Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nursing Clothes - Advice from One Extended Breastfeeder

I have a request!!!!  I have a reader!!!  And she asked me a question!!!  I feel so special!!!

"...tell me about nursing clothes. I'm sure as an extended breastfeeder you've had days where you realized you wore the wrong thing...what should I be looking for? Do I have to buy specialized "nursing tops" or will anything that zips/buttons up the front (or is loose enough to pull up) do?"

Ah, yes.  Wearing the wrong thing.

I have four long dresses hanging in my closet that I was unable to wear until about a month ago.  The necklines are not appropriate for pulling down, and you cannot hike a calf-length, one-piece dress up in church and nurse your baby.

At least not in my church.

So there will be things that you will not be able to wear for a while, unless it's date night (said reader is married, so she has more of a possibility of having one of those than, say, ME.)    And there are clothes that help make it more comfortable and, yes, easy for you to nurse.  I am a public breastfeeder as we have previously discussed, so that's in my mind as I write. 

Here's my take on the question, which will just be one perspective.  Please feel free to help our loyal reader with thoughts of your own.  First, my experiences, then some advice.

I had heard and read the recommendations not to invest in your nursing bras until your milk actually starts to come in.  Those "wise" folks said that you don't know what your actual size will be until then, so that's a good time to nursing-bra-shop.

Yea, right, with a brand-new nursling hanging off your b00b, with your blood pressure still through the roof, on absolutely no sleep, with a preemie baby that has no clothes that fit her.  Sounds like a GREAT time to shop to me.

So I spent the first several days of my daughter's life basically naked from the waist up, or not wearing a bra and leaking everywhere.  I agree with the premise of the recommendation, but you might want to make an estimation and have at least something.  One bra; or a nursing tank would be good, since it's not as confining, and size-dependent as a bra.  I actually didn't increase much, so I probably would have been fine with buying bras ahead of time.  I think that will vary with each mama.

I went to Wal-Mart and bought two cheap cotton nursing bras (yes, they sell them there) in an approximate size that worked, because I wasn't about to try on bras while my milk was leaking everywhere (which is another flaw in the wait-until-your-milk-comes-in advice.)  My mom ordered me two from a Playtex catalog, which ended up being of almost the exact same construction*, but of better material.  I have been wearing those four bras in rotation for almost 17 months now.  So my next piece of advice would be: if nursing is going well for you, and you think you will end up breastfeeding for any length of time, go ahead and invest in several good bras.  Even, like 5 or 6.  I always felt like a couple more would have been good, but by then we were at 6 months, and I kept thinking I didn't want to spend the money if we wouldn't be nursing much longer.  That was over a year ago.

At some point in the first months I ordered a nursing tank (from Target online), which I ended up wearing almost the entire summer because it was so much easier than bra+shirt.  Also at some point that summer, my mom went to an outlet mall, and came home with a Motherhood nursing tank, a nursing shirt, and a nursing gown/robe that made me feel like a princess.  The Target tank and the Motherhood tank are a little different in their construction - the Motherhood tank has just a slit in the material that is under the fold-down top (similar to this design, but not exactly).  You could stay more covered that way, but that additional layer of material always bunched up and didn't look right.  The Target tank didn't have that extra layer of material.  When you fold down the top, you're open to the world.  Simpler design, and it worked better for me, but has much less coverage and isn't nearly as modest.  Both were light-colored, which I would advise against.  Milk stains and poo stains for one.  But the big reason is that swollen nipples, milk leaks, and bunched-up material are all less likely to be seen if your top is dark colored.  (See this one - you can see the under layer of material - can you imagine if her nips were bulging?  What did they do, airbrush them out?)

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I got this catalog in the mail. I totally wish I'd seen this ... um ... 18 months ago! Is this not pretty as hell for a nursing bra?!?!

So that's what I did, and it worked.  For the advice ...

You don't really need any special nursing clothing (except maybe the bra), unless it helps you to nurse more comfortably.  And only you can decide that, and only once you get going.  So I can give you all the advice in the world, and that's all it is - advice. 

-How modest are you?  Are you going to be uncomfortable with parts of your breasts showing, or your belly hanging out a little?  Are you going to want to be fully covered (then use a nursing cover), or partly covered, or do you not really care?
-Where are you likely to be nursing most of the time?  If you have to nurse at a restaurant while out for lunch, you may want to dress differently than a Saturday afternoon on your couch.

Pulling up the shirt is a very viable option, and that's what I did all winter and when I wasn't wearing one of the two nursing tops that I have.  Still do.  In fact, I usually just pull up a button-up shirt, rather than deal with the buttons.  If you are trying to be modest, it helps to cover the top of your breast, which isn't covered usually in nursing bras or tanks, depending on how they are constructed.  But then your belly is hanging out, unless you wear a tank underneath, and then what have you accomplished by having to wear two shirts?  My little one is big enough now that I use my shirt to cover the top of my breast, and then she covers the rest, and it works.

I do think a good nursing bra (or 6) is important.  I can live without the tanks and the nightgown**, but not the bras.  There have been days that I have gone to work in a "normal" bra, only to have the Wee One "demand" to nurse as soon as I have gotten home.  Those days I have appreciated the ease of having a nursing bra where you can open the cups to nurse.  Now, if I'm not wearing a nursing bra, I wear a front-close bra, but even that isn't as easy to maneuver.  I still wear a nursing bra to work, since (a) it's easier to pump when you just have to flip down the cups, and (b) I have a nursling that likes to nurse first thing when I walk in the door, and is impatient for mommy to change.

So, what's my point?  (Do I have one?***)  Bras, definitely.  Tanks, maybe one or two, see if you like them, more if you do.  No long dresses.  See how it goes.

*The bras I chose were not underwire bras.  The pre-nursing advice said to stay away from underwires, they can put pressure on milk ducts and cause mastitis.  I see very well how that could happen, so I will reiterate the no-underwire advice, especially not early on if you are engorged or have huge milk supply.

** Actually I wore that nightgown last night and it is one of the most comfortable pieces of clothing I own.

** I have enjoyed my trip down memory lane, remembering my wee one her first summer, nursing all the time.  It brought a smile to my face today, so I may have been long-winded.

Tomorrow I'll review some nursing pads for you, both sposie and cloth ones that I used.


Serifm said...

Thank you for these posts! I shall now evaluate all my clothing for its access potential...and ignore everyone who tells me not to buy nursing bras.

MommieV said...

Again, it's very individual what works, but I don't see how one nurses successfully for a long period of time without an adequate collection of nursing bras - especially if one is a working nursing mother who pumps and has to nurse when she walks in the door.