My first night back home from the hospital, just three days after the exhilaration and joy of giving birth, I woke up in the middle of the night enveloped in soaked sheets. Why didn't anyone tell me my breasts would leak like a large sieve? How did I not know I'd need to sleep in a supportive bra lined with nursing pads two sizes larger than my regular pregnancy bras? Why had I been so consummately focused on my maternity clothes throughout my pregnancy and not my postpartum needs? I realized I did all my reading and research on being pregnant but was unprepared when it came to what I'd need afterward to care for myself and stay comfortable.
The reality is, of course, that you don't need a lot. I essentially lived in three items throughout my maternity leave: loose sweatpants, a nursing bra, and an oversize V-neck T-shirt. (Let's be honest; even the T-shirt didn't stay on for long due to countless feedings and spit-ups!) It is, however, essential to have the right postpartum pieces on hand so that your precious time healing, bonding, and recovering is as comfortable and practical as possible.
Throughout my 14 weeks of blissful, emotional, tender, exhausting, and joyous maternity leave, (and yes, there are plenty more adjectives to describe this extraordinary, life-changing time), I tried and tested a ton of items to decipher which clothes were really essential for me and my new postpartum body—a body that was still going through quantum shifts. Below, I'm sharing the must-have pieces I absolutely could not live without.
For the first few weeks after giving birth, I essentially lived in stretchy night dresses 24/7. I was still in pain after my delivery from the stitches, swelling, and bruising. The last thing I wanted to do was put on pants. A soft nightie with a low V-neck and spaghetti straps is easy and accessible to facilitate nursing (if you have chosen to breastfeed).
Right alongside my nightie, a plush, cozy robe was a must. It was particularly useful when I had to open the door to the mailman or unexpected visitors.
3. Nursing Bra
Remember those bras you bought when you were pregnant? They're probably going to be too small for you for a while. As your breast milk kicks in and blood flow increases, your breasts can get pretty large, hard, and sore. This engorgement should go down after you settle into breastfeeding or pumping. Having said that, you will absolutely need a snug, supportive, and soft bra. A nursing bra is a great choice, and I particularly like the sports-bra styles like these below that are incredibly comfortable and easy for breastfeeding. I used these during the day and at night while (kind of) sleeping.
4. Postpartum Underwear
One piece of advice: Take as many pairs of those disposable mesh panties they give you in the hospital after delivery. Yes, even celebrities swear by these. Here is the lovely Chrissy Teigen wearing them after giving birth. I had no idea how much bodily fluid I would be dealing with after labor. For up to six weeks after delivery, there is a lot of blood, mucus, and discharge, so you'll need large, comfortable, and supportive underwear that will hold in those enormous maternity pads. I actually wore my husband's Calvin Klein boxer briefs to bed for a while once I ran out of the hospital mesh panties, but I soon discovered the postpartum underwear below are a much better, more seamless, and more breathable option—good for whether you've had a C-section or vaginal birth.
When I wasn't wearing leggings, I absolutely loved cozying up in roomy sweatpants, especially for that first month after giving birth when I couldn't face tight leggings quite yet. I'm obsessed with these Monrow ones that look casual yet cool. They're perfect for when you have visitors or for strolling around.
6. Nursing Tops & Loose T-Shirts
These are staples in a postpartum closet. I wore loose-fitting, comfortable cotton V-neck or U-neck T-shirts daily while on maternity leave. Nursing tops are also very convenient and practical when you're out running errands and you need to nurse. There are plenty of simple, affordable options from H&M, Amazon, and ASOS.
Stretch is the name of the game when you're considering maternity-leave clothes, and you'll most likely want to have a handful of flexible leggings on hand since you'll be moving up and down a lot. I was particularly fond of leggings with a low, elastic waist as a more comfortable option to cater to my postpartum frame.
8. Easy-Access Sweater
I was on maternity leave throughout fall and winter, so an oversize cozy sweater—easy for breastfeeding—was a must. Wrap sweaters are also a chic option.
9. Lightweight Pajama Bottoms
10. Draped Cardigan
A relaxed-fitting cardigan is a sartorial savior when you want to create the illusion of a slimmed-down frame. It's also the perfect piece to slip over your nursing tanks, tees, and nighties when you're cold.