MUMMY MONOLOGUES: Nursing Bra Odyssey By Clarisse

28 Mar

This blog post is a guest post by the lovely Clarisse.  It is the start of my “Mummy Monologues”, a series of posts by some beautiful busty Mummies that aim to give great tips and advice to any Mums and Mums to be out there.

When I think of my bra experience during pregnancy and breast-feeding and try to sum it all up, I find it quite difficult.

First of all, there are no rules. Or rather there are some rules which are true in most cases – but I have not yet met a mother for whom all the rules would be completely true. Just as women differ in shapes, so they differ in how their bodies react to being pregnant and to breastfeeding. So the first tip – not very helpful perhaps: listen to other women’s stories but remember yours may be entirely different.

Secondly, I have no idea what my size was before pregnancy. It was 4 years ago in Poland, and I believe I was quite reasonably educated in how a bra should fit (no bulging or overflowing – get a bigger cup if you overflow; and if there is no bigger cup, get a bigger band with the same cup).  I thought I was 34F but such cups were not available from local stores, so I usually settled for 36E. For all I know now, I must have been somewhere close to 30GG at that time 🙂 So, without knowing my true size then, I cannot accurately describe how my body changed. But I can describe the trends.

Funnily enough, I owe my bra enlightenment to being pregnant. I noticed that my 36E started overflowing visibly, and I have always been allergic to four-breast look. I knew I had nothing to look for in the local store so I finally began searching the internet. And there, to my surprise, I discovered some sizing charts, some blogs, some completely new truths. Most likely I would not have believed them if it had not been for my pregnancy experience. Why is it so?

It is a general rule that your breasts grow when you are pregnant (like I said: in most cases), so your cup size will increase. And as the baby grows bigger, pushing against your ribcage, your underbust gets bigger too.  So when I finally found my tape measure (I was already 6 months pregnant by that time), I realised that my underbust had grown immensely – by some 6-7 inches – and yet the band of my old bra was still fitting! That meant something must have been wrong with it before. I plunged into the new world I discovered just then: the world of big busts and women fighting for bigger bra cups and smaller bra bands, the world of buying lingerie on the internet (with Brastop and Bravissimo leading the way). I managed to get some bras in a new size, which was 36G.

Now I know was lucky to have no problem with breast sensitivity and no serious health problems in general. A lot of my friend complain that their breasts have become very sensitive when pregnant and all the bras that used to be comfortable suddenly hurt them. This may be partly to the fact that the body changes very quickly and the bras (or our purses) just cannot follow – but partly also because you can be much more sensitive just then. So be prepared your regular bras may suddenly become too hard on you – even to the point that you will look for a different brand than you loved.

After I got a couple of well fitting bras I was determined to prepare myself for what was coming – for breast feeding. I discovered that there seemed to be a difference at some retailers between a “maternity bra” and a “nursing bra”. A maternity bra was the one you were supposed to wear when pregnant. It was often supposed to “grow with you”, meaning usually that the band had 6 rows of hooks instead the usual 3 rows. But I had a feeling they are a waste of money. The band could be loosened all right but that can also be achieved by a simple accessory called “bra back extender”. A maternity bra usually has no wires, supposedly because female body is more sensitive. This seems reasonable – but on the other hand, if you had big boobs without being pregnant and they have grown even bigger, what you desperately need is support. This is something that a wire-free bra is very unlikely to give you. (I will not even mention the looks, I believe it is called a “mono-boob”). So if you have not grown oversensitive, I suggest you steer clear of this kind of “maternity bras”.

But there is something you will absolutely need, and these are: nursing bras. They are quite often wire-free and may have the same enhanced adjustment range but there is one thing that is unique about them, and that is a drop-down cup. The straps have clips or some other fastenings at the front – ideally you should be able to open them using one hand. The top part of the cup drops down, letting the breast out for the baby, but the bottom part does not fall – it is fastened with an elastic tape to the strap.  A simple thing but so damn useful!

So I got down to get myself some nursing bras. I heard that right after birth breasts become full of milk and grow enormously (it is called “engorgement”), so I looked for bras with the same band but a bigger cup. With 36G (UK sizing) I found to my disappointment that I did not have much choice. All the brands widely available in Poland, such as Alles or Anita, ran up to the equivalent of FF cup. No good. Bravissimo and Brastop did offer some Royce nursing bras (at that time they had annoying non-UK sizing), as well as some other less popular brands. I settled with one down-to-earth white wire-free Royce bra in a size equivalent to UK 36H or HH, a perfectly beautiful Emily B bra in 34H and a soft cotton bra by Medela. Medela is a company that provides all sorts of aids for breast feeding and they are very good at it. But I know now that they are not bra specialists. Their bras are sized from S to XL – how is that supposed to suffice?

Anyway, I thought I was well prepared for what was coming. Life proved me wrong 🙂

First of all – my breasts did not grow enormously in the first days of nursing. They just grew slightly. I was grateful for that as they seemed to me big enough already. Later I was told that it was often the case with very big breasts. Breast basically consist of fat tissue and what grows enormously in those very first days is the milk-producing tissue. If your breasts are smaller, you are more likely to experience huge volume changes.
If your breast are bigger, the changes to milk-producing tissue will not change the size of your breasts that much. Usually. But as I said at the beginning, there are no universal rules.  Secondly, I never took into account that after the baby leaves the womb there will be no more pressure on my ribs from the inside and my underbust will shrink drastically.

So what I ended up with was the following:
– Emily B lace bra which gave me absolutely no support and I put it in the drawer after trying it on once; it was to beautiful to be thrown away.
– Cotton Medela bra which gave little support so I only wore it when I washed my regular bra.
– The “regular” nursing bra, a Royce; plain as hell, with a band quickly becoming too loose (it was 36) and with cups waaaaaaay to huge (for which, by the way, I was grateful, I could put an ice compress inside when needed!)

The tip I would give my fellow mothers here is the following: unless you have just won a lottery, do not spend a fortune on nursing bras when you are pregnant. It is very hard to accurately predict your size after you give birth to the baby. And even if well predicted, your size will change very quickly as your body will be getting back to its normal way of functioning.
You will need some bras for the very beginning, that’s true. And remember that most breasts suffer a temporary but serious volume increase in the first days of nursing – this is also the time when your breasts will be most sensitive. A cotton wire-free nursing bra will be just fine for those first days. You will get some better fitting ones later. But even then do not buy a drawer full of bras. Your body will continue changing. Those changes will have different pace – you may return to your starting point or even pass it – or you may stop somewhere half way. So there is no telling really what your size will be in a month or in 3 months after your baby is born. Try to get fitted often, keep an eye on how your body changes and try to give it as much comfort as you can.

Comfort is extremely important when breast feeding. That is why many people suggest wearing only soft cup (non wired) nursing bras. While I believe that wire-free bras give almost no support to big breasts, I realise why this suggestion is so common and generally quite reasonable. It may be very hard to find a well fitted and a comfortable bra when your body changes so quickly. Even when it does not, you sometimes struggle trying to find the good fit. During breastfeeding this need for comfort is taken to extremity.
Because you need comfort – and because your breasts need comfort if they are to feed the baby. Any discomfort to your breast tissue may harm the production of milk and have painful consequences. An ill fitting bra may cause more harm when it has wires.

I would like to take a moment to digress from the main subject, which is bras, to say a few words about nursing. I don’t know about England but in Poland people still have a lot of misconceptions about nursing the baby. I know that when you have your first baby you don’t always feel secure. This is a whole new world you discover and I myself often struggled blindly for clues. Here are some truths I found which may not be popularly known so I would like to share them:
– Your milk supply does not depend on the size of your boobs! Women with small and big breasts alike are able to nurse their babies effectively!
– The shape of your breasts or even your nipples cannot prevent you from
nursing your baby; even persons whose original shape of the nipples is
“sucked in” are able to nurse their babies.
– Your milk supply does depend on how much the baby eats – surprisingly, the more milk is eaten, the more is produced! the mechanism is simple: if the baby eats little, your body “thinks” that little is needed so it will produce less and less; so if you have milk supply problem the best method to overcome them is to nurse more and more.
– The colour of your milk has nothing to do with how nutritious it is.
– The knowledge how to nurse and how to latch does not come automatically to
all people – if you have a problem it is wise to see a lactation consultant
(a nursing expert) who will check what is wrong and will give you useful
Mother’s milk is fascinating. Did you know that its content changes depending on the age of the baby, depending on the ambient temperature (in high summer temperatures mother milk will be more watery to satisfy baby’s thirst better!), and even depending on the time of day. Did you know that mother’s milk contain antibodies to all the germs that the mother encounters? A newborn baby is not able to produce those antibodies by themselves, so mother’s milk can even save their lives – but even a toddler who is still breastfed is less likely to catch a cold when everyone around sneezes and coughs because he gets additional protection. I think I will never stop wondering at how amazing this is 🙂

But back to nursing bras. I ended up with a couple of ill-fitting and non-supporting nursing bras. But I made do with them. Actually, the first three months of breast feeding bras were the least of my problems. We had nursing problems, my baby’s weight was too low and my nipples were badly bitten. We did overcome it with some assistance of my husband and a lactation onsultant, and after 2 months I re-fitted myself using a tape measure, a sizing chart and my old bras. The result was 32JJ.

And that was a problem. Not the letters themselves. A JJ cup actually restored my belief that I did have big boobs (a believe somewhat shaken by my first encounter with A-K sizing chart). But there was a major problem with 32JJ breastfeeding. There were no nursing bras in that size – not a single one. I think Royce probably reached J+ cups at that time, but my band was smaller than they offered. All other companies’ offer for mums ended around H cup.

This never ceased to amaze me. It has always been common knowledge that woman’s breast grow when she is pregnant and nurses the baby. WHY then are there companies offering everyday bras up to K cup, but nursing bras only up to H cup? Where is the logic gone?

A nursing bra in 32JJ? By that time I was part of a big online community of big breasted women in Poland. With Polish bra companies very uncooperative, they learned to solve the problems the only way they could: Do-It-Yourself. An instruction how to change an ordinary bra into a nursing bra was already there. You needed the cheapest nursing bra you could get (to have the clips for opening the cups); and a piece of elastic tape – ideally its colour should match the bra you will be working on, and the bra itself. I do not have much manual skills and sewing is definitely not my cup of tea. And yet I managed to make myself a nursing bra. It was a nude Tango Pure I got from E-bay at ridiculously low price. I think I got carried away – I even transplanted the little flower decorations from the late Emily B to my very own Tango nursing bra. And it  was not the last one I made.

I bought several 32JJ bras. That was quite a mistake. Somehow I believed 32JJ to be my “true size forever”. If I was 34 before, I reasoned, how much slimmer can I get? If forgot that I was not a real 34. I forgot that my body was not yet through with all the changes and “getting back to normal”. And I forgot my son was allergic.

What has it got to do with my bra size? Well, quite a lot as it turned out. Ever since he was born my son had a mild allergy – but as it was mild I did
not feel compelled to go on a diet in order to check which part of my menu he was allergic to. But as he was about to be 6 months I realised it was time to introduce some real food into his diet. Allergy to food elements transported by mum’s milk may have been mild, but if he is to eat stuff himself – I need to know first what exactly he is allergic to! So I went on a diet. It is a normal procedure when breastfeeding to eliminate just one element from your diet and continue this way for a week – it should be enough to determine if the stuff you eliminated was the cause of allergy. So I went on for some weeks testing  various food stuff, and finally, as I was getting no results, I just started eating rice, chicken and apples. I never discovered the source of my son’s allergy – I somehow managed to scare it off because it disappeared. And I managed to lose a few pounds in the process.

I never realised that until I went to an bra swapping event. It was wild fun to try on hundreds of bras, new and used. It was fun to meet a new Polish designer of bras, who brought all her prototype designs in all sizes, not yet available commercially – and a new Polish designer of bust-friendly clothes, who brought the prototype designs of her clothes. I think it was the clothing designer who first suggested to me that she would love me to wear her clothes but not until I get a better fitting bra. It was a surprise – I tried a couple of bras and it seemed I was no longer 32JJ but 30J at the most! Somehow, busy with nursing my baby, I overlooked it! But the stunning Freya Arabelle and the quaint Freya Eleanor was now withing my reach! (in those days Freya’s biggest cup was J). This was not the end of my nursing bra odyssey. I went for a fitting a month later and emerged a newly fitted 28JJ. A white Tango II 28JJ was the last bra I changed into a nursing bra myself.

No, I did not quit breastfeeding just yet. But my son grew and ate more and more “grownup food”, and breastfeeding became supplementary. That meant I did not have to open the bra cup every two hours and nurse for an hour. At that moment I discovered Ewa Michalak’s padded plunges up to L cups and more and they were good for nursing without any adjustments. At least for occasional nursing, which was now more emotional than nutritional. For  my son my titties meant safety and attachment. Not just food. In total I breastfed my son for over 2.5 years. After initial weight loss I gained weight again,  getting as far as 30K, and then 32J and 32JJ. Quite a number of bra sizes I went through 🙂

So even after your lactation has normalised, your should keep a close watch on your body and your breasts. Your bra size is not given once and for all.

After I weaned, I was really curious how my breasts would react. It is commonly believed breasts are back to their pre-pregnancy size. It is not always like that. I have heard women despairing that their breasts were “almost completely gone”, smaller than at the start. For myself, there was a brief size change from 32JJ back to 32J. So again – there are no universal rules. Or if there are, you will have to accept that your breasts be aware of them 😉

The only rule there is: when you’re breastfeeding, your boobs need the best! And you have to find a way how to provide the best for your boobs and how to keep up with their needs without spending a million pounds.

When I look back at my breastfeeding and nursing bra odyssey I am happy to see how much easier it is for young mums today. Those three years really make a difference. There are Freya’s ordinary bras up to K. There are Panache   nursing bras up to K cup and also Hot Milk and Cake Lingerie, the latter goes up to a J cup. Royce is still in the market with UK sizing. And just a few days ago Ewa Michalak announced her first nursing bras, based on the plunge design so the cups will be from A to K+.

In a way I feel like a dinosaur, seeing all the all the problems I remember disappearing as if by magic. The “new Polish designer of bras” I once met briefly at the beginning of her way, now wins international bra polls; the “new Polish designer of bust-friendly clothing” who set me on the well-fitting track again is now gaining international renown. My son, who has been with me though the ups and downs of nursing and bra-fitting, still says he loves “mummy and her titties too” and keeps asking me to take him to a bra store to get mummy a new bra. I must be getting really old – I sometimes wonder what kind of bra his girlfriend would be wearing when he brings her to introduce her to the parents. But I guess one is never too old for a new bra? 🙂

Here are some useful references and sites that may be of use to expectant mothers. Please note that they are mostly in Polish:

Instructions on how to make a nursing bra, it is in Polish
but illustrated with photos:
Stanikomania is probably Poland&&’s most popular blog about bras
and the articles are very good.

Before-and-after pictures with well fitted

9 Responses to “MUMMY MONOLOGUES: Nursing Bra Odyssey By Clarisse”

  1. Taura March 29, 2012 at 12.53 #

    That was fantastic!
    You are correct on so many levels … Heartwarming.
    Thank you!

    • Clarisse April 3, 2012 at 12.53 #

      Thank you for reading 🙂
      Being a mum is a heartwarming experience, even if it is not always easy 🙂

  2. contrary kiwi March 29, 2012 at 12.53 #

    This was a very enlightening and interesting post to read. It also put me off breastfeeding! I kid…I think. It was totally worth reading though. Thanks for posting, Clarisse and thanks for hosting it for us Georgina 🙂

    • Clarisse April 3, 2012 at 12.53 #

      Thank you 🙂

      I think you don’t need to think much about breastfeeding if you are not considering having a baby right now. Somehow subjects concerning babies, nursing and stuff seem so strange before you are ready to have your own – or at least it was my experience, I never liked babies and avoided them as much as I could 😀

      Also, I have a lot of friends (different bra sizes, not all of them well fitted ;)) who went through breasfeeding without a single problem, so no need to worry.

  3. Tiina R. March 29, 2012 at 12.53 #

    Very informational, great! As a G+ mom of two, pregnant and/or breastfeeding since 2007 (yes, that’s 5 years now!) and lactivist, I recognize and agree with most of what you say.

    I’ll just briefly add something from my experience:

    Engorgement: Yes, it can be almost unnoticeable with large breasts, or even with small breasts. But it can be very severe too, and wearing too small bra may lead to blocked ducts or breast inflammation. With my 2nd baby the engorgement went ridiculously far, my 34L cup Royce (that’s UK sizing) was way too small in the cup for a couple of days (and then was too big after a few weeks…) and I was in pure agony, with my boobs almost literally the size and weight of bowling balls. But it only lasted 48 hours and I didn’t get inflammation, and I did manage to get the baby to suckle through some tricks I won’t explain here.

    Wire-free nursing bras: Absolutely necessary for anyone, who has her breast volume changing through the day. For me, that was daily for the first 3-6 months, it was quite visible and pretty much anyone could tell which side the baby had the last. Wire-free is not the best fit or look, but beats having to suffer breast inflammation.

    • Clarisse April 3, 2012 at 12.53 #

      Thank you for sharing your experience, too 🙂

      A very good point on volume changing through the day. I did not think about it. And adding to what you said about blocked ducts – this is also why you have to be careful with wired bras at the beginning. The milk ducts are not located only in the middle of your breast but can run everywhere, like under your armpits – a wire digging into your armpit may also result in blocked ducts or inflammation. That was why I emphasised comfort so much.

      And by the way, I never knew the term “lactivist” – if I buy books on breastfeeding to my expectant cousins, does that make me one? O_O

  4. Tiffany April 9, 2012 at 12.53 #

    Thanks for the informative post – I have a friend who’s just discovered that she’s pregnant AND that she wears a larger-than-mainstream bra size, so I passed it on to her.

    I thought I’d share a laugh – most of the big-boobed girls I know have a pretty good sense of humor, so I’m betting this will be as funny to you as it was to me: Followthe link to the make-your-own nursing bra article, and use Google Translate to translate it into English. The title of the article translates as “Build Your Own Bird Feeder.” I wonder if Google has any idea how very wrong, and how oddly right it can be at the exact same time!

    • clarisse777 April 18, 2012 at 12.53 #

      I can explain where this comes from, it’s not entirely the fault of Google Translate 🙂 The proper term in Polish for “nursing bra” is “bra for breastfeeding”, which is kind of long, so in forum conversations girls just shortened it to “a feeder” and so it was used in the article. But it is not yet something dictionaries would know about.

      I did see some spectacular Google failures though, mostly due to the fact that words in two languages hardly ever correspond to each other exactly. For example the word “cup” in English can mean a “tea/coffee cup”, a “trophy cup” or a “bra cup”, which in Polish these would be three different words. I remember once a person asking about the excess fabric at the bottom of her cup (she meant that her boobs do not fill the bra cup fully and it seemed there was too much fabric there). She used Google to translate it from English to Polish and the resulting meaning was: “there is some excess substance at the bottom of my trophy” :)))

  5. Stacy April 21, 2012 at 12.53 #

    Oh my goodness, I went through all of this. I was constantly ranting about how they didn’t make nursing bras in my size. WHY do they make so many nursing bras in A-D cups? Most women get bigger than that….

    Pre-pregnancy I was wearing a 38F. Yeah, that was the wrong size. But I never really needed bigger bras while pregnant, it was only tight at the bery end. My boobs got firmer but not appreciably bigger that I noticed (although this may have been because I don’t really gain while pregnant.) When I was nursing I became very picky ab out bra fit… I went to a breastfeeding store 2 weeks postpartum and got fitted into a Bravado 36H/I…. which I promptly started busting out of and that also suddenly got too big in the band. I hated it immensely. I went back at 6 weeks, after losing another 20 pounds and insisted on an underwire bra. They put me in a 34GG Elomi. Perfect, mostly. The wires were two finger-widths low (I suspect I may have actually been a 32 at that point, given I measured 33 underbust) but it was enough to work properly for me.

    I ended up settling into a 34G as things evened out and I gained a bit of weight. Now I’ve gained weight back to about my prepregnancy weight, and I’m in a 34GG again.

    I DO highly recommend the Bravado nursing tanks, by the way. I had to buy it in a 38F/G to cover decently, but it runs a little tight in the belly, so the band being somewhat loose wasn’t a huge deal. It offered better support than any other loungewear! I slept in nursing tanks. I do not recommend Glamourmom as they seem to believe that only large band sizes have large cups.

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