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Converting a Regular Bra into a Nursing Bra

If you're anything like me sizewise, you have probably found that it is blessed* near impossible to find comfortable, inexpensive, non-old-lady nursing bras. I looked all over the place, in real and virtual stores, and while I did buy a few Bravado Double-plus bras, I was less than thrilled with their construction and fit. However, looking at them made me realize that they'd be reasonably easy to copy onto my existing bras.

ETA Nov. 9 2009: I haven't bothered converting any more bras to nursing bras for my third child. I use a soft-cup bra from Lane Bryant (the store, not the catalog -- it's a Cacique bra) that has elastic all along the edges. With a bra like that, it's easier just to pull the whole thing down to nurse; the elastic has stayed fine for nearly two years so far. I would still recommend doing a conversion if you are prone to plugged ducts or mastitis, since the pressure of the elastic on the underside of the breast (while nursing) can cause a plugged duct, but if your nursing is relatively problem-free, just pulling it down can be fine.

* word has been changed so as not to offend the easily offended

Materials needed:

Note: if you use a bra that adjusts in the front ra ther than in back, you may need to adjust the straps to fit, and then sew as below. Mine all adjust in back, so I can't provide any specifics, I'm afraid. Jenn S. also notes that you may be able to use a bra that hooks in front, and sew elastic to the two sides on the bottom, keeping it from sliding off.

How to sew this project:

Take the bra you wish to convert and cut both straps at about armpit level:

Thread one hook onto the cup side of the cut:

I recommend having the hook point towards the middle of the bra; it is less likely to come undone that way. (I have tried both ways.)

Sew the edge over the hook:
Make a loop out of the other cut edge, large enough for the hook to pass through, and sew it firmly:
Step back and admire your work thus far... and make sure that both the hook and the loop are securely sewn:
Now cut the elastic (or shoestring) into two 6" pieces. These pieces will be sewn to the strap and the cup edge, so that when you unhook the bra, the strap stays in a convenient place to be re-hooked.
Sew one end of the elastic to the strap, just a little above the loop:
Sew the other end to the cup below, without stretching the elastic (it will stretch when you unhook the bra):
Repeat process with the other side. To nurse, just unhook the side you want, fold the cup down, and when you're done, rehook. Now you have a nursing bra that is your style (whatever that happens to be) and that didn't cost you a fortune!

Reader suggestions:

Gina K. suggests using the method on shelf-bra styled tank tops: One idea that you might add is turning shelf-bra tank tops into nursing tanks using the same method you illustrate when turning a regular bra into a nursing bra. This allows a mommy to wear any type of shirt over, lift it up, and, voila! nursing discreetly is a gimme!

Mandy S. suggests this: I like to wear spaghetti strap tops. It is simple to cut the straps (most are adjustable like bra straps) sew the ends where I cut and use a little snap or fastener of choice found at a craft department at a local store. All you need to do is undo the strap, and have pretty complete coverage when breastfeeding. I even wear these in the winter with a long sleeved coordinating top and never have to take it off.

Karen has another idea for a nursing camisole: My idea is different, it doens't involve cutting the whole strap. You cut carefully from armpit to armpit, right next to the binding at the top edge. Finish that with stretch lace, add snaps to the spot where the straps are and voila! To use, you unsnap the cup and drop it, then lift up the shelf bra that is inside. The only thing hanging out will be a bit of your boob!

Christine M. says: ... The link to the nursing bra clasps is great, but sometimes the cut end of the bra being attached is wider than the 5/8" nursing bra clip. The suggestion of yours to use the swim clips is a good solution although sometimes the clasps are easier to negotiate when trying to un/hook with one hand. On the linked-to site with the nursing bra clips there are also front hook clasps for front opening bras. Turn the 3/4" clasps on end and there's an equally easy-to-use clasp that has a little more width to accomodate a larger bra. They're nominally more expensive, but way worth it! Sometimes that eighth of an inch is all a mommy needs!

Sonita L. wrote: I made my own "no sew" nursing bras: I bought a pretty bra and did basically the same thing you did, except I bought a plier kit for <$10 at Walmart and I cut the straps, burned the ends with a lighter and added snaps with the plier kit!

Jenny C. says: I have done the same thing using hook and eye bra extenders which allows room for some adjustment.

If you have any suggestions, please email me.

Elsewhere on the web:

MotherWear UK has directions, and they sell a kit for converting standard bras to nursing bras, helpful if you're in the UK.

This site shows a conversion using an underwire bra. If you use an underwire, please make sure it fits absolutely perfectly, since underwires are more prone to causing plugged ducts and can lead to mastitis.

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