It doesn’t seem like finding your bra size should be that difficult, so why do 70-85% of women get it wrong? The answers range from misunderstanding how bras are sized to flat-out misconceptions about what’s “average.” Most people think of 36DD as huge-busted but, in fact, that’s currently America’s average bra size.
Determining bra size is confusing – otherwise, so many intelligent women wouldn’t get it wrong. The key is to ignore the size and focus on fit. While it’s hard enough to figure out your best bra fit in general, it’s even more complicated to manage as your body changes over the course of pregnancy and nursing.
Here are a few FabFit Tips for finding your best bra fit, as well as a guide to keeping your bust supported and healthy during and after pregnancy.
FabFit Tip #1: Band Aid
When assessing bra fit, always start with the band on its loosest hook, so as the bra stretches (and they all do), there’s room to adjust for a firmer fit.
The band should be snug to your ribcage in order to have it do the work of carrying and lifting the breasts. 80-90% of your support should come from the band. When it’s too loose, the weight of your breasts rests on your shoulders, which can lead to health risks. The band should be snug enough that you can only pull it around an inch away from your back. A bra will begin to relax after the first wearing, so if the band isn’t firm enough in the beginning, it will never do its job. One great way to tell if your band is too big is if it rides up in the back. The band should be parallel to the floor, even when moving through daily activities. If the band rides up — even a little – go down a size or move onto the next bra, no matter how cute it is.
FabFit Tip #2: Bridge the Gap
The bridge is the piece of the bra between the breasts, connecting the cups. In underwire styles, the bridge should sit flat against your ribcage. There should be no gapping, even when you raise your arms over your head. If the bridge isn’t sitting flat against the body, you’re not wearing the right bra. The easiest way to mind the gap is to try going down a band size and up a cup size.
FabFit Tip #3: The Winner’s Cup
Bra cups should fully surround the breast tissue. Here’s a good trick for figuring out if you’re wearing the right size cup: when pressing the area directly below the underwire you should feel ribs, not breast flesh. If the skin there is still fleshy, you don’t have all of the tissue in the cup.
There are two common bra fails that indicate an ill-fitting cup: First, the dreaded quad-boob. This condition exists if the breast starts popping out over the top of the cup. Quad-boob looks unsightly under clothes and makes t-shirts virtually unwearable. Second is the equally challenging, though less obvious, underspill. Underspill happens when the breast starts to slip out from the bottom of the cup. If a woman is prone to underspill it will be most evident when raising her arms over her head.
FabFit for Maternity, Breast Feeding and Beyond
Maternity bras are often confused with nursing bras, but they are, in fact, very different. Maternity bras are specifically designed to accommodate the body’s growth while pregnant, while nursing bras have special clips that offer a baby access to the nipple while also retaining modesty and minimal fuss for a mother.
Manufacturers recommend that women switch to maternity bras in the third of fourth month of pregnancy. That said, it’s personal choice dictated by comfort and the extent to which your body is changing. Averages mean little when you’re talking about your own body’s response to pregnancy, but it’s fair to say that pregnant women should expect that their bra size to increase in both band and cup size. A good rule of thumb is to purchase a maternity bra when pre-pregnancy garments become uncomfortable. Unlike the fit procedure for most bras, maternity bras should be tried on the tightest hook, in order to loosen the bra as the ribcage swells to accommodate your growing baby.
Nursing bras should be purchased in advance of your baby’s birth for your own convenience, since most women have little interest in bra shopping immediately following childbirth. In your first 6-8 weeks of nursing, you should expect that your cup size to increase an additional one to two sizes from the point you reached by the end of your pregnancy. After around 8 weeks of nursing, your band size will gradually decrease to its pre-pregnancy size, but your cup size will remain larger than it had been before your pregnancy.
When trying on nursing bras, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind:
- When assessing bra size, you should take your feeding schedule into consideration. You want to ensure that your nursing bra will not constrict your breast tissue when you are engorged.
- Look for breathable fabrics, such as cotton bras, to reduce the amount of moisture that builds up in your bra. Too much moisture can lead to infection, which is bad for both Mom and baby. Cotton is also recommended to cool the fire, as nursing raises the body’s internal temperature approximately 10 degrees.
- There is an inherent balance when selecting nursing bras. On the one hand, firm fit is critical to comfortably supporting your larger breasts, but on the other hand, stretch is recommended to accommodate fluctuations in cup size. A lingerie boutique specializing in fitting can help you strike that balance.
These are just the basics of fitting the band, bridge and cup. Getting an excellent fit, especially when local stores don’t stock your size, can be a complicated process. It’s easy to see why so many women get it wrong – but it’s worth the time and effort to get great fit right in order to prevent sagging, stretch marks or worse later in life.
For a complete, step-by-step approach to finding your own best bra fit at any size, check out Ali Cudby’s forthcoming book, BUSTED: The Fab Foundations Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Best Fitting Bra.