Taking Your Baby’s Food Source to Work: What to Wear Edition

Way back in the dark ages in 2014, when I sent my publisher the manuscript for my survival guide to breastfeeding and working, the chapter on what to wear for pumping at work read something like this:

  1. If you have a short maternity leave (like most American women), be prepared to have enormous breasts and to look about 5 months pregnant when you go back to work. Plan accordingly.
  2. Don’t wear a regular dress that you’ll have to pull up around your neck to get access to your breasts in order to pump. No matter how private your lactation space is at work, I can promise you that you don’t want to be sitting on an office chair in your underwear.
  3. Do not wear low-cut tops and V-necks. Something that is “work appropriate” in the morning might quickly become risqué as a meeting or shift runs long and your breasts grow before your co-workers’ eyes.
  4. Invest in a good hands-free pumping bra like the Simple Wishes Supermom, the Snugabell PumpEase, the Dairy Fairy bra, or the Pump Strap.
  5. If you’re on a budget, you can make a lot of “regular” clothes work with pumping at work. Try cowl-neck tops, button-down shirts and dresses, and layered camisoles under other tops (the latter enables you to pull the top shirt up and the camisole down).
  6. Invest in a big shawl or wrap – you can use it in the workplace and on business trips to cover up when you’re not pumping in total privacy.

Points 1 through 6 still hold totally true, but it’s point 7 that has changed over time:

Pumping and nursing clothes are expensive and, by and large, not that attractive.

Yes, there are still some nursing and pumping clothes that are just plain odd-looking (for example, many have an extra shelf of fabric across the breasts that make them look decidedly not like a normal top). But the world moves pretty fast, and today there are many more stylish – and even affordable – options for pumping- and nursing-specific clothing than there were back in 2014. Let’s look at a few of them:

  • Udderly Hot Mama makes basics that can be used long after you’ve moved on from breastfeeding. Check out this sleeveless top that would look great with a blazer and skirt or trousers.
  • Ripe Maternity makes a basic black dress that can be very versatile for work.
  • Nourish Collection launches in spring 2016, and their collection looks very promising.
  • Loyal Hana, while a bit more expensive, makes some super discreet, beautiful pieces for maternity and back-to-work.
  • Even discount retailers have gotten in the game – just check out H&M’s collection.

In the end, you’re going to figure out what works best for you, in your profession, on your budget. Keep in mind that your breasts and body will change over time: most women have a pretty prominent tummy for weeks or months after giving birth, and once your milk comes in, your breasts are likely to get significantly bigger.

Experiment with what’s in your closet while you’re still at home, so you get a sense of what it will be like to try to pump in those clothes. Talk to new, working mothers with kids a bit older than your baby; they may have work- and pumping-appropriate clothes that they can loan or sell to you. And cut yourself a break – you might end up making some compromises in your normally fashionable look, but remember that this is for a finite period of time, and for a very good cause.

Jessica Shortall is the author of Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work (Abrams, 2015). She is also a vocal advocate for paid parental leave. You can find her on facebook, twitter, and Instagram.