How to choose a maternity bra - 4 key things to consider

pregnant woman wearing maternity bra

Learning how to choose a maternity bra is likely to make your pregnancy a far more comfortable experience.

The best maternity bras have been specially designed with changing bodies in mind. As you go through pregnancy, your body changes, and your boobs can shift in both size and shape. For this reason, you might find your trusty favourites no longer provide the comfort, support or security they once provided.

Maternity brad tend to be made from soft, stretchy material and free from things like niggling seams and underwriting. Many double as nursing bras too, and can continue to be worn after your little one arrives. You’ll need to take sizing, fit and comfort into consideration when working out how to choose a maternity bra, as well as value for money.

How to choose a maternity bra

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These are the key considerations when shopping for the best maternity bra for you.

1) Sizing

Nailing your bra sizing can be tricky at the best of times, but comes even more complex when finding the best maternity bra. Both your rib cage and bust will expand during pregnancy, so instead of opting for your regular size, choose at least once size bigger for your first maternity bra to accommodate for pregnancy weight gain. Your sizing will likely continue to change during your pregnancy, so regular fittings will help ensure you’re not wearing one that’s too small.

“Every woman is different, but as a general rule of thumb, you can expect to grow around  1 cup size and 1 back size during the first 20 weeks,” Chelsey Olivier, Creative and Brand Director at maternity brand Seraphine. “Your size should then be more stable through the second half of your pregnancy. Then, once you’ve given birth and your milk comes in, you should expect to grow one more cup size and shrink one back size. For example, if you’re usually a size 32C, try a 34D for pregnancy & a 32DD for nursing.”

2) Comfort

It’s the little details that make the biggest difference to how comfortable your best maternity bra feels, so don’t be afraid to sweat the small stuff. "Look out for stretchy fabrics, flexible under bands and extra padding on the hook and eye and straps,” says Laura Franklin, customer advisor at Bravissimo. Natural fabrics like cotton will help you keep cooler during pregnancy, while anything without seams will minimise your chances of chafing. 

Most maternity bras are free from underwiring. “Historically it has not been recommended to wear underwired bras during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding as they can inhibit the production of milk,” says Sally Neale, Assistant Buyer at Jojo Maman Bébé. “However, there are now bras that have been specially designed with 'safe' underwires or gel-based wires, which offer great support while minimising the potential of blocked milk ducts.”

A lack of underwiring will likely make your bras more comfortable too. “You know that feeling of relief when you take off an underwired bra  after a long day? There’s a reason it feels so good to take it off!” says Chelsey Olivier. “During pregnancy your breasts are more sensitive than usual and they’re also more delicate as they’re changing so much. It’s important to protect them and not put any unnecessary pressure on them. This is why at Seraphine most of our maternity bras are non-wired, offering comfortable, elasticated support instead.”

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3) Fit

First things first, let’s break down the key signs of a well-fitting bra:

  • The band should sit horizontally across your back, without riding up or sliding down.
  • The cups should fully contain your breast, without spilling or gaping.
  • The straps should be sitting flat on your shoulders, not digging in or falling off.

These sign-posts remain the same with maternity bras, with the only real difference in fit coming from the fastening. “When you buy a regular bra, you should aim for it to fit comfortably on the loosest setting, so you can tighten it as the band naturally stretches out over time,” explains Chelsey Olivier. “For pregnancy, you should do the opposite. Buy a bra that fits comfortably on the tightest setting, so you can loosen the fit as you grow throughout your nine months.”

Once you’ve given birth, you can return to the usual checks. “To get the best out of your bra post-pregnancy, buy one that fits on the loosest hook,” says Elizabeth Windsor, Senior Buyer at Ann Summers. “This gives you the option to tighten as your body changes again and your underband reduces.”

4) Value for money

Not keen on splashing out on a whole new maternity wardrobe? We get it. In which case, your best maternity bra is one that will last throughout your pregnancy and beyond in terms of both fit and durability. The higher the elastane content in your bra, the more it will stretch with your frame during pregnancy, and snap snuggly back post-birth. For extra longevity, opt for a crop-top style bra that comes in sizes such as XS-XL, instead of specific cup and back sizing.

Choosing a maternity bra that can double as a nursing bra will max out your cost-per-wear too. “A nursing bra usually has clips at the straps, which allow each cup to be released from the main body of the bra enabling access to the breast,” says Sally Neale. “They can also be made from soft stretchy fabric in a design that can easily be pulled to one side.”

Where to shop for the best maternity bras 2021

These are the key brands to browse for the best maternity bras:

  • Seraphine - dedicated maternity brand worn by the Duchess of Cambridge
  • JoJo Maman Bébé - super comfortable maternity bras at affordable prices
  • Bravissimo - plenty of choice from a range of brands
  • Cake Maternity - functional lingerie that doesn't compromise on style
  • John Lewis - wide variety of styles and prices
Jess Beech is our Beauty Editor, working across, Woman & Home, Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman’s Weekly and Chat. Joining just after she graduated from the University of East Anglia with a BA in English Literature back in 2013, Jess has been a part of the team for over 8 years. Over that time she’s tried her hand at most subjects – covering diet, health, cookery and even a stint on real life crime before settling on beauty and fashion a couple of years ago. Her average day in the office is spent tracking down high-street copies for all your favourite celebrity looks or testing the latest beauty launches to see if they really do live up to the press release. Although she writes across a wide range of topics, when it comes to beauty it’s always a new hair product that catches her eye first. Whether it’s a new frizz-fighting shampoo or a game-changing gadget, she’s first in line to try anything that might help tame her own unruly mane. When Jess isn’t at work you’re likely to find her busily making plans for her next holiday, trying out yet more beauty products or (reluctantly) heading to the gym. Oh and she’s a sucker for reality TV too – just don’t call her when Love Island is on.