With my first baby, I hadn't really heard of sleep bras. At the beginning, when I was leaking and need to wear nursing pads 24/7, I just slept in my regular nursing bra. It wasn't terribly comfortable, and my top breast tended to "fall out the side," but I didn't really know there was another option. Once I was done with leaking at about 4 months, I just stopped wearing a bra to bed.
But when I was pregnant with my second daughter, I read that wearing a supportive bra round the clock while nursing can really help to minimize sagging later on. Now I am not overly vain, but still this appealed to me. So I went to Medela, because they were my favorite regular nursing bra, and I wasn't disappointed.
The Medela Sleep Bra retails for under $20, even at trendy baby boutiques. If you see it for more than that, you are paying too much. It is a very thin, cotton and spandex, material. It is tagless (although the printed info on the back doesn't last more than a couple washings, so be sure to remember the washing instructions!). It is a pullover style with a racerback style and elastic around all the edges (neckline and armholes) for a really nice fit. It holds everything in comfortably, but is really easy access for sleepy moms and babies! It also does a great job at a uniform fit, without creating pressure points on the breast that can lead to plugged ducts and mastitis.
After several washes it was starting to seem a little more worn out than I expected, so I stopped putting it in the dryer and that seemed to improve. (In general, items with spandex should not go in the dryer to extend their life.) Because it's thin, it dries really fast hung on a chair. I wash them in a lingerie bag to keep things from getting tangled in them and stretching them out.
I have three sleep bras, which allows me to generally have one in use, one in the wash and one on backup for when the baby hits me with a large spit-up or surprise vomit during cold season!
What was a big surprise to me was how often I also wear them outside the house. They have a nicer line than a traditional pull-down panel, so I prefer them under thinner shirts. And while they won't contain any kind of major leaking, they can absorb spare drops of milk, and provide just enough pressure to contain the side the baby isn't nursing on. I especially like wearing them under turtlenecks or bulkier clothes because they are easy to pull aside without having to fish around under my clothes for clips and hooks. They are also great when baby is teething or clingy, so you don't feel like you are clipping and unclipping your bra all day long!
My one caveat would be for larger-breasted women. I am only about 36C while nursing, and I am not sure they would provide enough support for day wear, for women who are much larger. I think they would still be fine for nighttime wear. For daytime, larger-breasted women might want a bra without spandex to provide a more reliable line underneath clothing. Motherwear.com offers some nice options for all-cotton sleep bras of that type.
Having not had them for my first baby, and purchasing them for my second, I would say that for the price, sleep bras are a worthwhile investment for comfort and convenience. I believe that whatever makes nursing easier, makes it more likely to be successful and last longer, and the Medela Sleep bra definitely fits the bill for me.
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