Buying maternity bras

In my book, there’s nothing like the boost from buying new undies and I have a healthy, cumulatively expensive collection of matching sets in a variety of sizes.
Being able to actually wear them is a dark distant memory, of course.

Buying maternity bras

Once I knew that nothing I had fitted properly any more, I stropped off to that particular high street store where one in five women buy their bras and after fitting, went home with a couple of soft cup numbers. The fitter was about twelve and morphed into the human embodiment of the word ‘aghast’ when I said I was still wearing underwired bras1. Well, when you normally wear a cup size that’s roughly a third of the way into the alphabet, you rely on that support.

The bras I bought were “ok”. Nothing spectacular. The fitter recommended leaving some room in the cup. Ok, but I could have actually stuck Mr D’s socks down there. What a good look – I was reasonably busty to start off with, so that would be heading into Dolly territory and it just meant that no clothing really sat right over the bras.

What might have been useful is a bra extender to literally extend the life of both the new bras I bought then, plus any existing, well-fitting underwear throughout pregnancy because they effectively give you more room in the back with three extra rows of hooks. When I ended shopping again for maternity bras, it was because the ones I bought were still roomy in the cup but the back band gave me an unpleasant welty red mark across my torso by the end of the day.

I asked various fitting experts what you should know when you’re buying maternity bras.

When should you start looking for maternity bras and what should you look for?

Kimberley from Brastop gave the following tips:

You can choose to wear an underwired bra in the first stages of your pregnancy once the wires are comfortable and they do not dig in but with this option you should be checked and fitted regularly because if your bra does not fit properly it can become painful and affect your milk glands.
It is recommended that you wear a soft cup or maternity bra shortly after your breast starts to feel sore or you can see a change in size… Look out for signs like spilling out from the top of your bra and soreness in the breast tissue and nipples.

Underwire or soft-cup

So do the fitters at Rigby & Peller agree with my midwife? Yup, they do.

For the first 2 trimesters this is best decided by the customer. Most women wear underwired bras everyday and prefer to carry on wearing these during pregnancy. For the last trimester we recommend wearing a soft cup bra, as due to the expansion of the ribcage and growth of the baby, an underwire can dig in and cause discomfort.

Buying online versus in-store

Getting into the habit of getting fitted each time you buy a bra, maternity or otherwise, is a good idea. Rigby & Peller’s recommendations for maternity fittings:

We strongly recommend that all fitting and refittings are conducted by a professional in-store. We suggest that our customers come for refits at least 3 times during pregnancy, but more often if they feel that their bras are no longer fitting correctly. During pregnancy the breasts may increase by 2-3 cup sizes so it is essential to regularly check that the bras are still the correct fit.
When fitting maternity bras, we ensure that they are a good fit on the tightest hook, to allow room for the ribcage to expand as the baby grows. We also ensure that there is room inside the cup to allow for a certain amount of breast growth. If the bra is underwired, the wire should be sitting well away from any breast tissue.

Online buying guide

For some women, going to get fitted in store, particularly towards the end of pregnancy, just isn’t going to be feasible especially if you’ve got problems with mobility or SPD so shopping online might be a solution. As long as you have time, or someone able to get to the post office to send back anything that doesn’t fit! As Brastop is an online retailer, Kimberley was able to offer some great advice:

When shopping online it is useful to have an idea how your body is going to change. Your breasts will naturally get bigger and swollen and you would gain a few cup sizes up, some women may not change drastically but the majority of women will gain anything between 3 – 6 cup sizes bigger

Here’s their guide to how to measure yourself before ordering online:

You can start by using your own bra as reference and a starting point, if you were properly fitted before this process would be more accurate. However if you haven’t been professionally fitted it might prove different.

Starting with the size you are wearing currently (ex 32G) … put the hooks on the highest hook, if it’s too tight then go up a back size (ex 34G), if it’s too loose go down a back size (ex 30G), and if it feels comfortable stick with the same back size (ex 32G). The hook on a maternity/ soft cup bra should always start on the tightest set of hooks but still sit firm against your body because your body will expand as the baby grows so this would allow you to loosen the hook and still be supported.

Once you’ve found your back size you should start with look at your cups – If you are spilling out of your cup then try going up two or three cup sizes (ex 32G to 32H/HH). The cup should always be a little bit bigger that your actual size because your breast will slowly get bigger and you will eventually fill the cups.

A maternity bra can last you between 1-3 months depending how fast you are growing so remember not to buy more than 2-3 at a time because you will need to buy another set shortly. Think of maternity bras as a way of preparing for when your baby is born, the baby will outgrow its clothes really fast and your breasts are the same.

Because you are buying online we would recommend you purchase one bra first to try to make sure you get the sizing right – to check you have, make sure the hooks are on the tightest and that there’s enough room in the cup for you to fit your hand in without your breast spilling out. Once this is right then you can purchase a few more.

Maternity bras for larger sizes

Coincidentally the Bravissimo catalogue arrived today, which reminded me of Rigby & Peller’s advice on choosing maternity bras for larger sizes:

For larger sizes, support is even more key to avoid strain on the neck and shoulders. A full cup bra is essential, with a rigid undercup to lift the breast from below. Hidden slings under the breast and at the sides can also assist with support. A wide strap and back band with 3 or more hooks will also help with comfort and support.

Bring back my lovely lingerie

In terms of choosing fabrics you’ll probably find that sleep bras are cotton although Panache do some better ‘dressing up’ options in actual maternity bras such as the Sophie which is soft lace. Friends have raved about Hot Milk although their website kind of puts me off because frankly, I haven’t spent much of this pregnancy lying back on a chaise longue looking fabulous….

Anyway at this point I’m about ready to look for nursing bras. That’s going to be a whole other story isn’t it?

Do you have a favourite maternity bra? What were your experiences of getting fitted?

*Vintage bra advert from Genibee’s Flickr stream under a Creative Commons licence


  1. this was with the approval of my midwife, and up til about five months through my pregnancy 

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