Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Five Fave Nursing Fashions; Breastfeeding Strategy and Changing Our Culture Gently!

     I enjoyed Haley's post at Carrots for Michelmas on strategic attire for breastfeeding. I agree with her that breastfeeding is not immodest, but that managing our clothing while nursing is still a big concern for women, and the bottom line is that we want women to feel confident nursing in public, or wherever! Nursing is a learned art, and just about everyone feels awkward at first. We may believe there is nothing wrong with a little bit of breast showing when a woman is feeding her baby, but most of us are not trying to show off! 

     Mary isn't worried about what anyone else thinks.

 Actually, there is a fascinating history to learn about, related to images of the Blessed Mother of Jesus breastfeeding. I'm going to have to explore that. Here's one cool thing I found: Check out this collection of images of the Blessed Mother breastfeeding Jesus! I have also discovered more than one statue of Mary nursing Jesus, with her breast bare and all, that has various fabulous cloth garments that get changed at intervals; La Virgen de la Leche y Buen Parto. Talk about nursing wear!

      Often, when I post on facebook about breastfeeding, my friends who are grandmothers and nursed in the 60's and 70's talk about how easy it was to be pregnant or nurse in the clothes back then. They wore loose, comfortable things, and just lifted up their top discreetly. This brings us to my comment in my Quick Takes that 'low-slung jeans are not a helpful style for people who are trying to discreetly lift the hem of their top'. Yes, one prominent feature of fashion in the '90's and early 2000's was the plunging waistlines. None of us wants to wear 'mom jeans' of course.
I tried to put a clip of the original SNL video here:

       But, even with length of tops increasing in correspondence to low-riding pants, the growing gap between breasts and jeans leaves a lot of skin on a nursing mom potentially exposed! Thinking one's postpartum hips may be showing does not necessarily make her confident!
I have used a few different systems over my 12+ years of breastfeeding (not continuously for 12 years! But almost. 5 kids for an average of 18 mos each, and still going with number 6). I feel pretty comfortable nursing wherever, and while meeting my baby's needs, it is also my aim to make motherhood look good, and show breastfeeding as the normal, manageable facet of mothering it is. I think it's good for people to see this. It's good for young people to be around a confident mother who is nursing, unashamed, in a non-confrontational way. Things we are all accustomed to seeing become the norm in our culture.

  Bilbo and me in Home Depot     

      I am a lactation consultant, and I really do understand how very hard nursing can be for some women, and the many heroic efforts they make to do their very best for their babies! Nursing in public can be even trickier if you are using a nipple shield or having other complicating factors to deal with. Lets face it, there is strategy involved in making our days as mothers go smoothly. And there is strategy to what I'm wearing as much as there is in what I make sure to have in the van or in the diaper bag!
 (I am not a fashion blogger or model. Most of my clothes are thrifted, (I talk about that here) and while they may be well-reputed brands, I will not be sharing brand names or where you can buy similar clothing items, because that is not really what this post is about.)

       At first I tried the 'nursing shirts' that were available but rare back then in 2001. I had one  much like this that was probably made in the '90's. It was baggier and boxier, and frankly not at all fashionable when I had my first baby, and in spite of special openings still very awkward. Oh my gosh, I just found a pic!

     Baby Luke and me. My arm is blocking, but there is a couple of petal-like layers of fabric right at that level, covering nursing openings. This top did make a good alternative to a really awkward gown in the hospital. 
     I tried a few others, and have some jammies with special nursing openings as well, but these items don't do it all in terms of making one confident; and they aren't always super attractive. And expensive.

      In the last several years these specially made nursing covers have come into vogue. 'Hooter Hiders', 'Bebe au Lait' and all the rest. And while I am glad if they make women feel confident to nurse wherever their baby needs to, and while it is really fun to see what great fabrics they come in, I just don't dig 'em. Personally, I think they are awkward and draw attention to the fact that one is nursing, and maybe suggest that nursing in fact ought to be covered up (and I disagree). They also may contribute to the myth that you have to buy lots of stuff in order to have and care for a baby.
So, here are the combinations I have developed for nursing in real clothes. It is awesome that layering is 'in' more and more, because that makes it even easier to feel cute and confident while wearing clothes we can nurse in easily!
Five Fave Nursing Fashions:

The Nursing Tank
      Haley recommends her nursing tank and scarf combo, and I think she looks great. These brilliant inventions do solve the uncovered postpartum hips and belly problem, thank you very much. And in fact my first strategy was the nursing tank under a breezy, woven top in summer, or with a cardigan in winter. These used to be rare and expensive, Glamourmom was the only place I could find them for a while. Now they are at Walmart and Target. You can even make your own with this brilliant tutorial. I find that knit fabrics make me feel really good about my shape during pregnancy, but not as much postpartum. In general, I feel better about the fit of my clothes postpartum when I wear tops that are form skimming rather than clinging; so that usually means woven, not knit. Here's a gauzy cotton top and my affordable, Walmart nursing tank.
      Honestly, I don't love the fit of nursing tanks. Almost all lack proper support; what my high school friends would call the 'uniboob' effect. You also need nursing pads or something if you are concerned with, I'm gonna say it, nipplevisibility. So I don't wear them alone or under form-fitting shirts.

So. Nursing fashion strategy number two! 
Six years ago, I became aware of this brilliant invention, which has really changed my approach: 
The Bellaband!
The Bellaband! bellaband and it's cousins on amazon
          A spandex tube made originally to hold your jeans up and smooth when you have to start unbuttoning them, but aren't ready for maternity clothes yet, this little baby is also awesome for the reverse transition postpartum. And, I have found, wearing one with everything after the baby is born gives a little support and smoothness, and covers up my middle beautifully! I wear it over my midriff and the top edge of my jeans, and when I nurse, if it shows at all, it just looks like the bottom of an undershirt or something.
My Bella Band plus a flattering top, a jacket or chambray/denim layer and often a scarf has been my fave nursing outfit this time around. This is an example of my 'uniform' in fall/winter/early spring:
For church, wear with a skirt!

Third, tops with styling that is flattering to the postpartum body. 
One day after giving birth! I wore this top a ton.

              These knit tops with the right kind of cut drape nicely, are not tight, and give enough material to work with when you want to nurse. I have found that for my body type, this style is awesome!
With a good nursing bra and a bellaband, no additional coverage needed.

Not a great pic, but this top has a great drape, because of details in the cut of the sleeve/shoulder area and bust.

Similar effect here. And a scrumptious baby!

Number four: Long silk blouse and layers
     This winter I found that a loose, slippery blouse under a sweater makes a great combo. Not bulky, plenty of fabric; no cover needed. If it's long, you get the shirt-tails showing, which I think looks cool. I got a few 100% silk ones at my favorite Goodwill. Any kind of sweater works.

Nursing fashion strategy number five: Cross-over/wrap dress (with cool fabric to use ad lib.)
I wore this on a really hot night to a play practice with a bunch of theater people of all ages.

     I felt great about being able to nurse with no fuss when needed. I did cover up with this huge, beautiful cotton fabric I keep in my diaper bag for use as a baby wrap as well:
What the African ladies just call 'your wrapper'. 

     So, yeah. This option can be done with or without a scarf, pashmina, or wrapper, depending on your judgement. And I admit, you might not go this route til you feel super confident with nursing.
     But it really opens up possibilities as far as What To Wear.
(I wear another dress at the end of this post, without a drape.)

Last of all, because fashions just keep coming back around, 
an at-the-waist skirt or jeans! 
    Yes, the waistline is back. (Don't believe me, check out all the tutorials on youtube of how to turn 'mom jeans' into trendy high waisted shorts!) Regular nursing bra, Bellaband only if you want. I have a few breezy outfits similar to this I'm loving in the hot weather. Again, the linen top is not tight, and it has some feminine tailoring you probably can't see in this shot. For some situations I might include a beautiful summery scarf.
The potentially exposed area between boobs and waistband is so much smaller this way!

     So, those are my five fave fashion strategies. I'm sure there are more! But these are what I'm relying on lately to function well and make motherhood look as good as I can.

     I wanted to conclude with a pic of me out in my yard, nursing confidently in a real-life, real-mom moment, with no drape. I think, with my squirmy eight month old, that is exactly what we have here. Breastfeeding. I'ts real.

Cross-over/wrap style dress. (Sorry, I was not trying to show so much leg!)

"Milking" this post by linking up!

                                                              pleated poppy 


  1. Great tips! With my first three kids, I just pulled my shirt up and nursed anywhere and everywhere. It worked because I tended to wear looser shirts. With my 4th, I discovered a new method which I love, because I feel it allowed me more freedom in what to wear (ie. dresses, tops which are a bit tigher, not always wearing layers, etc. If I'm wearing a shirt or dress where it's easier to pull my breast up over the the top, I simply take a scarf or small piece of cloth (even a hankerchief) and use that to cover the top of my breast....not my whole shoulder, not the baby's head, just the top of my breast. I feel like that is so much less obvious than using a cover and coving up "everything" but it makes me feel a bit more comfortable. Of course, you have to hold it in place for older babies and toddlers, but you have to do that anyway, even with a shirt (or at least I do as m kids tend to pull EVERYTHING off). Anyway, I used this method to nurse my 20-month old in my bridemaid's dress at my brother's wedding this past weekend and no one seemed to blink an eye.

    1. Great tip! Thanks for the comment, Amelia.

  2. I completely agree that nursing covers are cumbersome and imply that you feel like you should be ashamed of yourself or something. I used mine with my first and always felt awkward. Since then, I'm mostly addicted to Aden and Anais blankets as a lightweight way to drape around me and baby if I feel the urge to show less skin.

    I love wrap dresses as it's really the only way (other than lots of buttons!) to wear dresses while nursing. I've been debating trying a bellaband this go round (just had my 3rd two weeks ago) because this is the first time I've had a summertime baby and layering a ton is just too hot!

    Thanks for some great tips!

    1. Those are lovely, gauzy cotton blankets, aren't they? Go for the bellaband! Thanks for the comment, Sarah.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Claire. I like these ideas. You have to be careful buying wrap and crossover dresses online, though. I have been disappointed to find them sewn closed on more than one occasion!

    1. I don't do much shopping for clothes online myself, but good tip. How disappointing! Were you able to alter them? Thanks for coming over and commenting, Kendra!


Friendly comments welcome! I like to know who's reading my blog.