Nursing clothes: the good, the bad, and useless

When I was pregnant with Baby Boy, I was obsessed with nursing-wear.

Actually, I was obsessed with a lot of things (when labour would start, what he would look like, cheeseburgers, when labour would freaking start already!). But breastfeeding-appropriate clothing was also on my mind.

I bought two or three “going-out” shirts, I think, before he was born. Plus two nursing tank tops, two pairs of nursing pyjamas, a nursing nightgown, and three nursing bras. I would have bought more stuff, but held off in case breastfeeding didn’t work out for us. I was convinced these items were the only way humanly possible that you could breastfeed and wear clothing at the same time.

Yeah, I was a little crazy.

When Baby Boy arrived, and breastfeeding became my entire life (not really a joke, sadly), I basically spent the first three months of his life wearing a nursing bra and underwear (yoga pants if I was feeling really fat). Well, around the house, that is. It was summer. It was boiling hot. I was breastfeeding him hourly, sometimes for an hour. It felt impossible to put my boobs away, so meh, why bother?

For those first three or four months, I DESPERATELY needed those nursing tops (in my mind, at least). I bought several more, and they were the only thing I wore out of the house. I always had Baby Boy with me. I always had to nurse him in public, or at someone’s house. And between struggling with the nursing cover and the staring, it was a HUGE relief to just be able to unclip part of my shirt. No saggy bread-doughy stomach exposed. No fighting with a “regular” shirt. And wear a regular bra? HA! Yeah right!

The tide started to turn around the five-month mark, I think. Baby Boy was getting so distracted in public that sometimes it was hard to nurse him. My boobs would be ready to burst, and he’d be all, “Hi people! Look at me! Oh, wow! Look at that! Hiiiiiiiiii!”

So if we were going out, I’d pump beforehand and bring the bottle with us. Usually, he’d be fine to take the bottle. I’d wear regular shirts, but I still wore nursing bras exclusively, in case I had to nurse him.

And you know what? Um, it worked.

Yes, it’s true. Stop the presses! You CAN lift up a regular shirt, or un-button a regular shirt. Now when we go out, I never wear a nursing top. I do select my shirt carefully, to make sure it’s still somewhat easy-access. But I’m not limited to choosing from my six or seven nursing tops, which is … nice.

Same story with the nursing PJs, I have to admit. In the beginning, I only wore the nursing jammies. They were constantly being washed and dried, what with the copious amounts of spit-up and all, but I was convinced I needed them. Then, somewhere along the way, I started wearing regular pyjamas, and the world kept on spinning.

Here’s what I’ve learned about nursing clothing:

  • Look for double-duty items. Ha, no pun intended. Almost every nursing item (bras, PJs, tops) can also be worn when you’re pregnant, so be on the look-out for nursing clothes when you’re shopping for maternity clothes. I wore nursing bras and PJs through my last couple of months of pregnancy, so even if breastfeeding hadn’t worked out, at least I would have gotten some use out of them.
  • Invest in your bras. I still wear my nursing bras, almost exclusively, for two reasons. They really are easy-access (which is convenient), and I don’t have to worry about underwires (which I love normally, but when you’re breastfeeding they can cause painful blocked ducts). They are, without a doubt, my most useful item of nursing clothing. Buy them when you’re about seven or eight months pregnant, and that’s probably the size your boobs will be when they’re full of milk. In the beginning, I was going through two or three nursing bras a day (spit-up), so I found having four in rotation was good. They were all cotton sports-bra types that I could (and did) wear day and night. Now I have six, but I only really wear two — my new fancier ones, since I no longer wear bras at night.
  • Skip the PJs. Yes, they’re cute, and you can wear them when you’re pregnant. But if you’re trying to limit what you spend, you can skip these. I still wear mine because they’re comfortable, but it’s JUST as easy to nurse when I wear my regular nightgowns or PJ sets.
  • The nursing tops do make it easier in the beginning. Yes, I eventually realized you can wear regular tops. But in the early days, breastfeeding in public really overwhelmed me, and I was super-grateful for a discreet nursing shirt. I would recommend maybe not buying quite as many as me, because you’ll probably only want them to wear around town for the first month or so — until you’ve got the routine figured out. Maybe two or three, in a loose-ish style that makes you feel comfortable with your postpartum belly.
  • Buy dark-coloured tops or patterned tops. In the early days, when your boobs are still going haywire, you will leak. You will leak through the damn pads and leave little wet marks on your shirt. If you buy a pale grey nursing shirt, you will regret it.
  • Don’t buy wrap-style nursing tops. I purchased my first two nursing tops when I was pregnant and clueless. One was grey (see above), one was blue, and they wrapped around the front and tied in the back in a little bow. They were really cute, and flattering because gave you a pretty little empire waist. But they were extremely difficult to wear. Try holding a newborn and trying to tie your shirt flaps behind your back without exposing your goodies. It’s not fun.
  • Don’t buy fancy nursing tops. Another impulse buy of mine was a black shirt with a droopy sort-of fancy neckline. It was way too fancy for outings to Wal-Mart, the grocery store, the Mommy-Baby movie, or someone’s house, and where the hell ELSE do you bring a newborn? If I’m going somewhere fancy, I’m obviously leaving him at home. Fail.
  • Keep an eye out for dresses. Pre-baby, I lovvvvved wearing dresses. Post-baby, I couldn’t believe how much I missed them. It’s really hard to find a nursing dress — or even a nursing-friendly “regular” dress — so if you see one you like, snatch it up. I felt very masculine after months of going out in black knee-length shorts (all that fit) and shirts, then Little Sis bought me a nursing dress. I was overwhelmed by how happy I was to be back in a dress, and feel like a girl again. Next time around, I’m scouring the stores to find more of these. 
  • Nursing tanks are great. I have a black one and a white one, and they really helped me stretch my wardrobe when I was venturing into wearing “real” shirts again. I could wear a nursing tank top with a regular button-up shirt over it (either open or buttoned).
  • Stretchy-necked tops are even better. You know those tops that have elastic running all through the neckline, so if you yank on them, they pull way out? They are by far the best tops for breastfeeding, and I still wear a few for their convenience. The best part? You can buy usually find them in maternity stores and regular stores, huzzah! 

Related breastfeeding posts: 

Yes, the boobs really are THAT GOOD!
Yes, it really makes you THINNER! 
When your doctor is a formula-pusher … 
When you’re breastfeeding and having surgery 
When you’re thinking of introducing cows’ milk 
When your baby won’t take a bottle (guest post) 
When should I stop breastfeeding? 
Breastfeeding the second time around

When you’re weaning to formula

7 Comments on “Nursing clothes: the good, the bad, and useless

  1. Great post! I personally think most 24/7 nursing wear is a waste of money. Nursing bras, on the other hand, are an absolute must. I didn't invest in maternity bras, I just bought nursing bras in slightly bigger sizes to wear while I was pregnant and it worked perfectly. I also loved my comfy nighttime nursing bra for those late-night feedings.

    The only tops I find very useful are nursing tank tops. I wear them under stretchy regular shirts, enabling me to pull up my regular shirt and just fold down one strap of the tank when nursing. It helped to keep me covered when out or hosting company.

    You're right that dresses are tricky, but when we attended a wedding when Baby J was only 1 month old, I bought a button-down dress and wore a nursing tank underneath so I could be modest while feeding.

    Of course, everyone needs to find what works best for them. My advice would be to wait until the baby has arrived until you spend a bunch of money on things you may not need.


  2. Maternity wear has improved quite dramatically over the years. A woman with a pregnant belly can quite easily find stylish clothes as compared to a decade ago. Whether one chooses clothes that are labeled 'maternity', or opts to wear non-maternity clothes that can accommodate a growing belly, there are few excuses for lack of good-looking choices.


  3. Great post! I totally agree with you on investing in nursing bras, and less in nursing clothes. I only had a few pieces of nursing tops and dresses and was always in the same clothes. I later found ways to pick out the nursing friendly tops n dresses from my regular wardrobe, including tube tops and dresses, button tops, cowl necks, stretchy v necks, etc.
    There's a post here on the different ways to turn regular normal clothes into nursing wear. We can save lots of money this way!


  4. For me, nursing bras and tank tops were the #1 items. I did splurge at first on a couple of nursing bras but I found that my absolute favorite were less than $10 each on Amazon. And actually I think I got a 3 pack for $19.99. I love them. They’re the only bras I’ve worn for the last 4 months (since baby girl was born) and actually wore them for almost a year and a half after my son was born. Plus they keep your boobs feeling supported and looking great in whatever shirt you choose for the day.


    • Great deal! When you find one that you love, it’s great to have more than one.


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