How to Select the Best Pregnancy Sports Bra

Puberty was nothing when it comes to breast changes – pregnancy can cause changes in size, color, sensation, hair growth, secretions – you name it, and it happens to your breasts. Making sure you have the most comfortable support for your breasts when exercising will help you have an active healthy pregnancy. There is no better time to expand your sports bra collection than pregnancy, and we have some tips for choosing the best pregnancy sports bra.

Breast Changes Trimester by Trimester

Breast changes may be one of the first clues that you are pregnant. In the first trimester, many women notice breast swelling, their bras not fitting as well as they did before, or maybe even their nipples tingling or feeling more sensitive. Your body’s almost immediate preparation for breastfeeding from the moment of conception involves expanding milk ducts, mammary glands, and blood flow to your breasts.

In the second trimester, even before your uterus grows larger, your rib cage begins to expand and flare out. This is partly to allow your lungs to expand further- when you are pregnant your oxygen consumption increases by 20 percent. Rib cage expansion can make the chest bands of sports bras, especially in pregnant runners, cause chafing and discomfort. Some innovative exercisers eke a few more weeks out of favorite sports bras by using bra clip extenders. Breast changes in second trimester are much more noticeable. Your breasts continue to increase in size and your nipples and areola (skin around the nipple) can darken in color.

By third trimester, most pregnant people report having increased one and maybe even two cup sizes. You may also be surprised by some early leaking of colostrum (the pre-milk your breasts make before breastmilk) – all normal. Third trimester is time to start shopping for breastfeeding sports bras and maybe even some sports bras with separate cups which don’t just compress your ladies into a uniboob. Individual breast cups are better at preventing some of the painful (and harmful) side-to-side, figure-of-eight motion known to lead to breast sagging down the road.

When to Buy New Sports Bras in Pregnancy (and Postpartum)

You may need to buy a new, slightly larger sports bra in the first trimester, but wise mums advise against restocking your whole supply in your first trimester. Any new bras you buy now may not fit by the second or third trimesters. Consider looking for more affordable options if you do buy a new sports bra in the first trimester because it might not last you all that long.

You will most likely need to add one or two larger cup-sized sports bras by the second and third trimester. Your breasts are much heavier and you may find that you need a much more supportive bra than you ever thought possible. It is important to find the right fit that is not too tight- compression or pressure on milk ducts can unfortunately lead to clogging and mastitis, especially in postpartum when you are breastfeeding.

Yes, there are breastfeeding sports bras. Hallelujah! Mid-workout, post-workout, if that little one needs to feed, who wants to battle with too-tight sports bra? Another smart-mum tip- you can buy breastfeeding sports bras and wear them through third trimester, even if you aren’t breastfeeding yet.

And just to make things even more confusing, every pregnancy is different. Your breasts may not change in the same way in your first pregnancy as they did in your second pregnancy. And sports bras do not age well. Ideally you should hand wash and air dry your sports bras, but who IRL has time for that?

You can extend the lifespan of your sports bras by machine washing them in a lingerie bag and never, ever putting them in the clothes dryer. Lycra and hot air do not get along. Heat makes the Lycra less stretchy and over time, Lycra looses its ability to hold your breasts tightly to your chest. Depending on how often you workout and the amount of time in between your pregnancy, chances are pretty good that you will need to buy some new maternity sports bras with each new pregnancy.

What To Look For In A Pregnancy Sports Bra

Fit and support are the most important factors when picking a sports bra. The wrong fit can leave you feeling suffocated or worse yet- leave painful welts from chafing. It is a delicate balance between finding a maternity bra with a supportive, close-fit that does not squeeze your chest or breasts to the point of discomfort. When it comes to choosing your pregnancy sports bra, special features matter. Here are some qualities to look for:

  • Bounce-free (do the jumping-jack test-run in the dressing room, your boobs will thank you!
  • Seamless or flatlock seams to reduce chafing and rubbing
  • Moisture-wicking fabrics to keep you from overheating
  • Adjustable “ladder” straps
  • Adjustable chest band
  • Front zips (because who wants to wrestle a sports bra over your head when pregnant?)
  • Mesh ventilation (helps keep you cool)
  • Stink-blocking fabrics or technology (remember you sweat more when pregnant)
  • Wire-free in breastfeeding bras to reduce your chances for clogged ducts or mastitis

Why Good Support Matters During Pregnancy

Besides changes in your breasts during pregnancy, your spine and body shape go through a metamorphosis of their own – just in case you had not noticed. Some of these pregnancy changes in your joints, bones, and spine make having a good pregnancy sports bra even more important. Changes in concentrations of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and relaxin during pregnancy make your connective tissue more flexible and creates more movement in joints.

We know that a good sports bra may even help prevent injuries in non-pregnant women. While not conducted in pregnant women, a recent study found that female athletes without adequate breast support were at greater risk of traumatic knee injuries such as career-ending anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

Pregnant women very commonly experience back, shoulder, and neck pain during pregnancy. Lack of support in the chest area as your breasts grow heavier and larger can make these pregnancy aches and pains even worse. Add in changes in sleep styles, awkward breastfeeding positions, posture changes (lordosis) and you have a recipe for aches and pains. The right sized-bra with enough support can prevent unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders.

Just because you are pregnant does not mean you have to press quit on your workouts. We know that exercising in pregnancy lowers your risk of pregnancy complications. Even if you down-shift to lower-impact exercise like walking or yoga later in pregnancy, you still need support. The right sports bra can be key to you having a healthy, active pregnancy. Use our helpful guide to help you find the perfect combination of fit, function, and comfort for your pregnancy sports bra.

Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a certified nurse-midwife with a Master's Degree in Maternal and Child Health from Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Her passions are health literacy and women's reproductive health. A recent two-year sabbatical with her family in Spain was the impetus for becoming a freelance women's health writer. An exercise nut, she is happiest outdoors and on adventures abroad.

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