Choosing to breastfeed your baby is a great way to provide nutrition and health benefits to your baby but you might struggle to decide whether or not you need special nursing clothes, tops, or bras to get the job done.
Nursing bras, tops, and clothes are not a necessity for breastfeeding mothers but the convenience they provide is often well worth the price to add them to your wardrobe. Specialized nursing bras and clothes allow mothers to nurse or pump more easily outside of the home and provide longer-lasting comfort and support compared to regular clothing.
Let’s take a look at all of the options for nursing clothes.
Do you really need nursing bras, tops, or clothes?
The baby is crying, your breasts are full, and you are trying to undress modestly to nurse. Instead of struggling, there is a whole line of clothing for nursing that can make things easier to manage but many mothers might worry about the price of buying expensive clothing that they will only be able to use for a short time.
While nursing clothing isn’t mandatory most mothers will find that the convenience they provide represents a solid value. Compared to traditional clothing, specialized nursing bras and tops provide functionality that will allow you to nurse your baby or pump milk more easily at home, while traveling, or while outside the home.
Flaps, zippers, and snaps make the journey so much better. Everything is adjustable and stretchy. They are good quality and will last through multiple kids. Most tops and dresses can be worn year-round as well. You can find something that is comfortable but still makes you feel beautiful.
Bottom line: picking up just a few key pieces of nursing clothing will make your life so much easier without breaking the bank.
If you want to skip all of our reasoning and jump straight to our recommendations then here is the cheat sheet (compliments of my lovely wife). In most cases, this is what you should buy for maximum value, comfort, and versatility:
- Three nursing bras – Here is a perfect 3-pack that comes in multiple colors!
- A pack of loose-fitting tank tops – Here is another 3-pack of tank tops that also double as nursing tops!
- A nursing cover, shawl, or blanket – Here is a ‘poncho-style’ option that works well in almost every situation!
If you are interested in the why behind our recommendations then keep reading!
Are nursing bras necessary?
Your breasts are going through a lot of changes with birth and nursing. Engorgement and sensitivity sets in and nursing bras are designed for comfort and adjustability.
Some women will not change much in size, while others will grow up to four cup sizes. They make the journey of breastfeeding easier and more comfortable for you and the baby. Nursing bras come with clips, straps, and flaps to help the process. They are flexible, breathable, and good quality. Most are hand wash only, which will help them last longer. Cotton lining is best and soft against the skin.
There are many options to fit the style and comfort you are looking for.
Best nursing bras to try
There are a few bras that make breastfeeding easier.
- Clip down nursing bras have clips on the top of the cup that pull down for easy nursing. They are wireless and comfortable. They have adjustable straps and full coverage.
- Sleeping bras are super soft without clips, clasps, or wires and can be used at night for hassle free nursing. They are comfortable to sleep in.
- Pumping Bras and Bustiers are good for pumping milk. Each side has a flap that can be opened to hold the pumps hands-free. You can nurse on one side and pump on the other.
- Front clip nursing bras are useful and have easy clips for undoing. They also have adjustable straps and clips in the back for comfort.
Some nursing tops also come with a built-in bra if you want that option!
When should you start wearing a nursing bra?
It is not predictable when you should start wearing a nursing bra. Some women have their milk come in before the baby is born, while others a few days after birth.
It is good to start looking at bras early in your pregnancy to get an idea of what you need. Usually, sleeping bras are the best for a few weeks postpartum because they are the least structured and soft for sensitivity. If you want an accurate sizing for nursing bras, some experts recommend a few months after birth, in which your milk supply will stabilize.
You can always talk to your doctor or any loved ones for advice.
To get a good fitting for your bra, take a fabric tape measure and measure in two spots: underbust (directly under your breasts) and bust (the fullest part of your breasts). These get the sizes for the width of the band and your cup size. Then you subtract your band size from your breast size to get your bra size. You can Google size charts as well as find videos. Also, if you are shopping in a store, an associate can help measure you as well.
Some signs that the nursing bra doesn’t fit well:
- Breasts slip out the bottom of the cups
- The band rides up in back
- Cups have wrinkles
- Straps slip off your shoulders, even when tightened
- Breasts spill out the top or the sides of the cups
- Straps dig into your shoulders
- Underwire pokes you (it is best not to have underwire in your bra)
- Center does not lie flat between your breasts
Listen to your body. If you are uncomfortable in any way, find a different bra. Find something that you can easily work with and adjust.
How many nursing bras do you need?
The rule of thumb is generally “one to wash, one to wear, and one to spare!”
Your breasts are going through a lot of changes with birth and nursing. You get hot flashes, especially at night. Babies always spit up so you don’t want to wear that all day. Leaking is inevitable and happens quite a bit.
Plus, you will have back up so at least one of them will not be in the laundry.
Can you wear a regular bra while nursing?
Yes, just make sure it is comfortable and easy to maneuver when it is time to nurse.
Nursing bra alternatives
There are a few alternatives if you don’t want a traditional nursing bra.
- Bras with no underwire are essential for comfort and it won’t poke or irritate you. Underwire can put a strain on your breasts and cause mastitis, which are clogged milk ducts. You want a bra that’s more open and easy to pull aside for nursing and/or pumping.
- Bralettes are soft (usually cotton or lace) and more open up front for easy access. If you do not leak a lot, it is a good choice. However, if you have bigger breasts, make sure you have one that is supportive.
- A top with a built-in bra can be an easy alternative. There is a built-in shelf to support the breasts. They have the clip to pull down the top for nursing. Many of them come padded.
- Front hook bras are so easy and convenient. You open it to nurse, and then close it back.
If your breasts are leaking a lot, find a bra that has a lot of padding or get nursing pads. They come in reusable and disposable.
If you have larger breasts, make sure you have a good bra that provides good coverage and is comfortable.
Are nursing tops or clothes necessary?
Not really, but it will depend on your particular needs and lifestyle!
Many women can get away with loose clothing and buttons that they already have around the house, especially if they plan to stay home most of the time and won’t have to worry about traveling or nursing in public.
In general, the more active you are the more you will need to invest in specialized nursing clothes because then the emphasis shifts to convenience and versatility. Nobody wants to expose themselves in public while breastfeeding!
What nursing clothes do you need?
The answer to this depends on your lifestyle.
Here are a few quick scenarios based on how often you are leaving the house while breastfeeding:
- Stays at home most of the time – You can probably get by with a few comfortable nursing bras and some loose-fitting clothing that you have around your home already
- Leaves the home often – You’ll need the nursing bras along with tank tops and several go-to pieces of clothing that will allow you to nurse outside of the home
- Working mother – You will need to purchase nursing bras that accept nursing pads and provide easy access to pumping without having to remove your clothing at work.
Of course, these are just SUPER broad categories and your individual needs will of course vary. I just used these examples to show you how likely it is that you could get by without purchasing a lot of special gear!
Best nursing clothes to try
Just like with regular clothes, nursing clothes have a wide range of options for all your needs.
- Tank Tops are the starting layer and can be used in various ways. They can be worn over a nursing bra and have a clip to pull down, giving easy access for nursing. Many have built-in bras so you get twice the benefit. They are good for summertime and also as an under layer for a sweater or hoodie.
- Nursing tops range from plain shirts to dressy tops, short and long sleeves. They can come in solids or patterns of colors. They are made flowy and very comfortable. It is recommended if you leak a lot to get a shirt with a pattern, which hides better than solid color. Some shirts have a flap that goes over the breasts that can be lifted up. Some have zippers, snaps, or buttons. There are shirts that wrap around and can be tied and untied from the side to make a cover for privacy.
- Skin to Skin top is perfect for nursing a smaller newborn. You can put the baby next to your skin in the shirt and carry the baby while nursing.
- Pumping Top is great for pumping milk hands free. There are two flaps that can be accessed to place the pumps. They will stay in place and help you multitask. You can also use one side for pumping and one side for nursing.
- Sweaters have the same features as other nursing tops and are good for cold weather. Snaps, buttons, and zippers, make for easy access. Some have flaps on the sides to discreetly lift and slide the baby underneath. Some are just naturally low cut to make it easy to pull down. There are cardigans that can be tied with a belt, and can be used to cover (better for a smaller baby).
- Shawls are a great way to breastfeed discreetly and cover everything. There are shawls that can be unbuttoned to accommodate. There are shawls that wrap and can be made to carry the baby, as well as nurse.
- Dresses come in styles from casual to formal. Some have flaps on the side for discreet nursing. Some are low cut to make easy access. Some are wrap dresses that have a belt to undo, which can serve as a cover as well.
Nursing friendly clothes
Nursing clothes can be helpful, but they can be pricey and add to your big wardrobe. There are plenty of clothes in your possession that you can use instead.
- Muslin Blankets are made from breathable cotton and create a cool cover for nursing, especially in a warm place. This is good in place of nursing shawls. You can take two corners and tie them around your neck or just drape it over the side you are nursing on.
- Loose-fitting tops that can be easily pulled down are a good choice. Tank tops, t-shirts, and long sleeves that are low cut.
- Tops with a tank top underneath can be used. You can pull the top shirt up to nurse and the tank top will cover your stomach
- Large scarves, ponchos, or shawls are good for nursing and will keep the baby warm.
- Open sweaters like hoodies or cardigans can be used by covering the baby’s head with one side and covering your breast and baby on the other side (recommended for smaller infants, not active toddlers)
- Button up tops such as sweaters, blouses, or flannels are a great way to nurse. You only have to undo a few buttons, then close it back up
DIY nursing clothes
If you don’t want to buy nursing clothes and have a creative touch, you can create nursing clothes with scissors and sewing, as well as no sew. There are a lot of ideas and YouTube videos on the subject.
Homemade nursing pads are useful and a money saver.
- Cut circles of fabric (preferably cotton or flannel), stack them and sew together by hand or with a machine.
- If you use cotton, five layers should be good. If you use flannel, four layers.
- It is also a good idea to have one part of the material be water-resistant.
- It doesn’t have to be pretty but these will work stopping most leaks and can be easily thrown in the wash.
- They will fit comfortably in a bra.
Men’s button-up tops can be easily altered
- Just cut off the bottom half of the top as low as you want.
- Flip it around and resew it so the bottom buttons are on the back of the shirt.
- If the sleeves are long, you can adjust them for a more feminine look.
- The buttons on the back look stylish and can be more open for airflow.
- The top buttons are ready for nursing.
Nursing dresses can be made with a low cut dress and a tank top/camisole.
- Cut the tank top off at the waist
- Cut the back off the tank top and the straps off towards the back
- Turn dress inside out
- Lay the tank top right side down on the bodice of the dress
- Cut straps shorter so they don’t overlap the shoulder of the dress
- Line up and sew the edges of the tank top with the side seams of the dress.
- Sew the straps to the shoulder seams
- The low cut dress makes it easy to pull the tank top up to nurse, then you can tuck it back in
Nursing tank tops are probably the easiest to make. There are even ones that you don’t have to sew.
- Find an old cami and put it on
- Mark the bust points
- Take it off and find something round about 3 inches in diameter (a cup or cookie cutter will work)
- Lay the cami flat and put the cup over the bust point so that it is in the middle and trace the circle (use chalk or a pencil). Repeat for the other side
- Cut out the circles and voila! You can wear it under any top or dress to make it easy.
Whether you get nursing clothes or make your own, you can always find something to make breastfeeding an enjoyable experience. It is the closest bond you will have with your child and it should be as stress-free as possible.