When Natalie Halman started Can I Breastfeed in it UK? She didn’t really think it would take off the way it did. It seemed a little niche to be that popular, and certainly the selection of nursing wear out there confirms this point of view. But the attention of the Facebook group is gaining is gathering momentum, at the rate of over a thousand followers a month. There are also selling and off topic spin off groups to cope with the ever expanding traffic it generated. To put this into context another Facebook group for a mail order organic gardening company has about half as many members.
So what unites the followers? Well, we breastfeed and we wear clothes. Although I have to admit the lack of decent clothing, constant dirtying and therefore washing of what few clothes I have, means I am more than happy to spend my home alone days in my underwear. Once I forgot and the postman got the shock of his life when I answered the door. I did apologise, but he ran so fast down the hill I don’t think he heard me.
Like most parts of motherhood, deciding what clothes to wear when breastfeeding is really governed by the practicalities of how you get it done. There are four basic styles of getting your tits out, the over the top: the pull up; one up, one down; and the peek-a-boo. Some women have a favourite, some use all four, and it can change depending on the circumstances. There is no right or wrong here, just what suits each person, but each has their own advantages and disadvantages.
The over the top method involves wearing something with a loose or otherwise accessible neckline, such as buttons or zips, so you pull the hem down or to the side to allow access to the breasts. Simple and easy, it doesn’t require special clothing but it can expose more flesh than people are comfortable with. If mums want to, they can wear a nursing cover, or even a muslin draped across the chest can combat this. You can tuck a handkerchief under the bra strap, or even buy a clip to keep it in place. For me these are just more things to remember, and you’ve heard of baby brain, right? If someone other than a mum feels uncomfortable with the skin on display, they can close their eyes, turn their head, take a long walk off a short pier.
The pull up involves you wearing a not-too-fitted top and pulling it up to release the boobs. (That sounds great doesn’t it – I’m imaging a James Bond villain’s plot to take over the world and shouting it aloud to an orchestra playing in the background. You know I don’t get out much.) Again it’s simple and easy, but not advisable if you are wearing a dress. And having just said goodbye to cover-alls and tents, I wanted to be able to pretend I had a waist. Even without the changes that happen to your body with pregnancy, many women’s bellies don’t see the light of day. The child will cover much of it and it is possible to use the muslins tucked into the bottom of the bra to make you feel more comfortable. A few entrepreneurial mums created belly covers that can be worn under normal clothes.
The one up one down, combines the over the top and pull up by having two layers of clothing, typically a vest and a lose top, but the options are as creative as the women who wear them. This is a very popular option, but while this addresses some of the issues with both, it creates new problems. Firstly is requires twice as many clothes as before, twice as much to wash when your milk leaks, or baby returns the milk to you, either before or after fully digesting it (sometimes ducking is not an option). And it still isn’t a good idea to do this in a dress. Plus I must offer respect to all those mothers out there who actually have the time and patience to not only find two rather than one items of clothing that are clean, but get them to match. In some cases, clever combinations of colours, textures and lengths can do wonders to flatter your figure.
Then there is the final option – the peek-a-boo. This is usually a specifically designed piece of nursing wear, but some of us who can be trusted with scissors and needles will adapt high street clothes by adding button holes or flaps through which – yes you guessed it . This is my preferred option, but the limitations are that you have a much reduced amount of styles to choose from. I remember buying a red and white striped top for dual purpose maternity and nursing while pregnant. I wasn’t particularly enthralled with it, but parted with my hard earned cash simply because it was neither white, black nor navy. It was promptly christened my ‘Where’s Wally’ top by two separate people, and thrown in the back of my wardrobe. Luckily, there are some retailers (such as Milk & Mummy) out there with the intention to change this drab vision of nursing wear! Hurrah!
More and more these days the items can only be bought online and the issues of buying clothes without trying them on multiplies post partum. Few of us are standard sizes to begin with (and few shops seem to agree what these are anyway). Our followers range in size from 4’10’’ to 5’11’ and from a size 8 (on a bloated day) to a size 26 but add in the fact we may be losing our all over pregnancy weight, the stomach muscles might bounce back soon, and will our breasts please pick a size and stick with it? The ease of home delivery is often tempered by having to guess or order multiple sizes. Imagine one contributor’s disappointment after ordering six dresses only to find not one fitted and she had lost £24 in postage for unsuitable clothing.
You might be surprised to learn that it is my son is a big influence on what clothes I wear. Some babies like to hold on to something on the neck line so over the top is no use. Others will refuse a cover or any spare material around the neckline in any way shape or form. As with most other aspects of motherhood, even the decision over what you get to dress yourself in is vetoed by that adorable little tyrant. My red and white stripped top returned from exile to see if it was any use when nursing, but the peek a boo slit was far too small. My son doesn’t want a mouthful off breast, he wants a big face full. ‘Where’s Wally?’ ‘In the way of my boobie, now get lost.’
For me the most frustrating part of buying tops and dresses online is the way so few retailers actually show how you are expected to feed in the clothing. Is it really that hard to show a few extra photos showing which flap you move or strap you untie? I am lucky enough to live close to several big shopping centres went into one designer store to get a feel of the dresses I saw online. The feeling I got was short fat and ugly.
This is why Can I Breastfeed in it UK is so successful. Advertisers pay ‘real people’ to sell their products, but here are thousands of us doing the hard work for them. The photographs don’t use clever lighting or airbrushing. I can see it looks good on someone a similar size to me, so chances are it will look good on me as well. Plus, us mums are good problem solvers and canny buyers. We can look to see if something can be adapted or a find a voucher to stretch our buying power. We want to breastfeed, we want to look our best doing it, and the pennies we are saving on formula need to go somewhere.
Are you signed up to the Can I Breastfeed In It? UK Facebook group? If not, join here
Blog written by Gwen Atkinson