So you’re planning to breastfeed for the first time? You’re about to head up a fairly steep learning curve and jump a variety of ever-changing obstacles. You’re about to discover “latching on” and Lansinoh and one day you may even master the clips on your nursing bra… and you might as well do it all in style.
In creating a breastfeeding wardrobe you are attempting to put together a capsule of clothing that will fit your body from hospital and throughout the time you nurse your baby, which gives you easy, discreet access to your baby’s milk supply and helps you feel confident and comfortable. That’s asking quite a lot from a collection of clothing, really… but rest assured, we have a pair of the most formidable nursing fashion experts on the planet here to help!
Mia Siepel is possibly the best sister ever. She set up uber-stylish Swedish maternity and nursing wear brand, Boob, because she couldn’t bear to see her sister’s midriff freeze while nursing in parks around Stockholm! Boobs boasts gold standard ethical and eco credentials. Hooray!
Sophie Devonshire is a super-stylish Mummy, masterful breast feeder and founder of online fashion store Babes with Babies. BWB source their clothing from a range of suppliers, all of whom have been confirmed by BWB as “sweat shop free”.
Mia and Sophie speak here with Kate Seamark, a woman who is herself quite an expert on maternity and breastfeeding clothes, having spent more than a decade of her life either pregnant or breastfeeding her six children…
Start at the very beginning
A good time to start thinking about your breastfeeding wardrobe is well before your baby arrives, as once he or she is here, you may find it harder to think straight, let alone get to the shops!
If you’ve ever considered committing to ethical clothing, now is a great time to start as there are lots of maternity, breastfeeding and childrenswear brands who insist that everyone along the supply chain from the organic cotton farmer to the mother and baby who wear the finished garment are all loved, respected and looked after. “Boob as a brand exists because there are mothers and babies in the world … we strive to lower our environmental impact in every way possible and choose ways of production that are as sound as possible to all involved – both people and planet,” says Mia.
Begin with a stocktake. Have a good look at your maternity clothes, as many of these will be what you wear for some time after the baby arrives. Items like maternity leggings are great transition pieces, as are maternity jeans, especially if they have an adjustable waist (you will get smaller!).
Many maternity dresses and tops serve as dual purpose maternity/ nursing wear, and are especially designed with breastfeeding in mind, so have a look if you’ve bought some already, or take this into consideration if you’re still buying items for pregnancy. Don’t forget to rifle through your long forgotten pre-pregnancy clothing too. Non-maternity shirts, jackets and cardigans might be suitable but will need to be loose and relatively easy to button and unbutton if they are going to be really useful.
During nursing, most women don’t enjoy wearing jumpers or longer, fitted tops and t-shirts which have to be lifted up to get access to their breasts: you probably won’t want to hoik your top up in public and expose your midriff or the big stretchy waistband of your maternity jeans! Most dresses are also going to be difficult to feed in unless they have been especially designed for breastfeeding… just think about having to lift it up to get access and you’ll understand why.
Sophie Devonshire says that postnatal style can be tricky. “You’re unlikely to ping back into skinny-skinny outfits overnight… most people will have a softening around the hips, larger breasts and a postnatal tum. See the Duchess of Cambridge (who was tiny before and during pregnancy) leaving hospital with her lovely polka dot dress and her lovely natural round postnatal middle. Or Gwen Stefani, postnatally proud in full-on lipstick and a rounder figure.
“We suggest you take a bit of time before the birth to invest in a few practical and pretty pieces to make sure you feel good when EVERYONE comes to visit. Getting out and about in the early weeks is really important for fending off postnatal blues, and there’s nothing worse than giving a catchup with friends or a day out a miss because you feel you have nothing to wear,” she says.
The secret to success
Whatever your style and budget, most experienced breastfeeding fashionistas seem to agree on one thing: the secret to breastfeeding success is layering. If you’ve never breastfed before, spend a moment considering how you would gain access to your milk supply in what you’re wearing right now. Then consider how you’d feel doing that in public.
One popular idea is to consider a breastfeeding vest (or long sleeved top in cooler climates) as the starting point for almost any outfit. Add to that a shirt, blouse or second fitted top and you can lift the top layer while maintaining some cover for your midriff. A cardigan or zip-up hoodie can easily be pulled back while a scarf or wrap over the top makes for a handy, versatile piece of fabric you can drape if you’re still feeling exposed.
Specialised breastfeeding tops or dresses minimize the need to wear a breastfeeding vest as a starting point, but many women find that layering with some knitwear, drapey scarves or soft jackets helps them to feel more comfortable if they’re breastfeeding in public.
Check in with reality
Ok. What’s your budget? There’s no use imagining your wardrobe bulging with designer silks and cashmere wraps if your budget is only going to stretch to a few t-shirts. However, it is worth considering if you have friends or family members who might want to give, sell or loan you their breastfeeding clothes. eBay can also be a good place to look for designer brands at bargain prices – search in both the maternity and breastfeeding sections.
As with anything, though, you usually get what you pay for and if you’re planning on breastfeeding for a while or maybe even having another baby some time in the future, you may want to invest in some pieces that will really stand the test of time.
Asked what she considers the basics of a successful nursing wardrobe, Mia Seipel suggests the place to start is with a great nursing bra. “I think the ultimate bra shall be super comfortable and at the same time have a flirty design to brighten up your every day mood. Boob Fast Food Bra has it all and best of all it can be worn all the way during pregnancy and nursing due to the flexible material and adjustable fit.”
On top of that, Mia recommends a basic singlet which can be combined with tops and cardigans that you already have in your wardrobe. Boob’s collection includes beautifully soft organic cotton and Lyocell pieces with flattering ruched sides that can be worn during pregnancy and nursing. There’s a discreet fold in the middle which you and your hungry baby will learn to love for it’s easy feeding access, but equally for the way it offers plenty of comfortable, warm cover to the rest of you.
“Another thing to keep in mind as a nursing mum is to keep the bosom warm,” says Mia. “To make sure to keep the engorgement away we have developed several warming styles.” Their B Warmer Hoodie has a soft fleece lining over the bust to keep you snug and warm where you most need it while the Ready Flex Fleece almost gives you cyborg powers: It’s a “multifunctional garment for pregnancy and nursing that keeps you warm and features smart pockets for your mobile etc, extra length in the back to keep you warm when sitting outdoors and built in cuffs so keep your hands warm when out strolling.”
For special occasions, Mia suggests you invest in a party dress that will see you right through pregnancy and nursing. “My favourite this fall is the nursing dress Franca. Styled with high heels you are ready for all the parties but it is also great as a cute every day dress when matched with a pair of boots or Doc Martens.”
Last but not least, a basic wardrobe needs a nightie! Even if you’re not normally a nightie or pyjama wearer, you may want to consider something to take to hospital which can then be used as you wander about the house, doing all those middle of the night feeds.
Dare to dream
If you have a little extra in your budget, Sophie recommends you invest in luxuriously soft fabrics. “It’s bliss when your baby snuggles into your shoulder … Hard, scratchy things feel instinctively dangerous and wrong. You’ll probably feel a bit battered too by the physical and emotional shock so soft textures just feel comforting all round. Dress in lovely soft luxury jersey which will feel good on baby’s skin, on your body and will be forgiving on your figure as well as wash well and feel soft to wear,” she says.
Another idea is to splash out on something glamourous that really boosts your self-confidence. “I would definitely go for a party dress that could be worn both during pregnancy and nursing,” says Sophie. Check out their Isabella dress or some of the stunningly colourful offerings on the Babes With Babies site.
Think about what you’re going to wear to brighten up your outfit – especially if you find yourself wearing your lovely breastfeeding wardrobe for a long time! On her top-ranked blog site, A Cup of Jo, Joanna Goddard recommends a pair of small star-shaped stud earrings because they’re “pretty and can’t be grabbed and pulled by little hands.” Small studs of any shape would work.
She also suggests that a good pair of sunglasses can “miraculously manage to make you feel cool even when you’re covered in spit-up”. Things to consider!
Many new mums find wearing flat shoes essential, but of course these can take the form of anything from brightly coloured Ethletic trainers to gorgeously delicate ballet flats or a sturdy pair of biker boots. Lots of mum recommend avoiding necklaces as they’re likely to get pulled as baby gets bigger. Scarves – in Winter or Summer – are popular to drape around your neck, giving extra, moveable coverage if you find yourself needing to feed in public.
The last word from Sophie
“This is a magical time but a challenging time. Choose a few beautiful things for comfort, confidence and because, well, you deserve it. There are pretty and practical things out there so allow yourself to enjoy your wardrobe and feel comfortable and confident during your time as a ‘newborn mum’.”