After my sister, Caitlyn, gave birth to her first baby, she attended a friend’s wedding wearing a dress that was both flattering and trendy. This was a feat for a newly postpartum mom. She felt like a million bucks.
Then her brand new daughter needed to nurse.
Cait’s dress had a high neckline, an empire waist and a knee-length skirt. It zipped up the back.
“I realized in that moment that I had absolutely no way to breastfeed her,” Cait told me. “Feeding her would be impossible unless I literally got completely undressed.”
No one prepares you for the wardrobe difficulties that come with nursing. Everyone knows a pregnant woman needs maternity clothes, but what about after the baby is born? How do you feed your baby without breaking the bank? or ending up half-naked, hiding in the bride’s room, nursing the baby, and praying that no one comes in, as Cait did).
As a mom of three voracious little eaters, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks:
Deep V-necks are your friend.
Did you know that you can nurse a baby while carrying them in a sling, wrap or carrier? You totally can! The secret is a nice deep V-neck top and a clip-down nursing bra.
Adjust the carrier so the baby’s face is at the right height, throw a blanket or scarf over everything for modesty if you want, pull down that shirt and you’re good to go.
Especially with a second or subsequent baby, this can save your life. Have I done this at our local children’s museum? Yes. Have I done it in line at Disneyland? Yes. Most definitely. Did anyone notice? Only one mom behind me who gave me a thumbs-up and said, “I’m impressed.”
Strapless tops are naturally baby-friendly.
These won’t work for the office, but if you’re hitting the beach or it’s 102 degrees outside (Hello, southern California! You forgot that it’s autumn!) strapless tops are the BOMB when it comes to nursing.
You may want to wear a scarf or necklace or something, though, so you don’t look totally topless while feeding your babe. That can get awkward.
Invest in a few clip-down nursing bras.
These are a must. They provide the base that help all of the following wardrobe hacks to work well and easily.
I recommend just straight up, unpadded, underwire-free ones for a few reasons: Underwire can plug a milk duct, padding can get in the way when you try to fold down one side of the bra for nursing, and lace or bows can be itchy.
But if you want pretty ones, go for it. The only must are the clips.
Buy one good, circle-scarf-style nursing cover.
With Baby #1, I bought a nursing cover that I quickly grew to hate. It was reminiscent of Pam’s baby cover from The Office; it looked a little like a medical apparatus and a lot like a horse’s feedbag.
It just didn’t work. Our firstborn would pull it back like a curtain, leading to a festival of inappropriate sharing. Anyone walking by could easily see everything. And I do mean everything.
When I was pregnant with Baby #2, a MOPS friend gave me a stretchy, infinity nursing scarf. It was life changing.
The baby can’t pull it off. It covers your back in case you have to lift your shirt up. It covers your entire front. You can pull it down over your baby but still peek in at her. It’s not swelteringly hot under there either.
I have one scarf in a green and ivory geometric print. Since I wear tons of black and white and grey, it goes with pretty much everything, and it’s stylish enough to wear as a scarf when I’m not nursing.
Don’t skimp on this. If you’re like me, you will use it ALL the time.
Wide neck sweaters work great.
When the weather gets cooler, you can still wear nursing-friendly tops, you just have to be a bit creative. Cowl-neck, off-the-shoulder and even some boat-neck sweaters can work in a pinch.
Choose loose-fitting over form-fitting.
Obviously the looser overall fit the better, especially if a neckline is high. Flowy, bohemian-style tops and dresses are your friends.
Try the double tank top trick.
This might surprise you, but your tummy will take a while to get back to normal after you have a baby. (WHAT?! I know, right?) Some people’s (mine) never really do.
So, if you’re a little self-conscious about stretch marks or a less-than-toned tummy, first remember that YOU BROUGHT A HUMAN LIFE INTO THE WORLD. Your body rocks, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Still, you may not want to share your tummy and all its stories with random strangers at the mall while you try to nurse a squirmy six-month-old. Enter: the double tank top trick.
Wear a tight-fitting tank top (preferably a nursing tank with clip-down sides) under a looser tank top. Time to nurse? Lift up the outer tank top, clip down the nursing tank, and you’re set to jet. All that’s exposed is what’s essential for baby’s lunch. Your stomach, back and top are all covered.
Crossover fronts give easy access.
Shirts, dresses and tanks with a front crossover style work fabulously for nursing. Places like Costco have a few maxi dresses ($20) out right now that are popular. I’ve probably seen them on 15 different women at my church over the summer.
Button-downs for the win!
This might be obvious, but if a top has buttons, a baby can get access to the necessary objects. Button-downs aren’t my favorite, but I’ve found a new love for the ones in the back of my closet in this nursing season, especially as we head into fall.
When in doubt, improvise.
I’ve used cloth napkins, baby blankets and burp cloths for nursing covers, and they’ve all worked great. I’ve even repurposed a beach towel at a pool party. Baby’s gotta eat!
There’s no need to break the bank for a nursing-friendly wardrobe. With Baby #1, I purchased a few nursing tops and they were both unflattering and awkward to use. Don’t make my mistake. You can probably use lots of what you already have!
Courtney Ellis is an author, speaker, and mom of three in southern California where she serves as a co-pastor alongside her husband, Daryl. Her first book, Uncluttered, comes out in February 2019 from Rose Publishing, and you can follow her on Twitter @courtneyellis.