Difference between maternity and nursing bra

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

What is a maternity bra?

Maternity bras provide the same basic function as other bras: to lift and support the weight of a woman's breasts in order to reduce shoulder strain and back pain. Maternity bras also have additional functions, such as quick-release clasps or other closures that make opening and closing the bra easier when dealing with swollen fingers or sore muscles.  

These closures may be made out of metal or plastic clips, hook-and-eye closures, or plastic zippers depending on the style of the bra and the manufacturer.

As your pregnancy progresses, your breasts may undergo a number of changes including getting larger and heavier, tenderness and discomfort, an increase in size or visibility of veins underneath the skin, and changes in appearance such as darkening or puckering around nipples or above the crease under each breast.  

These changes make it important to wear a bra that fits properly and provides sufficient support for you during all stages of your pregnancy.  

Do you need a maternity bra?

In order to know whether you need a maternity bra, you need to learn how your breasts change during your pregnancy.  A properly fitting maternity bra should support the full weight of your breasts and provide a comfortable fit in both band size and cup size.  

If these three criteria are met, then the bra is considered a good-fitting maternity bra.

The amount of time it takes for you to get used to wearing a bra throughout the day is another indicator that points to whether or not you need a maternity bra.  If it feels uncomfortable after just ten minutes, then perhaps your band size has increased beyond what your current bras are able to handle. 

If so, then your breasts are likely larger due to hormonal changes during pregnancy and require more support than ordinary bras can offer.  As you continue through pregnancy, make sure that you continue trying on bras at home until you find one that fits comfortably in both the band size and cup size in order for your breasts to feel supported in all stages of your pregnancy.

When should you buy one?

Start buying when you have any of the pregnancy symptoms.

The good news is that buying a maternity bra does not have to be an expensive and time-consuming process.  You can often find maternity bras in your regular size at any clothing store or online retailer.  

This may be the easiest option as the process of finding a new size is limiting if you are already uncomfortable, but this option may still be overwhelming as you try to determine which bras will provide sufficient support for your changing body shape and weight distribution during pregnancy.

If you decide to buy a maternity bra before you feel any of the pregnancy symptoms, then make sure that you are taking careful measurements on yourself at home.  

Check the size chart for both your band size and your cup size, based on how they fit today, to determine if the current bras that you own are providing enough support or if they need to be replaced with maternity bras, particularly if either of these sizes has changed since the last time you bought a new bra. 

However, it is important not to use clothes as an indicator of whether or not it is time to replace your regular bras with maternity bras.  Many women can continue wearing their usual-sized bras throughout their pregnancies without feeling uncomfortable due to sudden changes in weight.

When choosing a maternity bra, pay attention to

Straps: Straps should be positioned further apart than on non-maternity bras, often at least 2 inches (5 cm.) wider than before pregnancy. The straps need to do more work to help lift breasts and support most of the weight, so they need to be adjusted accordingly.

The underwire: The underwire in a maternity bra provides more support than non-maternity bras because it is sturdier and runs from front to back, just under the breasts. In addition, some maternity bras have an additional piece of wire that extends from the bottom of each cup straight across your belly to give even more support.  

Underwires that are too big or too small can cause discomfort or dig into your skin. The material should be softer than what you'd find on other types of bras because it does not need to withstand as much wear and tear since you will only wear it during pregnancy

Band size: A good-fitting maternity bra will have a brand that is snug enough to stay in place, even when the fabric stretches some during the day.  The easiest way to check this is by taking some deep breaths while you are wearing your new bra. If you feel any slipping of the band on your back or sides, then it is too loose and needs to be replaced.

If you need further guidance after trying on several different bras, speak with an expert at your local lingerie store about reviewing the fit guidelines for maternity bras on their website.  

What maternity bra closure type should you choose: hook and eye strap, triangle, or racerback?

There are several different types of bra clasps that you will find on maternity bras, with the most common three being hook and eye (or snap), a.k.a. 'triangle', and racerback.  All three have their own unique advantages so it is a good idea to try them all out before making a decision on which type you prefer.

How do you choose a maternity bra cup size?

One of the first things you should check for when trying on a new bra is if your breasts fit into the cups comfortably without any overflow or gapping at either side. If this is not the case then it indicates that your current cup size may be too small (or even too big).  

When trying on a new style for the first time, make sure to try it without any padding inserts or nursing pads/breast shells that you may be planning to use with it.  These can change your breast size significantly and will affect how well your breasts fit into the cup.


  1. When trying on different bras, always remove your current bra before putting on another one since this ensures that you are always starting from a clean slate of fabric.   
  2. Always check for gaps at the side of cups by raising your arms up overhead and then moving around in front of a mirror to check that all areas have been completely covered.    
  3. If you think you might like to wear your bra strapless, it's a good idea to try on the same style in regular (non-nursing) bras since many styles do not fit well without straps.
  4. Always make sure that you've fastened the hooks before putting on the bra and that they are all securely attached.  This is especially important for nursing bras since it can be easy to get distracted when doing up these types of bras and forget one or more attachment points.
  5. Check for any painful red marks after trying on a new bra; this indicates that something may not be right with your fit.   

What is a nursing bra?

Nursing bras also called nursing sleep bras and maternity sleep bras, are specially designed to make breastfeeding convenient and comfortable.  When wearing a nursing bra, you should position the clasps or openings away from the edge of your breasts so that there is no risk of accidentally opening them while breastfeeding.

These bras usually come with extra features such as clips on the strap for easy entry and exit or front zippers, which may be helpful for those with limited mobility in their arms or shoulders.

As regular nursing bras offer little support beyond cups that hold the breast tissue during breastfeeding, many new mothers choose to also wear a more supportive bra underneath their nursing bra. This will usually offer better support during the day and can help you avoid any pain or discomfort caused by sagging breast tissue.

What is the difference between nursing and maternity bras?

The primary difference between nursing and maternity bras is that many nursing bras are also labeled as wireless (or soft cup) bras since they do not include any additional underwire or additional structure to provide extra support.  Other than this feature, there is no real difference in the fit of these two different types of bras.

An exception would be if you need to purchase a smaller band size than what you normally wear for breastfeeding comfort/more support rather than pregnancy-related discomfort, then it makes sense to buy one bra for regular wear and another specifically designed for breastfeeding.

Regardless of the type, it is important to keep in mind that most bras stretch with frequent wear and machine washing.  It is a good idea to replace your old bras every 6 months or so if you have been wearing them frequently for this long since they may have stretched beyond their original fit.

Where can you find maternity and nursing bras?

You can find these types of bras in almost any department store or lingerie boutique, but you will likely get a better selection at a specialty bra retailer.  Many women also choose to purchase nursing bras online, especially during later stages of pregnancy when the band size has grown significantly.  

This way, you have more control over what styles are available in your size and it often provides a better opportunity to compare prices from several retailers at once.  In most cases, maternity and nursing bras can be worn for 12-18 months after giving birth so it is a good idea to find a style that you love!

How many nursing and maternity bras will you need?

The number of nursing bras that you need will vary depending on how frequently you plan to use them.  During the first few weeks after giving birth when your milk supply is still developing, it is a good idea to have at least three to four nursing bras so that they can dry in-between wears.  

Once your milk supply has fully developed, this number may decrease if you are planning on breastfeeding or pumping regularly.

After pregnancy, women often wear their maternity and nursing bras for several months until their breasts return to their pre-pregnancy size (which could take up to 6 months) since many new mothers choose not to wear regular underwire bras during this time due to discomfort.    

It is also common practice after pregnancy for women to continue wearing their maternity and nursing bras until the end of breastfeeding, which could be anywhere from 9-24 months depending on your personal circumstances.

In other words, you probably won't need more than 4 or 5 nursing bras unless your milk supply develops slowly or you choose to exclusively pump milk for a prolonged period of time.  Many women find that they need less once their milk supply has stabilized while others plan to use them through the duration of breastfeeding.

How much will it cost you?

Prices will vary depending on the type of bra you are purchasing, but one maternity/nursing bra usually costs between $30-$45.  If you are looking for a good deal, it is often helpful to get them online or wait until they go on sale since many retailers offer significant discounts during these times.

Final word

There is not an exact difference between maternity and nursing bras since they are often sold as the same product.  The main reason to purchase one over the other would simply be if you need a smaller band size or larger cup size than what is available in your regular bra size range.  

However, it is likely that you will need fewer of these types of bras than regular underwire bras since the band size tends to stretch more quickly.

It is also more common to wear maternity and nursing bras for longer periods of time - up to two years - so they can be used more frequently throughout your pregnancy and breastfeeding experience.

Regardless of which type you choose, it is important to consider how often you plan on wearing them once your milk supply has been regulated. The number of nursing bras needed will vary depending on this factor as well as how fast your milk supply develops.  

On average, most women use four or five different styles during their breastfeeding/pumping experience although some may find that they need more.