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Building a Breastfeeding Wardrobe

By Amalah

Hi, oh well-dressed one!

I have a shopping dilemma. I have a four month old daughter who is an avid breastfeeder — in fact, it’s her main hobby. My wardrobe at the moment is pitiful. The one pair of jeans I have was ill-fitting before I got pregnant, now they’re…well, they’re very sad. So it’s time for some basics. But my basics also need to include good hot-weather wear. We are going to spend the entire summer in Greece with my in-laws (I know, poor me) and I’m thinking some sun dresses would be perfect. But dresses are not so good with breastfeeding, right?

Do you have any suggestions for some light, casual summer dresses that could work for breastfeeding? I like dresses that hit at about the knee, but I’m tall (5’11”) so my knee tends to be other people’s mid-calf. I have the usual post-baby issues — tummy and hips that are a little larger than I would like — and I have really fair skin so dresses that cover up (in light fabric, of course) are probably better for me.

Let’s hear it for summer!

C

Summer Dresses You Can Nurse In

Actually, I LOVE wearing dresses right now. There are tons of styles that are great for breastfeeding, particularly in the sundress category. All you need to look for is the right kind of neckline that can be pulled down or off to the side. (I once saw a mother yank up the bottom hem of her floor-length dress to breastfeed in a restaurant. Now I am ALL FOR nursing in public, buuuuuut…no. It’s not asking too much to suggest a little wardrobe accommodation.)

Cross-front dresses work really well for me, especially when it’s 1) in a stretchy fabric and 2) something that can be tossed in the dryer to reshape the bodice after a day of yanking it down — which is why I’m a fan of the inexpensive stuff at Old Navy. I’m not going to put my expensive velvet cross-front dress in the dryer, but a polyester empire waist one can get gently fluffed back into shape if you stretch out the straps. (Plus, have you noticed how awesomely tummy-hiding most of Old Navy’s styles are these days? Thank the cheap mass-manufactured clothing gods, is all I can say.) Then there’s anything that buttons up the front or ties at the shoulder. And shirtdresses provide a little more arm coverage while still offering easy access to the boobs.

Many of these styles are available in Old Navy’s “Tall” section, if you’ve had success with their definition of tall. As I am a good six inches shorter than you, I must admit ignorance there.

Now…two more things. Since you brought up needing a little coverage up top, I know most of these (except for the shirtdress) don’t provide that. But that’s kind of just the way summer dresses are these days. I’d recommend focusing on the necklines first and then picking up one or two neutral, lightweight shrugs, short-sleeved cardigans or even just a lightweight silk shawl to cover your shoulders when you’re outside. (Shawl bonus: instant nursing cover!) Or skip the clothing and get a nice wide-brimmed sun hat, which is probably something you’ll have more luck finding while you’re actually on vacation. We just don’t do glamorous floppy hats very well here in the States.

A Word About Nursing Bras

And since I know many of you are thinking that those necklines will never, ever work with the big wide-strapped full-coverage nursing bra offerings out there — remember that you don’t HAVE to wear nursing bras. Sometimes they make things easier, but sometimes not so much. I don’t wear them anymore. Partly because once Ezra started solid food around five months my boobs almost immediately deflated back down to their former A/B cup non-glory, and partly because I got sick of how much they limited my summer wardrobe choices. If you’re pulling down a dress strap, you can pull down a bra strap. Strapless bras yank down every bit as easily as a nursing bra. (I LOVE that I’m still a little bigger in the boobs than usual, meaning I can finally consistently fill out strapless dresses. Plus: stretchy smocked styles are super easy to nurse in!)

If you’re really full-chested, I know you’re still going to be a limited in your pretty sundress-compatible bras, but there’s really no reason why you should limit your options even FURTHER by insisting they include plastic nursing hooks. If your bra still peeks out from the edges of a cross-front sundress, layer in a stretchy cheap tank top to hide it — a tank that you can put in the dryer for sure, and preferably something that you wouldn’t mind demoting to sleepwear if the neckline eventually gets stretched out past the point of no return.

If it’s too hot for blankets and your baby won’t tolerate a nursing cover, but you’re self-conscious about the wide expanse of top-boob you’re exposing, keep a cloth diaper/burp rag/lightweight scarf/something similarly small handy for getting your baby on and settled, then just drape it over your chest. Yeah, people are going to know what you’re doing — but I don’t think being appropriately discreet necessarily means swaddling yourself up in mountains of fabric lest someone realize that OMG A BABY IS SUCKING ON A BEWB UNDER THERE. You might also want to consider a sling or Ergo carrier if you don’t have one already. With a little practice they provide both baby transport AND built-in breastfeeding camouflage.

More From AlphaMom

Nursing Bras, Nursing Tops, Nursing Fashion Faux Pas
The Perfect Postpartum Wardrobe
Shapewear for the Mummy Tummy

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

19 Comments
  • Meri

    May 28, 2009 at 11:14 am

    http://wallaroohats.com/ has UPF 50+ sunhats.

  • Jenn

    May 28, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    One wardrobe must-have I can’t live without is a $5 gauzey scarf (square with fringe) I bought at walmart of all places. It is opaque enough tha folks can’t seee in…thin enough that baby can see out…and cheap enough to have several colors! It is perfect for discreet nursing…and did I mention cheap?

  • De in D.C.

    May 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I have some dresses from Ann Taylor Loft that would easily work for nursing. I’m heavy on top, so need solid, full-coverage bras and can’t wear cute little sundresses. These dresses are a babydoll style with cap sleeves and a ruched, empire-waist bodice. The cut is nice and stretchy, and the loose fit hides any tummy business you don’t want to be seen. Try this: http://www.anntaylorloft.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=19080&N=1200257&categoryId=211&Ns=CATEGORY_SEQ_211&loc=LN&showAll=Y&defaultColorNameFromCategory=Porcelain%20Green&defaultSizeTypeFromCategory=Misses
    And this one would probably also work: http://www.anntaylorloft.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=19281&N=1200257&categoryId=211&Ns=CATEGORY_SEQ_211&loc=LN&showAll=Y&defaultColorNameFromCategory=Cranberry&defaultSizeTypeFromCategory=Misses

  • Kim

    May 28, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you. I just threw a fit last weekend about not having any cute summer clothes that accomodate nursing.

  • Bitts

    May 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I can’t say enough about the nursing tanks from Target! Motherhood Maternity carries a more expensive version as well. They don’t offer enough coverage as a top on their own, but they are perfect to layer under something like a strappy sundress for a little more coverage, and then you don’t need a bra. Also they cover the belly area, so if you ahve to hike up a shirt, your middle is still covered. I have 6 of them and wear them ALL THE TIME. Including right now.

  • Liss

    May 28, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    My favorite summer breastfeeding trick is to wear two tank tops. Pull the outer top up from the waist and the inner top down and you have coverage all around. (Key for me, since my little one will grab any loose cover and throw it down with prejudice.) The extra straps also give extra shoulder coverage for bra straps.
    My current go-to is a nursing tank from Target, under a regular tank, paired with a light summer skirt and sandals. (The nursing tank has enough extra support that I can skip the bra part – yay!)

  • bethany actually

    May 28, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I second the tank top idea! When my daughter was nursing I wore cheap camisoles from Old Navy under almost everything, just to provide a little extra coverage when pulled up my shirt to nurse.

  • Imanitsud

    May 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Try Eddie Bauer or Chadwicks for other nice sundresses that would work for nursing.

  • Anna

    May 28, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    I traveled to Greece when my wee one was 7 months old and still nursing. My experience was that my body was kind of out of whack for the first week I was there — I leaked milk much more than usual. I think it was because of the time change (8 hours, or enough to confuse your body), so you may want to pack some nursing pads just in case. Also regarding body issues — Greeks tend to be very comfortable with their bodies and as a result tend to dress much less conservatively than most Americans. You will see lots of yayathes in bikinis. Greeks are also not shy about telling you what they think, so expect to be told about how you are nursing too much, not enough, you need to give the baby water, the baby needs some sweets, the baby is too hot, let’s go dancing and bring the baby, but the baby was eyeing up my lamb chop so I gave him some, etc. Chaos, really. But you are going to have a great time!

  • Monica

    May 29, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Great post, I needed this one as well! And I love me some polyester dresses, as you just can’t wrinkle them! Fabulous. I agree about those nursing tanks from Target–they are GREAT! I bought a few from Gap online this past winter and the design is ridiculous (no easy snap, more like a hook and it falls behind your back) and they have zero support.

  • CathyHW

    May 29, 2009 at 9:16 am

    I wonder could anyone provide any more detail about how to nurse in the ergo? I just got one last week for my five month old, but haven’t quite figured out how to nurse in it. Is there a trick I don’t know?

  • susan

    May 29, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I am not nursing any more but I loved the clothes I bought from Motherwear. I has a long linen dress that I wore even after I stopped. http://www.motherwear.com/index.cfm.
    Check out theirs stuff, it doesn’t look like its made for breastfeeding.

  • Blythe

    May 29, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Hear, hear on the Target nursing tanks. I spent a humid summer wearing nothing but nursing tanks and lightweight skirts, with a cardigan thrown on top during cooler weather.

  • miriam

    May 29, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    I have no sense of style, but fair skin plus sun is easiest to deal with when you coverup with fabric, not sunscreen (gets very sweaty).
    I wear hawaiian shirts with scrub bottoms in hot sunny places, or with a sarong or skirt. Very cool, protects skin from sun.
    You can probably find something like that (ie, something with a collar to protect the back of your neck, and short sleeves to protect your shoulders) that is a bit more fashionable. And just as cool (tempwise, at least). There are also number of travel blouses/ shirts of very breathable fabric with vents and whatnot.
    You can wear it over the aforementioned strappy dress unbuttoned, or over a light tank with a pair of light cotton/ linen pants (also very cool, keep sun off legs etc.) or even a light skirt.

  • Melibel

    May 29, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Not totally what the OP was looking for, but I wanted to share some finds that have helped avert my nursing-clothing-frustration meltdowns. Target has some cute, affordable options for tops that I pair with capris, jeans, or a skirt.
    This top is my new go-to; it’s lightweight, allows easy access, shows that I DO have a waist, yet skims over my still-smushy tummy (it’s MUCH cuter than the photo!): http://www.target.com/Juniors-Xhilaration-Double-Tee-Kickapoo/dp/B001QDFUE6/sr=1-1/qid=1243650726/ref=sr_1_1/182-5785378-7755627?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0&index=target&rh=k%3Adouble%20v&page=1
    Another one I love: http://www.target.com/Juniors-Xhilaration-Double-V-Neck-Back/dp/B001P1T5L8/sr=1-10/qid=1243650726/ref=sr_1_10/182-5785378-7755627?ie=UTF8&frombrowse=0&index=target&rh=k%3Adouble%20v&page=1
    I wear stretchy cotton v-neck tanks from Banana Republic under everything. I also wear the heck out of this lace-trimmed cami: http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?searchCID=25789&pid=627632&scid=627632052&vid=-1

  • Diane Sam

    June 4, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Don’t forget the MoBoleez Breastfeeding Hat – easy, convenient, fun and fashionable. I should know, I invented them 🙂

  • ksmaybe

    June 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Just throwing in halter dresses, especially if you’re not that big in the bust. I went with halter tankinis for my summer nursing (Land’s End). I could untie and bring down one side at a time, using a beach towel for coverage above. My son was old enough to not tolerate being covered, but I could use a towel to shield the expanse of pasty flesh above and give him just enough access. Should work with a sundress and shawl/cardigan/shrug set up too.

  • mixpo

    September 2, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Bravo, I think this is a great idea

  • Catherine

    December 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    As a mother of two little girls and owner of Trendy Tummy Maternity – we have a great selection of maternity/nursing dresses
    http://www.trendytummymaternity.com