Given how differently women’s bodies experience pregnancy, post-partum, and nursing, I’m always a little leery of offering lists of “must-haves” for any of these particular wardrobe situations. When I have pared down my wardrobe to essentials, I’ve tried to emphasize how these are my essentials, an extension of my personal style, tweaked for the circumstances at hand. I readily admit that a pair of orange pumps might not be on everyone’s “must have” list. (But wouldn’t it be fun if it was?)
That said, a lot of you have asked for tips on dressing through pregnancy and nursing. I would like to recap a few principles, if you will, that have guided me in building my own wardrobe for those particular demands. How you translate them is entirely up to you…
E.’s Maternity Wardrobe Principles:
1. Be yourself. Find items that make you feel like you
This was perhaps my primary guiding principle for my first pregnancy. I still love the outfit above because it just feels like “me.” Bright color combinations, interesting but not breakable jewelry, pop-of-color shoes…these are all things I love when I’m not pregnant, too. Together, they let me feel like “me,” even though I’m so-and-so-many pounds heavier, a bit puffier, and noticeably slower.
2. Challenge yourself. Experiment with items that play with the particularity of your pregnant shape
This might sound like the exact opposite advice of the first point, but stick with me here. As important as it is to perpetuate aspects of your signature style through the pregnancy — whether in color mixing, pattern, jewelry, or overall “feel” — I’ve realized this time around that it’s also important to embrace your changing body by trying out silhouettes and patterns that you might have passed by in your pre-pregnancy days. I will probably not be wearing a form-fitting, wide horizontal striped dress post-pregnancy. But for this final trimester I’ve reveled in how particular and perfect this dress is for my body right now.
3. Do it yourself. Learn when to buy “maternity”…and when not to
This is also related to the first two points. Sometimes maternity clothing retailers are simply not going to make the things that you want to wear. I wanted bright skirts this summer and all Gap maternity gave me was some putty colored neutrals. A thrifted peach midi-skirt and a dress cut into a skirt were both improvised measures. Or, during my first pregnancy, I refashioned a maxi dress into a drapey, punchy knee-length number because I wanted something bold and a wee bit sexy to wear.
On the other hand, I said “yes” to maternity pants and bottoms. I carry very low when pregnant, and while some of my friends can wear their regular pants throughout the pregnancy using the rubber band through the button hole trick, my pants are the first things to stop fitting. Sometimes there’s this weird pressure to proclaim, “I did it all without buying maternity clothes!” as if it’s a sign of just how creative and adaptable you are. But I’m just letting you know, I bought maternity pants. I bought maternity shorts. And I’m really, really glad that I did.
4. Laugh at yourself. Sometimes it helps to have a little bit of a sense of humor.
Hey there, inner disco ball.
E.’s Nursing Wardrobe Principles:
If you decide to breastfeed after the baby arrives, your wardrobe will again have to meet some extraordinary demands. How do you adequately cover an expanded bust while still, well, being able to easily uncover said bust when necessary? Frankly, a lot of this depends on the particulars of your own anatomy and on your baby. Generally, though, you’ll need to be able to have access from either below, above, or the side. Access from below — i.e., lifting up my top — never really worked for me. I was pretty much a top and side kind of lady an
1. If you find something that works, buy multiples.
I loved how these nursing tanks from Old Navy worked (and I’m sad that there’s nothing being sold like them now) and I wish I had bought more. I got a LOT of mileage out of these two colors.
2. Button-downs aren’t only for shirts.
Obviously, button-down shirts are among the easiest breastfeeding solutions. I’m not much of a button-down shirt wearer usually, but I did develop a deep love for button-down shirt dresses, especially since they proved to be eminently remixable.
3. Elastic and surplice necklines can be your friends.
This may be an obvious point, but looking for these necklines when thrifting and shopping let me bust out of a nursing tank and cami rut.
4. But, a cardigan might be the very best friend.
Oh, my cardigan collection. My “new mom” uniform became an elastic waist skirt (to mitigate the post-partum belly), a nursing camisole, and a cardigan. Good thing I had a lot of colors to choose from. In fact, I started carrying an extra cardigan around with me in the diaper bag in case of disastrous spit-up situations.
I hope that those of you who have asked for maternity and nursing wear tips find these principles useful. In the end, they’re really not that different from the principles that guide my regular wardrobe-building mantra: dress the body you have in clothes that you love…and can throw in the washing machine.