - if you're planning to breastfeed, you will definitely need a couple of good nursing bras, which have clasps on each side to allow for quick and easy access.
But as you'll notice over the course of your pregnancy, your breasts are growing all the time (sometimes by up to two cup sizes), so buy too soon and a nursing bra might not fit properly. We asked the experts exactly how to get fitted and when...
What's the difference between normal bras and nursing bras?
"There are two main differences: a nursing bra has a 'drop-cup' clip on the strap to allow easier access for breastfeeding, and it has no under-wiring as this could cause blockages in the milk ducts," explains NCT senior policy advisor, Elizabeth Duff
"You usually need new bras as your breasts can grow quite a bit in pregnancy. It's worth getting measured for nursing bras because your rib cage can also grow to make room for your baby."
Shane Duff, spokesman for Carriwell nursing bras, adds: "By using a drop-cup nursing bra, you are exposing the breast, which increases skin to skin contact with your baby. This is important for the bonding process between mother and baby."
What should I look for in a good nursing bra?
"Comfort is the most important thing to look for in a nursing bra, as your breasts can become tender during pregnancy," says Elizabeth. "And make sure the fastening is easy to use, as you may be holding a very hungry baby while trying to undo the clip!
"You will probably need to wash the bra frequently, so good-quality material is important, and think about getting a pack of two or three for better value."
'It is not recommended to use a hard underwire as found in normal bras, as it can block the glands and reduce milk flow'
Talking of fabric, Shane notes: "A nursing bra must have the flexibility and the memory in the fabric to support the breasts as they change in size (your breast contracts after each feed and expands as it fills with milk again) but not restrict them, otherwise this can be uncomfortable for mum and lead to issues such as breast infections or even mastitis.
"It is not recommended to use a hard underwire as found in normal bras, as it can block the glands and reduce milk flow, again which can cause infection. However, soft flexible underwire can help support the breast, but this must be specifically for use in nursing bras."
Also, look for a bras that come with extenders, so you can adjust it as your back size increases and decreases through pregnancy and the early weeks of motherhood, as well as thick straps to support your breasts, as they will feel heavier than normal.
How soon before I'm due to give birth should I get a nursing bra and how many will I need?
"Around 37 weeks is generally the best time to get a nursing bra, because your breasts usually will have reached the size they're going to be when breastfeeding, and if your rib cage is going to increase, it will have done so by this time," says Elizabeth.
Shane says: "Nursing bras are quite often used as daily maternity bras or at night as sleeping bras when pregnant. At six to seven months, you can buy your first nursing bra and after a month of wear, if you are happy with the size and you feel the bra is growing with you, we would suggest buying two more of the same type. When breastfeeding, you will need at least three nursing bras - one in use, one ready to use and one in the wash."
Is it best to get fitted for a nursing bra?
"It's a very good idea to get fitted for a nursing bra, but services vary in quality. Try to contact a local breastfeeding counsellor who should be able to point you in the direction of a good fitter," says Elizabeth. "Chatting to other mums in your local NCT branch is another helpful source of information."
When finding the perfect fit, Shane advises: "Make sure all of your breast tissue is in the cups and that no breast tissue is 'bulging' under the arms or below the chest band.
"If the chest width is OK, there will be no marks on your skin and you should be able to fit two flat fingers under the band; otherwise it's too tight. If the chest band rides up between your shoulder blades, you need a smaller size."
Three of the best nursing bras