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!). Though I got a great tip from a friend on this--she's continued to wear her maternity leggings for the extra torso coverage. Brilliant!
  • 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.

Maternity for Engineers: Pregnancy

January 1, 2018

Last year I was pregnant and had a baby for the first time! I thought a lot of the resources on pregnancy, giving birth, and parenting could have been better organized, more logical and concise. My husband and I kept semi-joking that what I really wanted was a "Maternity for Engineers" guide. It's less about parenthood specific to someone who works in tech and more just like, "let's drill down into what the core principles to keep in mind are, and be logical."

As far as I know, this doesn't exist yet, and now that some of my close friends are also getting pregnant, I thought I'd start writing out some of it before I forget. This post is what I'll send to my friends if they ask for advice on the pregnancy. If you are interested in "Paternity for Engineers: Pregnancy", I'll refer you to this post The Programmer's Guide to Pairing on Pregnancy.

GETTING PREGNANT

This obviously can be a pretty big topic. To get started, the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health is surprisingly accessible and interesting on how female fertility works. There's so much that isn't taught to you at all!

If you decide to start tracking your basal body temperature, the Kindara Wink is a pretty handy device to do so since it syncs to a phone app and does the charting for you.

Finally, lubricant that's formulated to be more sperm-friendly is a thing.


BEING PREGNANT

Congratulations!! Especially in the early weeks, if you're not feeling well, I recommend packing yourself a small kit to bring when you're out and about. Mine included:
  • an air sickness bag that I grabbed from the last flight I was on (just having one on me made me feel more relaxed and less likely to puke in public, I found)
  • saltine crackers and nut butter packets (I found that not getting too hungry was helpful for reducing general nausea)
  • solid perfume in a tolerable scent (my sense of smell got SO strong, I put a little of this right under my nose when I was on public transit as needed)

For the rest...

The number one thing I would recommend to everyone that's going to give birth is to hire a doula. A doula's job is to support you throughout your pregnancy and labor. I was pretty skeptical about doulas at first--even the word sounds pretty hippie to me--but apparently even just having someone (not family) be present in the room during a birth is correlated with fewer medical interventions.

Also, at least some incidences of postpartum depression are due to needing to come to terms with a birth not happening how it had been envisioned. This isn't necessarily from unavoidable medical complications that come up, but rather, feeling like you got pushed around by others when you were in such a vulnerable state. A doula is someone who is on your side and has experience with what's normal to expect or not, who cares about you, but isn't emotionally caught up in everything the way your family and friends would be. You can look for a doula that's a good fit for you in their communication style, presence, and background. I asked for doulas that were well-versed on the science side, and then between the two we were matched up with, I chose the one I just felt really comfortable with in person.

We met ours through a local doula agency and she was so amazing that I hope we'll be able to keep in touch for years to come. She met with us a couple times beforehand and taught us how labor works and what to expect, such that we probably could've skipped some of the birth prep classes. We texted and emailed often when I had questions that weren't quite medical enough in nature to bring to my OB. She helped us figure out the kinds of procedures we might want or not want (the so-called "birth plan", which doesn't have to be a fancy thing and can be just about establishing your preferences ahead of time so that you don't have to make a bunch of decisions during the hecticness of the actual labor). When I went into labor, she came over to our house and coached me through how to cope with the contractions as they got stronger, reminding me of different positions to try. We'd learned and practiced those in one of the classes, but it was really, really helpful to be able to just turn things over to this other person who I felt safe with and trusted their knowledge on labor. She also made sure that neither I nor my husband would tire ourselves out too early from being excited that things were happening.


tl;dr on food & exercise during pregnancy: be healthy, don't fall, and don't get food poisoning.

When I got pregnant, I had the vague sense that you were supposed to read a bunch of books and take some classes for the pregnancy and giving birth. I also had the sense that you have to memorize these long lists of what you're not supposed to eat or drink. The "how are you supposed to do pregnancy well" part was actually simpler than I had expected.

It turns out that healthy habits for a pregnant person are not actually all that different than healthy habits for a non-pregnant person. Doctors won't necessarily make this distinction between what you might have to pay extra attention to specifically because of being pregnant. I think this is because they get used to advising everyone on how to be healthier and some folks might be more motivated during a life change like being pregnant. But if you were already knowledgeable on how to eat well and exercised regularly, there isn't actually that much to change.


FOOD

I was surprised to learn that "eating for two" isn't really a thing. You need more additional calories each day to breastfeed (~500) than you do while pregnant (~300). Listen to your body for when you're hungry and eat to satiation. For the first few months, if you don't have much of an appetite, anything goes. Once your nausea hopefully settles, it's the usual eat vegetables and get enough protein in. You can take supplements like prenatal vitamins and fish oil if you want, but a nutritious diet overall is probably more effective. The benefits to be gained from fish oil are from pretty early on too, like the first 7 weeks, so you might to start this even before you know that you're pregnant.

It's probably a good idea to at least reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake as no one really knows the exact effects of those substances for your particular pregnancy, negative (fetus processing the substances), neutral, or positive (the mother feeling taken care of is good for the fetus). Unpasteurized milk products and soft cheeses, runny eggs, deli meats, sushi--these are things you're told to avoid because in some cases, pregnancy does elevate your risk of getting sick, and when you do get sick, you may not be able to receive the typical treatment. So you can make tradeoffs for yourself based on what you know about the sources of your food.


EXERCISE

For exercise, if you were doing something regularly before you got pregnant, doctors feel more reassured that you know what you're doing there. I kept doing weightlifting throughout most of my first trimester but because your body's changing all the time and you don't know what its new limits might be, I was advised not to push with going heavier and therefore switched to other activities because I got bored. Keep moving and don't fall. Doing more sitting on a yoga ball and avoiding driving or reclining back too much during your last trimester is helpful for getting your baby into a better position for an easier labor.

Everyone will recommend swimming and/or prenatal yoga. I have suspicions that some of this is from those sports having a reputation as being much gentler than others and having a cultural practice of treating pregnant women very delicately. Swimming is nice when you're pregnant in the summer and feeling really hot and swollen. Prenatal yoga ended up being more useful than I thought with loosening your hips and getting advice on stretches to soothe the particular aches you might be feeling, especially in the third trimester. Also it was kind of nice to see so many other pregnant women all together.

A less common yet useful recommendation is to consider going to see a pelvic floor physical therapist, even before you give birth. I ended up with a third degree tear, which has healed now, but I might've been able to learn some techniques from a physical therapist beforehand that would reduce the likelihood of having a tear. People often recommend doing Kegels but it turns out that I never really understood what that meant, and a physical therapist could have taught me (plus in my case, it's probably more that I needed to learn how to relax my pelvic floor muscles, not tighten them further).

Finally, when you are tired, take naps if you can. Your body is wisely trying to get you to rest up as much as possible.


BOOKS

Here are the books on pregnancy, giving birth, and the early days with a baby that I would recommend (Amazon affiliate links below):
  • Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy: this was recommended to me over the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" series which apparently is a lot more fear-mongering. I liked it, it was nice to have a reference guide on hand for reading about what's happening during different months of the pregnancy.
  • The Birth Partner: this reinforced a lot of the stuff that was in our birth prep class. It's nice to have something for any partners of the pregnant person to read but I took a look at it too. It's well-written and straightforward. Talks about more "natural" birth options without judging for or against them too much.
  • The Nursing Mother's Companion: if you want to breastfeed, this is a good go-to reference to have on hand. I would recommend going to a class first (see below section on classes).
  • If you're at all curious about having a "natural" or unmedicated birth, the person you'll hear a lot about is Ina May Gaskin. She's basically the founder of the midwife revival in the U.S. so her stuff is pretty on the hippie side, but she's got so much experience that it's more trustworthy than I would have initially judged. Her breastfeeding book is good, as is her guide to childbirth, as long as you carry the grain of salt that she's writing about medical practices that are a bit older. At least in the Portland area, even hospital practices are pretty progressive. I enjoyed reading the different birth stories in the childbirth book because they do cover a range of experiences (except scheduled C-sections, I think) but aren't as lengthy as some of the birth stories written up by bloggers. This book also helped me learn why you might want a midwife and/or a home birth, to the point that I would seriously consider those options for the next time around. The best part is taking in the attitude that women's bodies are designed to make giving birth possible and that you don't have to look at giving birth as just a dangerous activity where you do all this extra stuff "just in case" (the common medical attitude).
  • The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby's First Year: I loved this book! It was the most actually scientifically rigorous book that I read, because other books purported to be science-based but weren't very good at presenting the research neutrally. This mostly covers decisions to be made post-delivery.
  • The Happiest Baby on the Block: the 1 hour video, not the book. This introduces the concept of "the fourth trimester" and teaches you how to soothe babies in their first few months. Extremely useful.
  • Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality: if you are a first-time parent and don't have much experience caring for babies, this book is a great guide for the actual logistics of caretaking.
  • Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth: just an enjoyable memoir by a pediatrician about births. I learned interesting stuff about the history of medicine around childbirth.
  • Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother: a collection of letters from a mother to a friend of hers that has beautiful reflections on what it feels like to become and be a mom.
I think I'll do a separate post on parenting books at a later point, since I'm working on a couple of ones about Montessori but haven't finished them yet.


CLASSES

We got discounts on a bunch of classes through our doula. The most useful ones were the express birth prep (one 8-hour class rather than several hours one evening for several weeks in a row) and the breastfeeding classes. You might think, breastfeeding is natural, why do you need a class about it? I  have learned a lot about breastfeeding in the last few months but to summarize, I like the phrase "breastfeeding is natural but that doesn't mean easy." If breastfeeding is something that's important to you, it's good to learn about what to do in the early days and how to know if things are going well. Getting support early, preferably from lactation consultants who are IBCLCs and work outside of the hospital, will make a big difference in setting you up for success. I might write a separate blog post about breastfeeding in particular at some point.

It's also a good idea to take an infant CPR class at some point. We took it after the baby had been born because we could bring the baby with us to class. You don't actually practice on your baby that's breathing just fine, but it's kind of nice to have gotten familiar with what holding a real baby is like. On the other hand, having the baby with us also meant that the person who was in charge of the baby at the time missed whatever was being said.


OTHER TIPS

After having your baby, know that the second night is very hard and that's totally normal. Our hospital gave us a packet of informational handouts and it included one about the second night in particular, which we read on...day 3.


You can grab all the supplies in the room, housekeeping will just restock anyway and it's great to have lots of extra, especially all the postpartum items and wipes etc.


Reference guides I made for myself that I should clean up and share: proposed schedule of tasks during pregnancy, reference guide for breastfeeding in the early days and weeks. I'll clean up and share them if anyone asks for them, I suppose.