Thursday, August 15, 2013

Excuses, excuses...

I'm sorry to have temporarily deserted the blog. School and family obligations got to be a bit much this summer, and I've been dealing with medical stuff for a month now with no end in sight.

I'm going to try to get back on track posting weekly (maybe twice a week, depending). I've got plenty of reviews I still need to write up, but much more excitingly, I'm working with Darlene of Hourglassy on sampling a Campbell and Kate button-front shirt! Even at a 30G I have difficulty finding shirts that fit over my bust without completely obscuring my waist, and a white button up is a serious hole in my wardrobe.

My kiddo turns 1 in just two weeks. I can hardly believe that this time last year, I was crying because she wouldn't come out. It seems like so long ago, and also like it was only yesterday. (Now I cry because she is growing up so fast.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Guide to Bras Throughout Nursing and Pregnancy

I wrote this for /r/ABraThatFits, with the help of the wonderful t_maia.


You don’t have to wear a maternity bra during your pregnancy. If there aren’t any made in your size, you hate the styles offered, or they are too expensive for you, just buy regular bras or nursing bras. This should probably be obvious, but isn’t, because advertising people are really good at their jobs. You do not need to wear wireless bras throughout pregnancy. The problems many pregnancy books mention are caused by the fact that too many women wear wired bras in the wrong size. If the cups are too small or too narrow, the wires will sit on breast tissue, which can be highly uncomfortable for pregnant women and interfere with milk production. Please measure yourself according to the sources in the sidebar if you haven't already.

If you do buy unwired bras, buy nursing bras with clips instead of maternity bras without clips. The bras you'll buy during the second trimester of pregnancy won't fit you right after birth, but will usually fit again after a few months postpartum. It is a bit of a gamble, but one that tends to work more often than not. So the bras you buy during pregnancy do not need to be cheap throwaway bras.

Read reviews to see if the bras score high on comfort, because nothing is worse than being pregnant and uncomfortable. Most books say you grow in the first trimester and then stop, or only grow a little more after that. That’s true for some people, but not for everybody. Quite a lot of women grow in the second and the third trimester too.

Bras that you buy during the first two trimesters of pregnancy should fit you ok on the tightest or middle hook. (This is opposite of the regular fitting advice to buy bras that fit ok on the widest hook.) As your ribcage expands you can switch to the wider hooks or use extenders. Many good nursing bras come with more than two or three columns of hooks for this purpose; four to six is common. As long as you need only a wider band, extenders work fine. Remember that you can daisy-chain extenders if your ribcage expands more than a single extender can accommodate. But if you need a larger cup, you'll need to buy new bras.

Some sources will recommend stretchy bras that will allow for some fluctuation in size. Crop top bras from companies like Medela are popular for this. But many women with larger cup sizes find them unsupportive; the stretchy fabric allows too much room for the sensitive breast tissue to move which can be highly uncomfortable.

During the very last stages of pregnancy many women find underwire bras uncomfortable, because the wires dig into the belly. This can be especially a problem for women with breach babies who carry high. Some nursing bra makers use relatively soft wires in their bras specifically for this purpose, but it is often at this stage that many switch to non-wired bras.

If you are seeking to order nursing bras one or two weeks before your due date, note it is a bit unpredictable to say what size you'll be after giving birth. But try a band size down and a few cup sizes up from what you measure. Say you measure currently as a 34F UK, you'll need a band size down (=32FF UK) and 2-3 cup sizes up, so 32GG/H UK should do the trick.

The First 6 Weeks Postpartum  
Most books recommended not wearing bras with underwire until your milk supply has fully regulated. I disagree. The reason given in the books is the wires interfere with milk ducts, but this is only true for too small bras. It should not happen if you wear the right shape in the right size. In fact, wearing an underwire bra might have saved me a lot of pain when my daughter and I were getting started breastfeeding.

I only brought a sleep bra to the hospital with me. Newborns want to nurse all the time. They are still learning, and you are still learning, so it is a lot of work for very little payoff at first. The night before my milk came in, my daughter nursed 20 minutes on, 20 off for 10 straight hours. It’s not worth fiddling with a bra while you are waiting to produce milk instead of colostrum. Engorgement, however, is another story. Soon after your milk comes in, you will find that your boobs are massive and rock hard. They will seriously weigh more than you thought they ever could.

If you are larger than average, the weight of them can actually block your milk ducts- and this is what I meant when I said if I had a properly supportive bra, I might have avoided some pain. I got mastitis (an infection, most frequently caused by blocked ducts) three times in the first two months of my baby’s life. Mastitis feels like the flu, only worse, because your breasts hurt and you have a screaming baby to take care of. Wearing underwires that are too narrow is a near guarantee that you will get mastitis. Err on the side of caution here. The wires need to be well clear of your breast tissue. You will also want a bra that is either very open on top or has stretchy lace to accommodate for sudden change in size. Wearing a too-small bra is also very likely to result in mastitis; bras that reshape your breasts against its natural shape and bend the milk ducts can have the same effect. (Ewa Michalak nursing bras are notorious for this, which is why they are not recommended for mothers who are not at least 6 months post-partum.)

The first couple months of breastfeeding, your breasts will fluctuate sizes fairly rapidly. At this stage, milk production is largely hormonal (not supply-and-demand like later on). It is not worth really stocking up on bras until your size has more or less settled - usually around three months.

Three months to six months  
At this point, your nursing relationship should not be as stressful anymore. You are probably pretty confident in your ability to nurture your baby with your body, even if things started out a little difficult. Or you’ve settled into a routine of splitting formula/breastmilk, which is also fine! But your breasts are finally getting to where they will stay for a while. You can now measure yourself again using the resources in the sidebar. If you find you are in the 32-40 C-F range, you will probably not have any problems finding nursing bras that fit you, and cute ones at that! If you’re sized out of that, though, you still have options. Any bra can be converted into a nursing bra. If you are on the smaller side, you can generally slide the strap off your shoulder and pull your breast out of the cup to nurse. I do this with both soft cup and padded cup bras with no problem. (I did, however, tear a Freya Deco, so I don’t recommend doing this with moulded cup bras.)

Six months to a year  
Remeasure yourself at six months, even if it seems like your three month bras are still working. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see if the numbers have changed at all. Depending on if you wore ill-fitting bras before or during pregnancy, you may have experienced tissue remigration by now, and could end up sizing down in band and/or up in cup size. As long as you are nursing, measuring every three months is a good idea, but from this point on your size will probably stay about the same.

One year to weaned
First, congratulate yourself on making it this far. You have provided the best possible nourishment for your baby! Around one year old, your child will probably eat more solid foods and nurse less often- three or four times a day, then two, then maybe only at night. Keep remeasuring yourself every three months or as needed. Nurse as long as you and your child want to, keeping in mind that left to their own devices, children usually wean completely between 2 and 7 years of age and it is perfectly healthy to keep going as long as you want. Once your child is completely weaned, it can take up to a year to completely dry up. You will likely return to your pre-pregnancy size, give or take a cup size (even if you are shaped a little differently now).

Other resources:
Convert any bra into a nursing bra
Roundup of bras outside the Motherhood Maternity size range 
Some myths about maternity and nursing bras

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Bravangelizing", The Bra Matrix, and Mainstream Media Body Shaming

Warning: this is kind of a rambly post.

Now that I know that everything US shops teach about bra fitting is horribly wrong, I want to ask every woman in my life to measure herself using this guide. I want to assure them that yes, that is their real size, and yes, they can find bras in it. I want to take them to Nordstrom, brush off the shabby fitters' request to measure them, and teach them how to properly put on a bra. I want them to feel awesome about their chests like I did when I stopped wearing the wrong size. I resist, because I don't want to "bravangelize", and because it is quite likely that before they got the perfect bra, they would take the blue pill and go back to their terrible Victoria's Secret bra because "it's comfortable".

Bra shopping can be really frustrating if your shape is any sort of "extreme"- shallow, very full on either bottom or top, pendulous, etc. All of these shapes come with their own needs, and wearing bras in your right size will make the shape incompatibilities noticeable in a way that quadboobing out of a 36C won't. A properly fitting band will feel very different than a band 4 inches too big. And the idea of ordering online without getting to try the bra on is daunting, to say the least, especially since most of the discount bra w ebsites are UK-based. I can certainly understand the temptation to blow the whole thing off and shop at the cheaper store that's in every mall and claims that the quadboob is just "awesome cleavage"!

There is a graphic being passed around on Pinterest and Tumblr now, as well as an awesome fitting guide on Tumblr. I truly think more and more women are becoming aware that the bra alphabet does, in fact, go past the letter 'D', and that 32-38 A-D are actually relatively uncommon sizes. We are close to breaking out of the Bra Matrix.

Ah, the Bra Matrix. I did not coin this term (I wish!) but I think it perfectly describes the way we learn about bras here in the States. I'm sure you've all seen those oh-so-clever posts about "decoding bra sizes" that say things like "E is for Enormous, F is for Fake, G is for Get a reduction!" That is some toxic stuff, right there, partially because it is patently false, but mostly because it is a terrible form of body shaming. Women are either too big or too small; women who are too big either got implants and thus are insecure, or they should just get invasive surgery so as not to offend the male gaze; women who are too small need to get implants, but only a certain size and shape of implants, because otherwise they won't cater to the male gaze. It's gross, and it's everywhere!

You can break out of the Bra Matrix easily, thanks to a website called the Bra Band Project. What you have come to think of as a 34C is probably closer to a 30F or so. Take some time to look around at sizes close to yours, and sizes far away. Take the red pill.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Freya Marina Padded Half-cup

I'm not at all averse to soft cup bras. I think there are many lovely ones, and can certainly respect that they are healthier to wear day-to-day than moulded or padded bras. However, I really love the Freya padded half cups. They come in cute colors and give a very nice, rounded shape, two things which one cannot always say about soft cup bras.
The Marina has the "stocking stripe" seams, kind of like this lovely Betsey Johnson bra that I am way sized out of. 

Rounded shape! Wires very slightly too wide for me, but I expect that from most UK brands.

3/4 view: My right breast is obviously smaller than my left, which nursing has only exaggerated. The slight gaping is not noticeable under shirts.

Lots of reviews said this band runs very stretchy (like, two sizes stretchy). It's certainly on the stretchier side, but this is a 30 on the loosest hook and I measure 27-28" underbust, so I didn't find it to be too bad. That dimple in my back means my bras never ever lay flat on my skin there, no matter how tight, but the band does not ride up.

I quadboob out of this a little bit if I am swollen at all. Padded half cups don't have the same kind of give an unlined bra does.

Overall, I don't feel the most supported in this bra, but I also don't feel unsupported. I love the colors and the details, the shape it gives, and how sturdy it feels. I can nurse in this bra with only mild difficulty.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cleo Lucy continued

Last week, I wrote about my struggles with the Cleo Lucy- namely, that it seems to have the G/GG split in design and as such I have to choose between an ill-fitting band or an ill-fitting everything else. Using this method from Hourglassy, I altered the 32FF to fit more like a 30 band. I also bent the underwires. Here's the fit pictures.

Now the Lucy is comfortable, although it looks a bit like a Frankenbra where it clasps. It stretches to 31" now, as opposed to the 34.5" it stretched to unaltered!

Some bras require too much alteration to be worth keeping. My Lucy in 28H is too big in the cups, much too wide in the wires, and the gore is so high that it is incredibly painful to wear. I tried altering the cups smaller, which worked ok, but since the band was kind of tight it pulled the wires even wider and there was no fixing the problem with the center gore. I am still trying to find that bra a home. For bras with only one thing wrong, though, alterations can be great and cost-effective. I wear this white Lucy a lot now!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cleo Lucy: the bra I wanted to love

My first bra in a close-to-fitting size was a white Cleo Lucy in 32FF. I bought it at Nordstrom Rack, after trying on 30 other bras that didn't fit at all. In the dressing room, I was pleased- no spillage! But when I wore it a full day, a few fit issues emerged. The band is too big to offer much support at all. The wires are so wide, there is at least an inch and a half of empty cup on the sides. And I would every once in a while get some slight quadboob. Bending the wires helped a lot, though, and I sewed the band tighter. It sort of looks like a Frankenbra, but it feels much better now.

I figured I would order another Lucy in 28H, to fix the quadboob and tighten the band. This made everything worse. The wires are still huge, and now the taut band stretches them even further around me. The navy/pink color apparently has much more room in the tops of the cups than the white color so I have a ridiculous amount of empty room. And the gore is noticeably taller, so while the gore of the white Lucy sat underneath where my breast tissue becomes super close-set, the navy Lucy's wires sit right on that space, and they poke. They pooooke. It leaves deep, deep marks in my skin. Several times a day, I have to pull the wires away from my body to give my poor tissue time to feel better.

I tried to alter my navy Lucy to make it fit better. I took in the center gore, sewed up the extra space at the top of the cups, and wore it another day. It didn't help with the poking, so I popped the stitches out and listed the bra. I'm dedicated to not keeping anything I don't love.

I know the Lucy works for a lot of women. I think it's a great bra to start out with- good for full-on-bottom breasts, but forgiving enough for many full-on-top breasts too. But for me, the wires are all wrong and the balconette style is not ideal.

Are there any bras you have a love/hate relationship with?

What fitting method should you use?

There are fitting guides all over the internet. Most guides and calculators will lead you to believe you need to add 4 inches to your underbust measurement and get the difference between that number and your bust measurement. I certainly understand why retailers follow this method- it crams nearly everyone into 32-38 bands and A-DD cups, which cuts down production costs. What I don't understand is why unaffiliated calculators still use this method!

My personal favorite calculator is the one from SophisticatedPair. This guide on reddit will walk you through how to get the most accurate measurements. If your underbust measures 30 inches or fewer, I recommend setting the calculator to spit out the "moderately snug" size; otherwise, use the "very snug". (There are exceptions to this, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll stick with this rule of thumb for now.) You will get two sizes: your US and  your UK. Going with your UK size will nearly always be better, as the US market does not produce small bands with large cups, and only a couple brands even make anything larger than a DDD size in any band size.

Maybe you're surprised at what this calculator is telling you. Thinking that there's no way that size is accurate is referred to in the bra-fitting community as "letterphobia". The size you get from the calculator may not be the exact size you end up in, for one reason or another, but it is a great starting point.

Sometimes it can be appropriate to add inches to the underbust- not 4, though. Bras I Hate recommends adding 2 inches; you can read more about her reasoning here. I don't think that's the best solution for everyone, but I personally follow it because I am pretty bony, and I have problems with the wires being too wide in GG cups vs G.

It's worth noting that the reddit guide I linked tends to fail women who are larger than a 36 band or so. If you measure in that range, you have more variables to consider when figuring out your size. FullerFigureFullerBust,  XL Hourglass, and Fussy Busty are better resources for full-figured women than my blog will be.

Hopefully this was helpful and not an information overload. Feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments.