Here are a couple of things I realised after having a baby: incontinence and stretch marks are not a given; bouncing back to your pre-baby weight six months post-birth is not really a thing; and I’m no longer comfortable wearing short skirts, shorts, midriff-baring tops or tight dresses.
“For many women, clothing is a form of self-care, a way to nurture yourself,” says Dr Emma Symes. Credit:Caroline Zielinski
Low cut, cleavage-enhancing tops sit somewhere in the middle of the comfort matrix. On the one hand, breastfeeding has made me less self-conscious about my breasts (baby’s gotta eat, even if it’s in public), but having a baby has also confused my sense of style and identity: am I allowed to dress sexy and wear low cut necklines now that I have transformed into A Mother?
What about being fashionable? Is that allowed, or does spending $350 on a black, wrap denim jacket from Aussie label Aje just make me selfish?
“Women who have just had their first child or finished having a family come in all the time,” says Melbourne stylist Sally Mackinnon. “They feel a little bit lost, they have new priorities, their life has been turned upside down, their body shape has changed, their lifestyle is different – and all of this comes out in the way they dress.”
New mums are often nervous about taking up valuable time, and believe their issues are unique to them, Mackinnon says.
“A lot of first time clients think other mums have their shit together and feel embarrassed about their style crisis,” she says. “So the first thing we do is reassure them it is all very normal.”
Mackinnon says the next step is usually figuring out what the mum’s new lifestyle looks like.
This, in turn, informs what clothing she will suggest.
“A lot of first time clients think other mums have their shit together and feel embarrassed about their style crisis.”
“A key message I try to drive forward is to dress for who you are today,” Mackinnon stresses. “You may not be the same size you used to be, and that’s fine. Clothing is powerful, and how you feel in clothes is tied to your self-confidence.”
While looking at such a momentous period in a woman’s life through the prism of clothing may seem trite, clinical psychologist Dr Emma Symes – who’s worked with women going through pregnancy and the postpartum period for over a decade – says motherhood doesn’t automatically override things we cared about before having children, and this includes fashion.
“For many women, clothing is a form of self-care, a way to nurture yourself.”
The few months immediately after birth, especially after a first baby, are the hardest, as they deliver the greatest shock to a woman’s sense of self and her relationship with her body, she says.
I love clothes too much to consign myself to trackies all day, says the author (pictured).Credit:Caroline Zielinski
“It’s about accepting these changes, accepting that your body is different but not worse.”
Societal pressure for women to go back to what they used to be is extremely unhelpful and unrealistic, Symes adds. “Just turn off social media – it’s all fake,” she says. “Stop punishing yourself for having a baby.”
Mackinnon encourages mothers to not “wait” for their old body before purchasing outfits that make them feel good. Mackinnon says she is especially over the activewear trend.
“A lot of mums and women do it because they think they won’t be judged for it,” she says. “But what it does is delay the acceptance of your new body.”
As for me, I can’t say I’ve stuck to leggings: even as I struggle to accept my wider hips, more rounded belly and thighs, I love clothes too much to consign myself to trackies all day.
Instead, I’ve exchanged pants (optimistically) purchased pre-birth for bigger sizes; I’ve embraced the new-old flares and wide leg style (balances out the hips very well), and I’m back to wearing peplum and wrap tops, which are more flattering around the middle.
As Symes says, don’t torture yourself trying to get into smaller clothes: either put them away or sell them on.
“Everyone should feel good in their clothes and their body: your baby enjoys it, so why shouldn’t you?”
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