I was determined to breastfeed my baby from way before I seriously thought about being a mother. I just knew it was the right thing to do and that it was high on my list of ‘parenting priorities’. But, even with all the articles I read about the benefits (to mother and baby), the video tutorials I watched about how to get the proper latch, and the fitting session and consultation I had for buying my nursing bras, I never quite got the message that I would be needing new clothes…
I spent the first few months of my maternity leave either topless or with the top of my housedress unbuttoned. It felt like I was feeding my baby every fifteen minutes – twenty-four hours a day! Then, of course, there were the frequent leaks and spit ups that no amount of breast pads nor burp cloths could prevent. I soon found out, that although I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight by the time Mwalimu was 12 weeks old, I couldn’t jump back into all my old clothes. All my baby-tees and tight shirts had to go! My tomboyish bosom had been replaced by a redesign and fully expanded, all-you-can-drink milk bar. Some of those tops were among my favorites. But, what’s the point of holding on to them if they remain stuck under my armpits – unable to fit over the new rack?
The most important thing that I learned in this journey, has been to be practical. There is no need to go out shopping for specially-designed breastfeeding outfits. Many people already have a lot of nursing-friendly clothing in regular rotation. However, the one item that I would encourage you to invest in, is a set of nursing bras. Your regular bras may be too firm and restricting for the swollen mammary glands you’ll be milking. Plus, the frequent twisting, pulling and tugging so your little one can gain access to your jugs will eventually stretch out and distort the shape of your brassieres. I found it much more convenient and comfortable to have a special opening that unlatches to expose my nipple and areola for my baby to feed.
I also started wearing a large, glittery bracelet all day (and night), every day – just so I could remember which side I fed her on last. No pain have I endured in all my existence that can compare to having a milk blister that is being popped by my baby’s suction. I quiver at the memory. The milk blister is milk that gets trapped under skin on your nipple because a milk duct gets full and hasn’t been emptied in sufficient timing. The only resolution is to nurse your baby and allow the milk to be forced out – popping the blister. This would always happen to me whenever I drowsily nursed through the night on only one breast, leaving the other breast full. Once I started wearing that bangle, I could switch it from wrist to wrist so I’d remember which breast needed emptying.
Once I had visitors or needed to get out of the house, I had to find clothing suitable for breastfeeding in public. Now, many persons are lovers of a cute dress – not me! I’ve always loved to a have on a separate top and bottom, especially if the bottom was a pair of pants. Yet, I did enjoy wearing some of the dresses, that I had acquired as maternity wear, while breastfeeding. Whatever the preference, your baby will need to gain access to your bosom. So, the outfit needs to be designed so that you can either lift your top up or pull your collar/neckline down or to the side. Some of the dresses that I was able to pull this off with were strapless sundresses, shirtdresses, and wrap dresses. But my favorite styles were the tube-top dresses and the halter-top dresses. If I ever add new dresses to my wardrobe – even after I stop breastfeeding – I’d probably still go for these styles.
When my sister took me shopping for new baby-friendly tops, we knew the main rules for anything we were going to look at. Forget ‘cute’, ‘sexy’ and ‘figure-hugging’ – those became fringe benefits and after-thoughts. The tops had to have one of te following features: loose (enough to lift up to access the breast), stretchy neckline (to pull down below the boobies) or have a chest opening (to be unbuttoned or unzipped or pulled to the side). I found a whole new reason to be in love with peasant blouses and caftans, as I preferred to snuggle my princess beneath my blouse when feeding in public. But, I also learned how to work outfits that are cute, sexy and figure-hugging by layering. I would start with a sleeveless, fitted undershirt like a tank top or camisole or a foundation garment like a bellyband or girdle. This piece would ensure excess skin wouldn’t be exposed when I lifted my top to feed my baby. But, whenever I wore a top that had to be pulled down or to the side, I would use scarfs, shawls, burp cloths, receiving blankets or a light cardigan or jacket to cover up.
13 months after my first attempt at breastfeeding, I’m still at it and my wardrobe has changed quite a bit and I don’t regret any of it. Yet, as my princess matures, I’m looking forward to getting back into some fitted t-shirts and push-up bras. I long for the days when I can get dressed without having to think about nursing-functionality. But, until then, the nursing-friendly wardrobe is kept fresh and the milk bar remains open.
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.