Lactation Couture

Congratulations! You no longer have to shop for maternity clothes! Thank God, because it was so difficult to find cute things.

…and, I’ve got some bad news, on a couple of fronts.

First, don’t put those maternity clothes away yet. You’re going to need them for a couple of months. You’re definitely walking out (ok, hobbling) of that hospital looking at least 6 months pregnant. And if you’ve had a C-section, anything with a waistband is just a silly idea for a couple of weeks.

Second, now you have to get nursing clothes. Where maternity clothes just had to accommodate your growing body, nursing clothes have to accommodate what are likely to be amazingly/terrifyingly large boobs (if not on Day 1, then within a couple of weeks), a (maybe) shrinking tummy, spills of milk and spit-up and many other substances, and the almost constant need for your baby (or at work, your pump) to get access to your boobs. This results in a shockingly limited and kind of weird set of designs that you are supposed to make do with for the duration of breastfeeding.

And third, here’s the really bad news. You thought maternity clothes were bad? Nursing clothes are terrible. Just terrible. They do not seem to be made with looking professional and halfway decent at work in mind. The cute stuff is often crazy expensive and at least for my cheap ass, doesn’t seem worth the investment for what will ultimately be a short-lived time in my life.

On to the good news: You can make normal clothes work for both nursing and pumping. First, remember that by and large, if you can nurse a baby in it, you can pump in it.


(At work, if you have a private office with a locking door, you can wear whatever you want as long as you’re comfortable sitting in your locked office with a dress up around your neck or down around your waist, but I promise you that even with a lock, you’ll feel really exposed, and your butt cheeks will be on your office chair, which is just weird.)

Your first decision point is bras. You might choose to get a pumping bra – a truly medieval device that is basically a tube bra with two nipple holes in it. This provides a pretty solid hands-free pumping experience, but is time consuming to put on and take off for each session. Some women (me included) just find a way to stick their pump horns into their actual bra cups. Others hold the flanges to themselves while they pump, but this seems incredibly inconvenient for working (aka checking your Facebook page). This bra thing is something you should experiment with before you head back to work.

Once you are bra’d up, there are two staple “nursing clothing” designs that you need to know about – and largely avoid:

  • The shelf top. No idea who invented this. This is a shirt with pornographic holes or slits over the nipples, and then an extra layer of fabric just across the boob area. You’re meant to lift this layer up to get your girls out when it’s time to pump or nurse. This thing is fooling absolutely no one in terms of looking like a normal top.
  • The fake two-layer top. This looks, sort of, like a V-neck with a cami underneath. But when you pull the V to the side, you will see a gigantic slit or a hole over your boob. And again, nobody believes that this is actually two tops.


But there are plenty of styles that are not “nursing clothes” per se, but that you can rig up to work for you, and probably look a hell of a lot better than most of the true nursing stuff. So get your butt out of the maternity section, because it’s time to go shopping for real.

The trick is to look for dresses and tops that will allow you to get access to your boobs without taking the garment off or pulling it up around your neck. Some ideas to get you started:

  • The crossover/overlapping V-neck. Go ahead and get used to almost every shirt you own being cut like this. Wrap dresses are a good option, too, except they make a post-baby tummy even more noticeable, so whether to do this (and whether to employ some Spanx) is your call.
  • Button downs.  Any top with buttons is good so that you can just unbutton and go. Don’t forget the “henley” shirt – not a true button-down, but it has a few buttons at the top to provide boob access.
  • The camisole with something else on top. You can pull the top layer up and pull the camisole down to pump. (A note: We like to tell ourselves that those nursing camisoles just look like a tank top, but they don’t. There are gigantic plastic snaps just above each boob to allow you to open up one side and nurse. Everyone sees these snaps, and no one thinks this is a normal tank top.
  • Cowl-necks. Enough said.
  • Despite first appearances, try to avoid scoop and V-necks. They have to be pretty deep scoops or Vs to work, or you’ll end up stretching the hell out of them, and once they’re that deep, your new-and-improved boobs will be really visible in them. So unless you work at Hooters, avoid. If you do work at Hooters, it’s a win-win.


While we’re on the work topic, we need to talk about leaking. If you work, it’s going to happen at work. You’ll get busy, or delayed, and something will make your milk let down, and then you will be part of the sisterhood of women whose co-workers have seen their breast milk on their clothes. Those little “boob diapers” will be an important part of your wardrobe. There are washable kinds and disposable kinds; I personally go disposable, because I’ve heard enough negative reviews of the actual leak-proofing of the washable kind. Whatever your choice, change them regularly to avoid moisture and the dreaded thrush, which can be very uncomfortable and can even permanently derail breastfeeding.

On top of actual leak guards, give some thought, especially early on when you are more likely to leak, to color, fabric, and pattern. Heather gray is not your friend – it will show leaks more than any other color. Dark colors, patterns, and textured fabrics can help mask leaks. And always, always have a back-up option stashed in your car or at your desk.

And finally, do remember that most normal, nice people think you’re a superhero for just having a baby and going back to work and being showered with relative frequency. They will tell you you look great, and they will actually believe it, because people with kids know how hard it is, and people without kids find the whole thing a terrifying mystery. So don’t judge yourself too harshly – and remember that this little fashion dip is totally temporary.


Final note: It’s not all terrible. There are some nursing brands that  the women I talked with do like: Boob Design (some even say you can wear their stuff after you’re done nursing), Glamourmom, Peekaboo, and Japanese Weekend to name a few. I’m too cheap to invest in these, but I know women who swear by them.


One thought on “Lactation Couture

  1. Darn, where were you when I needed you 36 years ago? Your blog is so full of helpful and realistic information – it’s GREAT! Keep it up!! Makes me laugh, cringe and smile with memories! Love you!


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