Maternity for Engineers: non-boring, nursing-friendly clothing

July 21, 2018

Something I didn't think much about while pregnant is that while it's generally accepted that you'll need some maternity clothing (mainly pants--turns out most of my wardrobe allowed for a healthy amount of room around the waist anyway!) and maybe even different shoes (I already have wide, high volume feet, and with being in the third trimester in the summer and having a personal dislike of flip-flops, ended up with exactly one pair of sandals I could still wear), you don't necessarily get to go back to wearing your pre-pregnancy clothes after having the baby, if you're breastfeeding. However, a lot of the designated nursing-friendly clothing out there is just not very exciting. Here is a overview of different solutions to the problem of having low-hassle yet still stylish clothing while breastfeeding.

Requirements:
  • baby can nurse: to be technical and precise about it, you have to be able to expose your nipples.
  • machine washable: look, I get that a lot of inexpensive clothing just isn't up for being machine washed and that's the tradeoff you make, but why would you target new moms as your buyers and then stock your site with clothes that have to be hand washed or dry cleaned?!?????? This is a HUGE mystery to me. There's a baby around! Staying clean is already a challenge even with plenty of modern conveniences!
  • comfortable: same rant as above basically, except focused on how there are plenty enough other physical discomforts already.
  • option for interesting colors, prints, and cuts: it's nice to have options.
Note: for nursing bras, you will probably have to try on different styles to see what works for you. Lucie's List has a guide on nursing bras and I agree that the Bravado Body Silk Seamless is really comfortable and supportive. It seems generally recommended to avoid underwires if possible, in case the compression there causes clogs (and therefore possible supply issues) for you. I've also heard that Nordstrom's tailoring department can take any normal bra you buy from them and convert it to a nursing bra, for free.

As for what goes over the nursing bras...

Solution #1: Just wear your regular clothes anyway

I've heard that many experienced breastfeeding moms just continue to wear normal things like t-shirts and sweaters and they get comfortable with lifting up their shirt or pulling down the neckline if it's big and stretchy enough. Women should get to breastfeed in public without being harassed, regardless of how discreet their clothing for doing so is. Also, there are plenty of other kid-related things that you will spend money on.

Challenges:
  • For me, I don't really like exposing my belly fully (gets cold!).
  • I've also got quite a squirmy baby, so I find it annoying to have to hold some fabric edge out of the way for the duration of the nursing session. 

Solution #2: Buy clothing designed for nursing

I've bought clothing specifically designed for easier nursing from a few sites now. Some are better than others. It's not too difficult to find inexpensive nursing tops in solid neutrals or pastels and jersey knits (like with t-shirts). You can machine wash and possibly also machine dry a lot of these and since they're inexpensive, you could always just replace them if they get too worn-looking. Some of the brands I like for this include:
  • Undercover Mama: I have a couple of their nursing shirts and the nursing maxi dress. I actually got a compliment two weeks after having the baby from a vendor at the local farmers market, on my outfit that included their striped nursing shirt and a Panama hat--and I didn't even have the baby with me at the time, so it wasn't just an attempt to make a new mom feel good! Their design for nursing access is also helpful if you'll be pumping often since you can completely open it open horizontally.
  • Momzelle: the best part about this brand is how they have a lot of line drawings that show you exactly the design of the nursing access!!! Brilliant! Most other places just have the models awkwardly trying to demonstrate the access and even then it's often not that useful. I like the Sadie top and have it in two colors.
  • Latched Mama: specifically the Nursing T-Shirt 2.0, Nursing Tank 2.0, and 3/4 Sleeve Scoop Neck Nursing Top
  • Milk Nursing Wear: has a pretty good selection of machine washable designs, though I ended up not being happy with the fit or real-life colors of the items I chose
  • Mom's the Word: my cousin told me about this boutique, which curates a lot of nursing clothes that have a slouchy, casual style. Through them I also got some items from the Swedish brand Boob.
  • I also like this Lille Layered Maternity/Nursing Sheath Dress by Savi Mom. It comes in purple/mint, gray/yellow, and black/pink color combos.

Kelly Duet at Mom's the Word

Challenges:
  • Colors: if you like wearing black, you're all set. Otherwise, oftentimes the colors available are just...not that exciting, to me. Also, very hard to find modern prints! There are a couple mumsy florals sometimes, or cutesy slogans.
  • Top length: many of the tops are very long for some reason, almost eligible to be considered tunics if you're petite.
  • Sleeve length: I have often needed to either hem long-sleeves or buy items designed to have shorter sleeves. There don't seem to be 7/8 or bracelet length long-sleeve designs for nursing clothes and there are only a couple styles with 3/4 or button-tab rollup sleeves.
  • Fit: many styles are either far too baggy (Undercover Mama has a new plaid print for one of their dresses that I wish they'd use on a design that wasn't just one size!) or surprisingly narrow around the hips.
  • Design: many empire waist designs do not have enough length in the bust portion so they either keep riding up or pulling down the neckline to be too low. Regency era styles are fine in movies but not actually very flattering.
  • Style: ultimately, there just isn't that wide a range.

Solution #2b: Wear nursing tank tops or camisole tank tops as an underlayer

This solution allows for more flexibility in what you wear as the outer layer but keeps your belly covered. You can buy specially designated nursing tank tops; people seem to like the ones at H&M or Target. There's also something referred to in breastfeeding support groups as "the two-shirt trick" where you wear a close-fitting camisole tank top as a tube top (pull the straps under your arms) and another shirt over this setup, like a button-down shirt. Others will use oversized cardigans ("nursing cardigans" are a thing but don't really have a functional difference from regular cardigans). Undercover Mama's tank tops are similar to this but instead of dealing with camisole straps hanging under your arms, you can attach the tank top to your nursing bra. This solution works well as a low cost but flexible option.


 Undercover Mama Basic Strapless Tank  Two-shirt trick

Challenges:
  • Not great to have to wear multiple layers in summer heat.

Solution #3: Look for wrap-style clothing

You can either get true wrap styles or faux wrap styles that might make it easier to pull aside at the neckline. I bought this Laksmi A Line Cap Sleeve V Neck Dress because it has so many good reviews about breastfeeding in it without stretching out the neckline and the neckline is not too low. It comes in different colors and other variations with solid top and patterned skirt.


Challenges:
  • Wrap designs are often too low and expose a lot of cleavage (or in this case, a lot of your nursing bra, which is not really something you would choose to do intentionally for style).
  • I never really feel like I can easily put the wrap ties back in place without a lot of fussing.

Solution #4: buy button-front clothing like shirtdresses and rompers

I forgot that shirtdresses and rompers are a thing! You want styles that unbutton to at least your waist. Avoid styles that mention side or back zippers, since the button-fronts may not be fully functional. I had been searching for short-sleeve buttoned shirts but most of those are more like business wear. Shirtdresses and rompers, on the other hand, come in many colors and prints. I just picked up several from Modcloth.

Read It and Steep Romper in Garden   A Way With Woods Sleeveless Shirt Dress in Fern

Challenges:
  • Especially for rompers, keep an eye out for ones that don't have enough strap coverage for your nursing bra.
  • For similar reasons, avoid racerback styles.
  • Designs need to have enough room in them for the variety of positions you may need to contort yourself into for nursing, so try sitting cross-legged in them.