This post was triggered by the lovely Nikki but there seem to be some many babies happening at the moment that I’m sure she wont be the only one in my network to ask the question if there is such a thing as a “breastfeeding” dress.
A LOT of years ago (as in the toddler in question is now 31) I was intrigued by some clothes an American friend had that were especially designed for breastfeeding mothers who took their baby to work with them. While I didn’t have much issue with breastfeeding in the typical jeans and t-shirt of the stay at home mother, I did miss dresses. And as I breastfed toddlers there were times when discretion was the better part of valour despite my firm belief that if you have a problem with a baby being breastfed in a public place – that’s your problem not mine.
So I designed a range of “breastfeeding dresses” which we presented at a fund raising fashion show. I discovered in the process that not only is it reasonably simple to adapt a lot of patterns, but that a well designed dress can actually be a lot more comfortable than juggling the bunching up or down of everyday clothes.
My sketching is out of practice but here is the simplest version for a dress with princess seams. For this to work choose a fabric with a certain degree of body and allow some positive ease when choosing your size so that there isn’t too much tension on the seam. My original had a pleat along the seam which helped but is not essential.
To make this work you need to extend the seam allowance out on the centre front and side front from above the bust line to about the waist (so you have enough ease). Add a good 4 cm on each side and overcast the edges. Stabalise the extended seam on the centre front with a very light weight iron on vilene (you don’t want it to be stiff) Turn it under along the seam line , press and do a narrow top stitch close to the edge to hold it in place. Overlay it to the side front and sew very light weight plastic snaps positioned so that they hold the seam together (closer over the bust line). The edge on the centre front should align to the seam line on the side front. Sew the rest of the dress as normal. It helps if the fabric is mid to dark coloured and has some degree of colour variation e.g a tiny print or embossing as this helps disguise the seam adaptation as well as the bane of the breastfeeding mother – leakage.
The additional seam allowance means that when you slide your hand down the seam to release the snaps it doesn’t instantly gape open and if you are already cradling a small baby most people wont even realise what you have done. Was great on long haul plane trips or public transport. Velcro and zips are not good alternatives!
The second option was inspired by this very gorgeous suggested dress and I haven’t actually tried this although I have tried variations. The dress is a classic ruched bodice dress in knit fabric with the top bodice to skirt seam stabalised and underlapped as in a similar way to the princess dress. I would probably add in a lining layer (unattached at the bottom) to help hold this together at the sides and possibly the centre. But it should still work. In theory you could do this with some judicious seam slitting on a purchased dress and seam extension. And it is possible an invisible zip might give a neater finish but would be less gentle against a baby’s skin (you can tuck the snap edge out of the way.)