Chances are, you haven't worn most of the clothes in your closet for months. And you won't for a while, even after baby has arrived. You've accepted this fact; your body is miraculously and beautifully growing another human, after all.
For those interested in maintaining their style throughout pregnancy, there are downright gorgeous maternity clothes available at all price points today. Late into pregnancy, usually comfort wins out over fashion. You may wear the same maternity pants day after day because nothing else fits just right. There is no right or wrong in what to wear during pregnancy.
Yet, many mothers-to-be agonize over one fashion choice: what to wear during labor?
I hear this question posed often. I get it-- when I was preparing to give birth to my first born almost eleven years ago, I wondered the same thing. I wanted to wear something functional, (and not knowing what birth would look like, what constituted functional wasn't clear), I wanted the option to cover private areas I normally didn't show to the public, I wanted to be comfortable, and of course, I wanted to look nice.
Consider these factors when choosing your laboring outfit(s):
Stage/Phase of Labor
Let's get one fact out of the way up front: When you are pushing out your baby, you won't be wearing anything from the waist down, except maybe socks. So be prepared to be naked at showtime.
Below-the-waist (or total) nakedness may feel like the best choice before it's time to push, as well. If you choose to hop in the shower, labor on the toilet, or if your clothes get soiled from bloody show or some other fluid, pragmatism may win out; being naked may just be easier for you to do the work at hand. Often people lose any sense of modesty they thought they had before labor, and just decide to be naked.
Most people start off wearing clothes, however. In early labor, you can wear just about anything. It's wise to wear stretchy clothes that allow you to squat, lunge, get on hands and knees, and get into any position you may want. When things start getting more intense, you may want to get into the tub or shower; if going naked at this point doesn't appeal to you, a bathing suit or sports bra works well.
If you find yourself using the toilet often (a great way to labor and a good sign you are well-hydrated), or if your bloody show is increasing (another sign of labor progress), you may opt to wear a skirt or swimsuit cover-up, like this:
This gives you freedom of movement, unrestricted access from the waist down, but covers your chest and provides some warmth. (Plus, it looks really cool).
When pushing, baby's arrival is eminent. You already know that you will be naked from the waist down. If you are planning to breastfeed, easy access to the breasts is essential at this time. You may find yourself comfortable with your breasts fully exposed at this point, or maybe you prefer a sports bra or pretty bathing suit top or bra, like this:
Even if you aren't planning to breastfeed, easy access to your chest ensures that you and baby get much-needed skin-on-skin time, which sparks a fresh wave of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin kept your labor going with contractions, and now, this so-called "love hormone" will help you bond to your new baby, and facilitate breastmilk production. You can always place a blanket over baby, to help keep him warm and to give yourself more privacy.
Place of Birth
If you are giving birth at home, surrounded by people with whom you are comfortable, you may not worry too much about being naked, or what to wear.
If you are in a hospital, where the staff will be virtual strangers, keeping covered as much as possible might make you feel more comfortable. Hospital nursing gowns are free, and readily accessible. You can wear two (one in the back and one in front) to offer maximum coverage. If one gets wet or stained, there are plenty of other gowns available to replace it. They leave much to be desired aesthetically, but function may trump style when you are actually working through labor.
With some advanced planning, you can order custom maternity gowns, from retailers such as: https://www.gownies.com and www.annieandisabel.com; there are also many versions sold on Etsy. The downside to these is that you may pay a high price for an item of clothing you may wear just once.
Losing or Damaging Your Outfit
Depending on the nature of your birth, your outfit of choice may suffer some casualties. A number of bodily fluids may stain or damage the fabric, or require you to take it off for the rest of your labor. Certain medical interventions, like IV's, epidurals, internal fetal monitors, catheters, etc. may necessitate the nursing staff to cut off your clothing.
Whether or not you are willing to lose your outfit may influence if or when you wear it. If you haven't spent much money on it, its loss may not matter to you. Or you may decide to save that expensive silk robe for after the baby is born.
How You Want to Feel During Labor
Clothes do impact the way we feel, even in labor. The scent and feel of your favorite t-shirt, the breeze of a satin bell-sleeved robe brushing against your skin, the dependable support of a sturdy bra, the strength you get from a favorite color-- whatever is pleasing to you at any point in time in labor, is valid and valuable.
Your environment, your support team, your mood, and even what you wear (or don't wear) matters, because what serves you, serves your labor. What impacts you, impacts your birth experience. You matter, and so what matters to you, matters, too.
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.