If you’re currently in the postpartum period, you might be surprised by just how much stuff you need. If you’re a new parent who’s breastfeeding, pumping, or a combination of the two, this is particularly true. The breast pump parts, the shirts that need to slide up or off quickly, and the bra that needs to expose your breast at a moment’s notice while hiding leak stains and swelling are just a few items that come to mind. On top of that, the aforementioned nursing and pumping bras can be designed with really complex configurations—and who wants to feel like they need an engineering degree to get their bra off, especially with a screaming baby that needs tending to?
Before you invest in something, it’s important to know the differences between products so you can assess what’s right for you. Journalist, mom, and founder Cassie Shortsleeve says she tells clients to wait and see what they need first: “You might not even need a nursing bra—but if that comes up, you can always buy one. So, I like to tell moms, ‘Save your money, see where your needs are, and spend accordingly.’”
Fortunately, options are getting much more advanced and tailored to different needs. We turned to three pros, Shortsleeve and registered nurses and lactation consultants Jamie O’Day and Emily Silver, to get all the details of the best bras for various situations—from nursing to nursing and pumping to exclusively pumping—and style preferences (e.g., sports, seamless, underwire, and crossover). These are the bras that’ll get you through the postpartum period.
According to an unofficial mom poll where I asked seven friends to share their insights in the name of research for this roundup, Kindred Bravely’s Sublime Hands-Free Pumping and Nursing Bra has a lot going for it. Parents who breastfeed and nurse love that they don’t have to think about which bra they need ahead of time. It also has multiple layers for major comfort that keeps leaking, sore, or engorged breasts supported while you do a million other things for your newborn. “What’s great is that it comes in both ‘regular’ or ‘busty’ options and sizes span from small to 3X, making it very inclusive,” O’Day tells Byrdie. The multiple colors make it versatile, and the full support feels amazing right when you need it most.
Price at time of publish: $60
Fabric: 84% nylon, 16% spandex | Size Range: S–3X in Busty, Regular, and Super Busty fit categories | Band: 4 hook and eye clasps plus extender
H&M’s MAMA line is a surprise fave for maternity clothes and bras—they’re not the most long-lasting, necessarily, but their affordability helps since you’re not going to wear these bras for years on end. It’s a basic hook construction, but the soft jersey and underwire make for a bra that feels good and doesn’t look bad under cotton tees. “Their bras even come with pads, which help absorb any leaks,” says O’Day. And they come in multiple colors.
Price at time of publish: $35
Fabric: 85% polyamide, 15% spandex shell; 82% polyamide, 18% spandex wing lining | Size Range: 34B–38DD | Band: 4 hook and eye clasps
Another solid option for larger breasts is the up-to-I cup (44F) ThirdLove nursing bra. It also happens to be the bra I used when pumping after my first pregnancy (and wore throughout my second pregnancy—it’s shockingly comfortable for an underwire bra). The pleated straps are a nice touch, which means they can handle changing breast and chest sizes. It’s unobtrusive under even the thinnest of shirts, and adds nice support and lift. You’ll need to know your new breast size because the fit gets specific, but they offer an excellent return policy if you under- or overestimated your new dimensions.
Price at time of publish: $72
Fabric: Pima cotton and spandex | Size Range: 32A–44H | Band: 5 hook and eye clasps
Generally, Quince’s clothing has all the bells and whistles of a more expensive item, minus the price tag. Their new maternity bra is no different: It comes with adjustable straps, a bra extender, removable pads, and clips. It’s also made out of recycled materials, which is a nice touch—but I never noticed a difference in texture. The overall feel is smooth, supportive, and breathable, without actually slipping off your shoulders (which is key).
Price at time of publish: $25
Fabric: 75% recycled nylon, 19% nylon, 6% spandex | Size Range: XS–XL | Band: 4 hook and eye clasps
Much like their standard Sublime bra, Kindred Bravely’s sports bra has two layers: one for pumping and one for nursing. This means, in essence, that you’ll be really strapped-in if you choose an intense workout. The adjustable straps help the racerback style feel more comfortable, and it offers inclusive sizing. It’s also a functional bra for lower-intensity exercises like walking or yoga.
Price at time of publish: $50
Fabric: 62% nylon, 31% polyester, 7% spandex | Size Range: XS–2X in Busty and Regular fit categories | Band: Nonadjustable
The Everyday is one of O’Day and Silver’s favorite nursing bras ever. It comes in a bunch of colors and prints, prioritizes comfort and quality materials (hello, cotton), and has a wireless style that gently cradles the breasts instead of digging into your ribcage. Also, “it’s super functional with a one-handed clasp so it’s easy to unhook with one hand while the other is holding [your] baby,” says O’Day. It also has a J-hook, meaning you can turn it into a racerback bra, and you can buy anti-leakage pads if you want even more protection.
Price at time of publish: $68
Fabric: 91% Pima cotton, 9% spandex | Size Range: S–XL | Band: 4 hook and eye clasps
The sweat-wicking fabric on Senita’s sports bra means that it’s easier to transition from a sweaty workout to a pumping or nursing session. The release clasps make it easy to access your breasts, but the full coverage means they’re locked in place otherwise—even for new parents who love to run longer distances. Pro tip from moms with bigger breasts who’ve done it: If it’s hard to feel like you’re firmly secure, get two bras, one in a bigger size to layer over the smaller one.
Price at time of publish: $37
Fabric: 72% polyester, 28% spandex | Size Range: XS–XXL | Band: 3 hook and eye clasps
This cozy bra offers very inclusive sizing: Their 4X/5X goes up to a 57.5 inch bust size (which is as big as a 46K). The actual bra band runs a little narrow, according to reviews, but—true to form—the material is silky soft and luxe-feeling. It’s machine washable for easy cleaning; plus, the matching tights or shorts are a nice touch if you want a fully tonal look.
Price at time of publish: $42
Fabric: 78% nylon, 22% spandex | Size Range: XXS/XS–4X/5X | Band: 4 hook and eye clasps
Plenty of moms said they hate racerback styles that can chafe their necks and backs (not to mention be tough to put on), but Spanx applied their fan-favorite Bra-llelujah design to a nursing bra that stretches as your body grows. The racerback hits lower on the back, and the straps aren’t thick, so there’s less pressure overall. The straps aren’t adjustable, but with a little patience and time, the bra will contour to your form—and the racerback, crossover structure also means the bra won’t move while you’re trying to nurse.
Price at time of publish: $58
Fabric: XS, S = 72% nylon, 28% elastane body; 89% nylon, 11% elastane wing / M, L, XL = 72% nylon, 28% elastane body; 85% nylon, 15% elastane wing | Size Range: XS–XL | Band: Nonadjustable
Unlike a bra with a hook, which unlatches to pull the bra flap down, a crossover style (named because the pieces in the front cross over each other) allows you to pull the actual bra strap down your shoulder and lift your breast out. Crossover bras may not hold your breasts in as tightly, but some nursing parents like this style for its simplicity. This one features a super-soft fabric, and—because there’s no underwire, clasp, or hook—it’s a pretty amazing bra to sleep in.
Price at time of publish: $72
Fabric: 87% polyester, 13% elastane | Size Range: XS–XL | Band: Nonadjustable
The Body by Victoria style lifts your breasts without underwire—plus, the lace just makes it a little chicer, if you want a bra upgrade. Because nursing and pumping bras usually have a lot of layers, they can make your breasts feel squashed or flattened. Not here! This is a simple hook closure that allows the cup (which has a leak-resistant pad) to fold down when it’s time to nurse. Then you get to feel sexy while you’re not nursing—which moms said they loved for their (rare) nights out.
It’s worth noting, however, that based on some mixed reviews, it seems large-busted wearers may feel like this bra doesn’t have enough support.
Price at time of publish: $24 on sale
Fabric: 55% recycled polyamide, 18% lyocell, 16% recycled polyester, 11% elastane cup; 50% recycled polyamide, 19% lyocell, 16% recycled polyester, 13% elastane, 2% other; 67% polyamide, 33% elastane ling; 90% polyamide, 10% elastane wing lining; 100% polyester cup lining | Size Range: 32B–40F | Band: Hook and eye clasps
Founded by a mom of five and a personal trainer, Cadenshae designs bras that go from exercise to nursing and pumping seamlessly. Shortsleeve loves it because they partner with and sponsor athletes, including runners Alysia Montaño and Olicia Williams, and they donate towards parent- and female-driven causes. Their sports bra has a light compression style, removable padding, adjustable straps, lots of layers, and (somehow) a simple exterior look—you’d never know it was a nursing bra, in other words.
Price at time of publish: $55
Fabric: Outer: 73% polyester, 27% elastane; 82% nylon, 19% elastane lining | Size Range: XS–2XL | Band: Hook and eye clasps
This super-stretchy bra is as supportive as they come (even for people with larger chests), even though it’s not necessarily advertised as such, reviewers write that it’s strong and supportive enough to hold a wireless pump in place over many months of use. “I would shower at night and put a clean one on, that way when I woke up the next day, I could get dressed and would wear it all day,” explains Silver. “They wash super easily and have pads in them…nipples tend to enlarge when breastfeeding and they can show through your shirt, so it smoothes the boob out nicely!”
Price at time of publish: $49
Fabric: Nylon, spandex | Size Range: S–XXL | Band: Hook and eye clasps
The Everything Bra is Shortsleeve’s favorite nursing bra ever: Not only that, “It’s the most comfortable piece of clothing I’ve ever worn,” she says. It was designed by a mom with the help of a lactation consultation to optimize breast health and minimize some of the more common issues that pop up with nursing (i.e., mastitis and clogged ducts). There’s light support and no padding—made minimal by design to be easier on the breasts. According to their website, model, and actor Brooklyn Decker called them “boob clouds,” and WhatToExpect named it their “Most Comfortable Nursing Sleep Bra.”
Price at time of publish: $48
Fabric: Black, Grey, Ember, Falls: OEKO-TEX 49% viscose, 43% micromodal, 8% elastane; Clay: OEKO-TEX 94% micromodal, 6% elastane | Size Range: S–XL | Band: Hook and eye clasps
This super-affordable cami has a very simple construction: a padded shelf bra, plus clips to unhook the front (with one hand) as needed. That’s it! But reviewers wrote that they loved the stretchiness, opacity, and multifunctionality—the shirt negates the need for a separate bra, can be layered under other clothes, and has a nice stretch factor that works even with bigger busts.
Price at time of publish: $20
Fabric: 78% rayon, 17% nylon, 5% spandex | Size Range: XS–1X | Band: N/A
Kindred Bravely’s Sublime Hands-Free Pumping and Nursing Bra gets top honors for its versatility and thoughtful design. It’s a nursing and pumping bra with multiple layers for major comfort that keeps leaking, sore, or engorged breasts supported while you do a million other things for your newborn. Plus, it comes in ‘regular’ and ‘busty’ options and sizes that span from small to 3X to suit a wide variety of wearers. Though, if you’re looking for a better bang for your buck, H&M MAMA 2-pack Padded Nursing Bras better fits the bill at $35, or $12.50 per nursing bra pre-tax.
What to Look for in a Nursing Bra
It depends on what you’re using it for and what feels intuitive to you. “‘Does it work?’ really is ‘Does it work for me?'” explains Shortsleeve. “Your best friend could love a nursing bra, and maybe you don’t like the way it feels or fits. Maybe it has all of these extra aspects you don’t need. Consider your lifestyle: Are you going into an office every day? What do you do for work?” Nice to have aspects include adjustable latches in the back so you can tweak the fit as needed, and a one-handed clasp or hook so you can expose your breast with one hand. “Personally, I prefer solid or darker color bras as it’s harder to see stains from lanolin creams or even spit up,” O’Day says.
Lots of people wear badly fitting bras, whether they’re pregnant or not. But this becomes more than a cosmetic problem when you’re considering lactation. “A bra that’s too tight can cause irritation, areas of soreness, or [even] a clogged duct if it’s digging in or adding pressure in the wrong places,” O’Day says. Pay attention not just to the sizing specs from the brand but also to reviews: If tons of users found the band to be too tight and needed to size up, you might too. At the same time, a new bra might feel a little tight to start before it contours to your body—but it shouldn’t be super uncomfortable the first time you try it on.
Again, this may depend on your skin’s unique sensitivities. If you’re wanting comfort above all, opt for a bra that contains cotton—it’s breathable and soft, particularly when breasts are sore. A smoother, stretchier bra will likely include polyester and spandex or elastane, and a heavy-duty sports bra will probably include fabric with moisture-wicking properties. Some bras make sure to designate that their fabrics are OEKO-TEX certified non-toxic.
More than anything else, you’ll want to come up with a bra that feels easy and fuss-free for you. In O’Day’s experience, “I’ve found racerbacks and criss-cross bras to be more difficult to put on. If you’re nursing and your baby is starving and screaming, you want the most fuss-free option possible that provides easy access.”
What’s the difference between a nursing bra and a pumping bra?
The most obvious answer is that a pumping bra is supportive enough to hold a pump—either a wall pump with suction cups that attach to the breast via flanges, a wireless pump that is inserted between the bra and your breast, or both. A pumping bra usually has slits or straps to hold flanges in place so you can have your hands free while you pump; it’s often designed not to stretch or tear easily because wireless pumps can be heavy and easily dislodged. By contrast, a nursing bra allows you to unclip or otherwise release the bra cup to expose your breast for a newborn to engage in direct feeding.
Whichever one you choose depends on your needs. Silver explains that in her case, “I usually wore a nursing bra daily, but if it was a work day, I’d wear the pumping one. This way, when I’d stop to pump at work, I [didn’t] have to put something on or take something off.”
What’s the best way to wash your nursing bra?
The main thing is to look at the care instructions on your bra. If you gently hand wash your bras (even if it’s okay to machine wash them), they’ll likely last longer. “However, if you are a new mom, you’re likely pressed for time which means tossing your nursing bra in the washer and dryer with the rest of your laundry is likely the quickest way to clean your bra,” O’Day says. (Silver adds that she threw all her nursing bras in the washing machine without an issue.) Pay attention to your detergent, since certain scents might irritate your breast or the baby. When in doubt, opt for fragrance-free and mild.