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You are here: Home - Pregnancy - Signs of Pregnancy

What's Happening To My Breasts?

by Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN | January 30, 2001 12:00 AM
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Women today are beginning to more fully understand their bodies. They are learning that their breasts are not simply a cosmetic feature; they have a definite function in a delicate and complex system.

Throughout the breast is a network of lymph glands and milk ducts. Unless these glands and ducts drain properly, discomfort and even infection can occur. When the breast is elevated, circulation improves, the lymphatic system functions properly, and the ducts drain.

Sagging is caused by the pull of gravity over time and is influenced by hereditary factors, breast size, and lack of muscle tone. Breasts, unlike other parts of the body, have no muscles. With very little of their own construction to hold them up, they have to depend on a good bra for support. And contrary to outdated information, going bra less does not prepare the nipples for breastfeeding...it could possibly cause early nipple soreness as well as stretch the breast tissue promoting sagging.

During pregnancy, when the body begins growing and preparing for the birth of a baby, special attention should be given to a well-fitted bra...one that not only supports the changing breast size but promotes healthy functioning of the lymphatic and milk producing systems in the breast. Just as the tummy is expanding, so are the breasts and the rib cage. While some women change in size drastically and require several different bra sizes throughout their pregnancies, others change very little until the baby arrives and mature milk is produced.

When to purchase and how to fit a maternity/nursing bra:
Ideal times for purchasing a maternity/nursing bra are in the fourth and eighth months of pregnancy...or whenever the current bra is no longer comfortable. Bras are generally sized with two measurements: (1) rib cage (stated in numerals, ie. 36) and (2) cup size (stated in letter sizes, ie. C, D, DD or E, etc.). Each measurement is independent of the other.

In the fourth month: The bra should be hooked on the tightest hook in back and fit firmly but comfortably around the rib cage--no riding up in back which usually indicates the bra is too large around and which, in turn, provides insufficient support for the breasts. Fitting the bra on the tightest hook allows for further rib cage growth throughout the pregnancy. The cup should provide enough depth to eliminate as much cleavage as possible. This would be the cup size. A cup that fits too snugly will not allow for growth throughout the pregnancy; however, a cup that fits too loosely does not provide adequate support.

In the eighth month: The bra should be hooked on the loosest hook in back and fit firmly but comfortably around the rib cage--again, no riding up in back. Fitting the bra on the last or loosest hook allows the bra be taken up as the rib cage shrinks after delivery. The cup should allow some room for milk ducts to expand when the "milk comes in." Most maternity/nursing bras adjust in the cup by ladder hook adjustments above the cups or by lengthening a stretch strap. (Lengthening the strap too much will compromise the support offered by the bra.)

Under wire versus soft cup:
Properly fitted under-wires generally cause no problems during pregnancy and while breastfeeding; however, soft cups are usually more comfortable during the last months of pregnancy and during the first weeks of breastfeeding when the breasts are at their fullest. It is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT that the wire fits well behind the breast tissue under the arm so that the wire puts no pressure on the breast tissue. It is also ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT that the bra, whether soft cup or under wire, be put on so that the band or under wire under the breasts lies on the rib cage with no pressure on the breast tissue. Any point of pressure on the breast tissue by an under wire or a seam which fits too tight sometimes leads to a plugged duct often resulting in mastitis or breast infection.

How to measure for the best fitted bra:
While wearing the bra that currently "fits best," take your measurements as indicated and match up those measurements on the sizing chart. If unsure, make note of the brand and size bra that currently "fits best," browse through the different styles offered by Special Addition, and e-mail the size information to us. We will make suggestions on sizes and styles best suited to your needs. While all of the bras we carry offer support, not all styles are suitable for all sizes.

Unfortunately, there is no size standardization in the bra manufacturing industry, and every manufacturer suggests a similar but slightly different method for measuring and determining size. Ideally, we would like for you to come to Special Addition and allow us to custom fit you for a perfectly fitted bra. Since this is not possible for most of our mail order customers, one standard sizing chart is provided.

While wearing the bra that currently fits you best:

Step 1. Rib Cage - Placing the measuring tape directly under the breasts and straight around the back, take a firm measurement. Add 3" to this measurement. If the measurement is an odd number, round up to next nearest inch. Example: measurement of 34" + 3" = 37" resulting in a rib cage size of 38.

Step 2. Cup Size - Placing the measuring tape directly over the fullest part of breasts and straight around the back, take a loose measurement.

Step 3. Subtract the rib cage measurement from the cup size measurement and compare the difference to the following chart.

Difference between rib cage and cup size measurements Resulting cup size

0" - 1 1/2" A Cup 1" - 2 1/2" B Cup 2 1/2" - 3 1/2" C Cup 3 1/2" - 4 1/2" D Cup 5" - 6" E (DD) Cup 6" - 7" F (DDD) Cup 7" - 8" G Cup 8" - 9" H Cup 9" - 10" I Cup 10" - 11" J Cup

Putting on a bra to ensure a healthy, comfortable fit:
For a healthy, comfortable fit, a bra should elevate the entire breast and fit comfortably around without riding up. To achieve this, you may put your arms through the straps, hold each side of the bra, lean over to allow the breasts to "fall" into the cups, stand up straight, then hook the bra in the back. Reposition the breast tissue in the cup so that the band or under wire is on the rib cage and not serving as a support for the actual breast. Readjust the back hooks, if necessary, to a tighter fit. Adjust straps to fit comfortably.

Checking the fit:
The bottom of the bra, front and back, should be straight or slightly lower in back. Straps should not cut into the shoulders. Center seam should lie against the breastbone without gaps between the cups. No flesh should overflow at the bra top, and under seam area should lie smooth without cutting the flesh. The cups should fit smoothly. Wrinkles in the cups may mean the bra is not properly fitted.

Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN is certified childbirth and breastfeeding educator and Registered Nurse with a bachelor of science degree in Nursing, and is board certified in Inpatient Obstetrical Nursing.

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