Labor Fashion: What Not to Wear

If your exposure to birth has been limited to tv shows and movies, then you’re probably under the impression that a birthing woman always wears a hospital gown: the giant tarp of starchy fabric that comes in a variety of drab colors and strange patterns that look good on no one. And don’t forget the matching robe that literally covers your ass while you walk around and around and around the L&D floor of your hospital. While you might think that wearing these gorgeous items is mandatory if you deliver in a hospital, IT IS NOT.

You can labor and give birth in whatever you want to wear.

Ok, doula lady, so what should I wear?

Wear what makes you comfortable. Have you been living in your partner’s sweats? Wear those. Do you love the smell and feel of one of his t-shirts? For sure wear that. If you’re going into a sterile hospital environment, you’ll want to retain the comforting elements that will allow you to relax and feel at ease. The textures of familiar fabrics and smells will keep your stress level low and help relax your body which is, of course, key to labor progressing.

Many of my clients buy a special nursing nightgown and robe that they set aside just for labor and delivery. Most are able to find comfortable, cute pieces that don’t cost a lot. Pro tip: wash your nightgown beforehand so it smells like your preferred detergent and the rest of your house.

What can I wear in the hospital tub or shower?

I had a client bring a bikini to the hospital because she knew she wanted to labor in the tub but didn’t want to be naked. It’s a level of vulnerability that some women aren’t comfortable with right away. Sure, bring a swimsuit. But again, a big old comfy t-shirt can get wet too. I’ve also had clients bring nursing tanks and workout tops if they planned to be in the water. Most end up naked.

What if my nurse tells me to change?

You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I’ve heard nurses tell my clients that they’ll want to put on the gown and robe because their clothes will “get messy” during birth. Well, of course they will. Your bag of waters, blood, urine, poop... it’s all got to go somewhere. There’s a good chance what you’re wearing might get a tad soiled. And if that’s a big deal to you, by all means, put on the gown.

Am I really going to end up naked?

Probably. Labor hormones make you hot, cold, then hot again, then cold again. If you’re a particularly private person and don’t think you’ll be comfortable with being exposed, there are ways to remain modest. Think about bringing layers to the hospital as well as your own blankets. Also, if the idea of being naked makes you nervous, remember that nurses, doulas, midwives, and OBs see naked women in labor all the time. It’s a beautiful process. The last thing on our minds is judgment of your body or what it’s doing to get your baby out.

A note on underwear: if you feel the need to wear it during labor, go ahead. There’s no rule that says you can’t have it on until your baby is born.

What if I have a C-section?

If you end up with a C-section, planned or unplanned, you’re likely wearing the gown. Remember to take your bra off before the IV goes in... or your nurses will have to do magic tricks weaving straps around saline bags like mine did during my first (ahem, and second) deliveries. Don’t judge. I forgot.

What should I wear after I have my baby?

It’s up to you! (Are you sensing a theme?) I highly suggest wearing, washing, and taking with you the super stretchy shorts-type underwear most hospitals provide. These are especially lovely if you have a c-section and you need something that comes up and over the incision site. Underwear that has room for big pads are a must.

The nursing bras and tanks you thoughtfully purchased in your third trimester are great, but be prepared to potentially need an even bigger size than you anticipated. Maternity clothes will likely still be the most comfortable things you own for at least the first few months after your baby is born. And if you’re still wearing them at your baby’s first birthday? You’re comfortable and celebrating the day you became a mom. What could be better?