Welcome to the compilation of my journey through the construction of a bra that provides support and comfort for fuller busts, and is suitable during pregnancy and throughout nursing. This is quite a long post, so if you are not the reading type, you are welcome to skim through the pics and read the summary at the bottom of the post.
Back in October 2015, I found myself in a changing body because of my pregnancy. A month or so into it, my breasts and ribcage were in great discomfort due to the related changes and there were no pregnancy-friendly bras available to me that would be comfortable and supportive enough to wear. I basically spent the first few months of my pregnancy having to change my bra several times a day and many other times temporarily having to remove my bra so that the discomfort in my rib cage and my breasts would lessen (read more about it here).
There were a few requirements I listed as important for me to have in a pregnancy bra:
- Well fitted
- No underwires! The root of my breasts was changing in size and my supportive self-made underwired bras were becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
I found no commercially available bras to help with the discomfort. I found only non-underwired bras made in jersey, which lost support after an hour or so of wearing.
Given the lack of a commercially available bra suitable for the task and in the range of women with large breasts, I found myself needing to sew my own. Since I wanted it to continue to be suitable during nursing, I started experimenting with the one nursing bra pattern I was able to find, the EZI SEW nursing bra, available through (but not drafted by) BraMakersSupply. It is a full band non-underwired bra with an internal power bar and flaps that attach the cups to the straps using clips.
The adjustments and modifications I made and the experiments I performed with different construction materials are summarized below. Along this journey, I followed the advice from several nurses, mothers, bra making experts in Facebook forums (link 1 and link 2), the Fairy Bra Mother’s blog, and applied my knowledge on bra making basics, which I acquired through several Craftsy courses and a few other books on bra making. What I learned was very interesting. I invite you to keep reading.
Voila my first attempt at the nursing bra (cups made in 15 denier). Although it was the most comfortable bra I had worn for a long time during my pregnancy (likely because there was no strain around the root of my breasts), there were a few issues with the tightness, the overall fit and the increasing size of my belly. After all it was a nursing bra and not a pregnancy bra!
For my second version, I went up one cup size and tried again. This time I used a pink lightweight no-stretch knit lined with silk organza. To my disappointment, the fabric combo I used combined with the size increase didn’t work out well. The raw edges of the seams were itchy, the cups were way too big and many more fit issues arose. I decided to keep this frame and went ahead and made modifications to the cups only.
Since many people suggested to use cotton for the cups due to its breathability, to avoid the risk of yeast infection, I decided for my third version to redraft the bridge and the cups in a stable woven cotton muslin and rebuild the bra above.
It took several cup modifications (~7) to get to this stage and by the end of multiple cup tests, I was quite happy with the fit. After wearing this bra for a couple of days, I realized that the straps were falling to the sides and after a few more weeks, my belly kept on growing and the band became again a tad uncomfortable.
In my following version (the fourth) I wanted to prevent the straps from falling, and following Beverly’s advice, I drafted a back strap extension. In order to reduce the strain on my belly during the last few months of my pregnancy, I then tried drafting a thin band + a gothic arch, as also recommended by Beverly. After these modifications the resulting bra straps were much more stable on my shoulders, and my expanding belly and ribs had plenty of extra space and comfort.
- for the band and the powerbar I doubled the powernet, which provided much more stability
- for the upper cup I doubled the lightweight no-stretch knit (from Erin’s Etsy shop) which allowed some comfort during breast engorgement
- for the lower cup a layer of lightweight no-stretch knit lined with a layer of the same stable woven cotton muslin I used as the main fabric in my previous version to provide structure and support
The resulting amount of support was LOVELY ❤ !! This was quickly becoming the bra I wanted to wear!!
The time of my delivery was approaching and soon it was time to test the nursing cups!
In this regard and also for the yellow version above, I shortened the the height of the cup that goes to the clip as suggested by Amber Rose after my post in the bra making forums. This modification would allow the clip to be closed more easily with a single hand, because apparently I would want to hold Emilia with the other while clipping the cup back up! 😉
By the time of my fifth bra version, my little Emilia was born <3. For this version I tried a different fabric for the cups and a different type of clips. Beverly had just recently reported that BMS was stocking Active Cotton by Kinisi Athletics, which is a moisture moving fabric. I was naturally attracted to it because my breasts were leaking with the nursing and also because I wanted to try how a more stretchy fabric at the upper cup would affect the support. The Nursing Clips I had used so far were not super easy to clip with a single hand and I figured I should try Metal Magnetic Bra Clips!
I found that although this bra is the most deliciously comfortable to wear, it is not the most supportive. The magnetic clips work beautifully however, you just need to position the two parts roughly together and the bra clips by itself! ❤
Bra making guru, Linda Crawford commented on this post:
– I have used it as the lining for a sports bra, under duoplex, so you get the best of both worlds – the dryness of the cotton and the support of the duoplex. I wonder if that would work for a nursing bra?-
In my (by now) obsessive search for comfort and support, I decided to try one last version (soon to be linked) which would provide the most structure and support while still being comfortable and breathable. For this last version I decided to build the cups using a layer of a stable cotton from Vlisco, and a layer of Kinisi as lining. I further shortened the cup exetension and connected the powerbar to a more supportive strap made out of my main stable fabric further stabilized with fusible interfacing. Finally, the powerbar connected the strap to the cup and went all the way down to the horizontal seam at the center of the bra and instead of supporting the breast, it was digging in! I therefore decided to eliminate the part of the powerbar that “supported” the bottom of the breast.
This is how the Pregnancy-Nursing Bra African Style was born:
I LOVE THIS BRA, everything about it!! This is the little baby I have so hard been working towards!! And, even though while nursing, you are not actually looking so much for support as you are for comfort, you are likely going to thank having a comfortable and supportive bra in your wardrobe for one of those special days.
Now, a summary of the evolution in pictures:
I currently have the last 4 in constant rotation. I love having pretty nursing bras!! ❤
I have to thank my little Emilia for giving me the motivation and encouragement to go through this journey, all the nurses, mothers, bra making gurus and all the people in the forums who kindly shared their bra making knowledge and experience. Social networks are the best way to learn!
Summary of thoughts and lessons learned:
- If you want space for your expanding belly, go for a thin band + a gothic arch, this super duo can’t fail, specially during pregnancy!
- Doubling layers offers more support overall. Think of wearing two bras together!
- If you want super easy clipping go for Metal Magnetic Bra Clips – after all, magnetism is a long range force!
- If your bra straps are falling to the sides, pull those suckers together! Draft a strap extension for the back band and lightly bring in the straps at the cup seam.
- Draft wider straps if you want to reduce the pressure on your shoulders!
- Cotton, cotton, cotton for the cups,
Lastly and most importantly:
Feel pretty, love yourself, your body and your baby. Be thankful for all the bearing, nursing and loving your body does while you have a baby. Those powers make you a superwoman! ❤
Now, I leave you with a little baby-mamma love!
I’d love to hear your comments!