What to Wear to Work After Maternity Leave

What to Wear to Work After Maternity Leave | Tips for Working MothersWhat should you wear to work after maternity leave? We got an email a while ago from a reader who posed this interesting question. What is the “safest” choice to make so you look like a rational person who is not a sleep-deprived emotional wreck? Which clothes are best if you’re pumping at work? What will fit? These are my tips (and reasons) for what to wear to work after maternity leave, but I’m interested to hear what readers say also. (Psst: you may also want to check out the readers’ and my general tips for returning to work after maternity leave!)

  1. Go for prints, especially for blouses. They’ll hide a multitude of sins, from leaks and spills that happen at work (whether from the joy that is pumping or from just being sleep deprived and getting salad dressing on your blouse) to the snot that babies always seem to wipe on your shoulder.
  2. Raise the neckline higher than you think you need. I don’t know about you, but after my first son I was completely desensitized and disconnected from my former standards of propriety surrounding my breasts. I remember joking that unless I was showing nipple I was cool with it (and even then, if the baby needed it, hey). So for the first few days at least, wear a nursing camisole (I looooved this nursing cami because it goes with everything).
  3. Get as good a bra as you can. If you’re not nursing, go buy a new bra — you want the fit to be amazing. If you ARE still nursing, differentiate a “house bra” from a “work bra.” I liked this reader favorite underwire nursing bra a lot, even for pumping, but many readers just push their bra up or take it off entirely for pumping.
  4. If you’re pumping, know how your pumping system affects your clothes. Readers who used things like Freemies loved wrap dresses, whereas if you’re in a nursing bustier with a Pump in Style kind of pump like I was, a simple t-shirt or blouse works better because a wrap dress would require you to get totally naked in the office.
  5. Opt for washable clothes. As many moms will tell you, silk and other difficult-to-launder fabrics take the backseat while your kids are small. See our favorite brands for washable workwear, as well as some of our recent recommendations for washable clothes for work.
  6. Go for a loose fit. In the unlikely event that you have your pre-baby body back, congratulations! If you’re like the rest of us, don’t worry too much about size — wear what fits. Wearing something that is too tight or doesn’t fit properly looks frumpy or out of touch.
  7. Add structure where you can. Even loose blouses are improved with a blazer!
  8. Know which colors look best right now. If you’re exhausted and sleep-deprived, is beige going to wash you out? Is red going to bring life to your face? This can apply to accessories or clothes, like choosing a blouse with a red print in it or wearing a red pendant necklace, but it can also mean making sure you throw a good blush on before you leave the house. (That may become your new beauty minimum!)
  9. Add sophistication with your accessories. If you can, wear sleek pumps; I’m always in favor of a watch, and little details like earrings and other jewelry can pull a look together. (You may even want to keep an inexpensive pair of earrings and/or a necklace at the office in case in the mad dash to get out the door you forget.)
  10. Finally, smooth your hair where possible. I had a bunch of ideas for how to deal with the postpartum wispies (whether from new hair growth or breakage); you may also want to check out our post on easy office updos. (The inverted bun is stupid easy!)

If you’re going back to work but it’s been a significant amount of time — such as three years or three decades later! — I’d go back to basics. Buy a new navy, black, or gray suit and wear it on your first day — even if you think something you used to wear is a classic there are little design trends that can make you look dated, whether it’s a puff shoulder or a shawl lapel. If a suit isn’t appropriate for your workplace, go for a sheath dress with sleek heels — the dresses and other clothes in our Workwear Hall of Fame category might be particularly safe bets.

Some deeper thoughts on the little work outfit I created at the top of the post… (you can click to enlarge it; also feel free to pin and share!)

what to wear to work after maternity leave -- and why

Ladies, what are your thoughts on the best things to wear to work after maternity leave? Which work outfits worked the best after maternity leave (or the worst) in your opinion? What nuggets of wisdom did you discover through trial and error, and what did friends and colleagues advise you?


  1. blueberries says:

    I like machine-washable faux wrap dresses (which tend to have a higher neckline) for pumping with Freemies. Karen Kane has some that are ok and Boden has one now that’s wool and nice.

  2. Anon in NYC says:

    Caveat that I’m in a fairly business casual office, but I got by with Lands End ponte dresses and cardigans/blazers. Yes, there is a frump factor (although not an issue in my office!), but when I returned to work at 4 months pp, I hadn’t lost enough weight and my ribs / chest were still too large to fit into my old clothes. They’re machine washable and I picked them up on sale, so I didn’t pay a lot for them. To pump, I just pulled my dress halfway down.

    • Anonymama says:

      Ditto. I was in a business casual office, and actually felt pretty put together (well, sartorially, if not mentally) with a ponte faux wrap dress and a blazer. and I had no problem just kind of pulling the top down a little, and sliding my bra straps off my shoulders, to stick the pump attachments on.

      Also a good sized, light, patterned cotton scarf was super handy to have as a coverupwhile pumping or nursing, to hide stains or drips, and give the illusion of having a real put-together accessorized outfit.

  3. POSITA says:

    I though dresses were by far the most forgiving when I was going back to work. My weight changed constantly, which made pants really really hard. I had a private pumping space so I just unzipped to my waist and wrapped up in a large cashmere wrap to pump. Dresses made getting dressed again after pumping really simple.

    Does anyone else have suggestions for a good nursing bra on Amazon? I’d like light padding for coverage in a 32/34D in a sensible shape (i.e., no torpedo boobs).

    • lucy stone says:

      I like the Freya underwire nursing bra which is on Amazon and Nordstrom. It’s not as great as my normal shape but looks pretty good.

    • Katarina says:

      I liked the Anita underwire nursing bra.

  4. Not Legal Counsel says:

    I am looking for suggestions for a good nursery glider. My MIL offered to buy nursery furniture, but the glider is the only piece that we really need. A designer friend suggested an Ethan Allen glider, because she said they have the best mechanics and will last long enough to be recovered in years to come, but $1300 seems like a lot to ask my MIL to pay for one piece. Thoughts? I lean towards a transitional to modern style.

    • Anonymous says:

      We bought a La-Z-Boy recliner that looks surprisingly stylish, and it was worth every penny. We spent quite a few nights in it when our son was first born so the recline and footrest functions were key. Also nice to be able to just push a button to recline, so we didn’t jostle the baby (and wake him). We bought it in a neutral fabric that we can use in a living room or non-nursery setting once we’re done with it in babyland.

      • Anon in NOVA says:

        ^YES. If i had it to do over again, this is the route I would go. I got a glider instead of a recliner and it’s not super comfortable to be sitting straight up at night. A rocking recliner would be amazing.

      • PhilanthropyGirl says:

        I also have a recliner instead of a glider – I would do it again in a heartbeat. I never found gliders particularly accommodating for my PP hips. The option of sleeping in the recliner was one I hadn’t thought of at time of purchase, but very grateful for in retrospect.

    • Sonny says:

      I like my Dutalier glider. It is the wooden kind with cushions. Not the most fashionable, but excellent for nursing.

      I bought mine used on Craigslist for $150. I’m not sure what they cost new.

    • CapHillAnon says:

      If you’re looking for a relatively well-made one that looks high-end but won’t be with you forever, we love the “manhattan” Little Castle glider we got for baby #3. Ordered it through baby’s r us using a 20% coupon from Bed Bath+ Beyond, which brought the price way down. We had specific needs: tall back (bc we are tall parents); smallish footprint (small house); clean lines (hate squishy, overstuffed look); and neithdr marshmallowy-soft nor squeaky-stiff when a person sits in it.

      • CapHillAnon says:

        To add: this is as personal as anything else having to do with baby gear. One person’s “perfect” is another one’s “worst.” I couldn’t stand the look of the partially-wooden ones, and hated my friend’s beloved squishy monster of a glider–but these kinds are super popular. Sit on a few and shop around. Our current glider is styled well enough that we are going to use it in the living room after baby is grown more (we will add legs to make it a stationary chair). Personally, I found a comfortable
        glider to be The Most Important Piece of Baby Gear for all 3 of my babies, but never even once used a changing table, for example.

        • CapHillAnon says:

          Actually, we also got our Little Castle one at Buy Buy Baby, not BRU (faulty memory sponsored by 7 months’ lack of sleep). Good luck!

    • I have one from Buy Buy Baby that is supersoft and we got to pick the fabric. I do like the recliner idea though and I kind of wished we’d done that. LO seems to go through phases of wanting to lay with us so a recliner would be nice.

    • Momata says:

      Costco Rory. It’s not the most stylish, but it’s big enough for a tall parent, wide enough to really snuggle in with one or more kids, has soft completely covered arms (so no accidental baby head bonking), and rocks and reclines almost completely flat, and the microfiber cleans up wonderfully.

    • In House Lobbyist says:

      My husband’s family owned a furniture store and they suggested (and do for all moms) a small/shorter recliner and then added hardware for $50 or so to make it rock and swivel all the way around. I got it in a neutral microfiber that is easy to clean and it is 7 years old and looks great still. I loved a recliner for nights and for those days when baby wants to be held all day long.

    • rosie says:

      Anyone have one from Room & Board? I liked the Wren–comfy, nice and high w/sides for resting your head–but am hesitant about the price and the footprint (seems like a recliner with a foot rest that is retracted is more space-efficient).

      • shortperson says:

        monte design. i thought i would have to choose between a hideous glider and a comfy one until i found them. they are cute, not huge, supercomfy, no flame retardants, made in canada. you can get them at land of nod and giggle. but will cost $1300 by the time you get an ottoman. if you or your gift giver have the means it’s money well spent.

    • Anonymous says:

      We got the Best Chairs Kersey Glider from babies r us. It also reclines (smoothly! Quietly!) and isn’t hard to get out of. I love it because it has a higher back and is larger than a lot of other gliders. It’s listed at $500 but we waited for it to go on sale (which it did every 1-2 months) and had it delivered to the store to skip on the shipping charge (which is $100 otherwise). It comes in 2 pieces and was put together in about 2 minutes (no tools required). You’ll just need to pick up a nursing stool with it if you don’t want to pay for an upholstered ottoman — which I think are usually overpriced. We can absolutely use it in a living space as a regular glider/recliner in the future.

  5. lucy stone says:

    I like dresses I can hike up. I hate unzipping at work but don’t mine hiking up. My normal work outfit is a dress and blazer, but I’ve been wearing more skirts and sweaters to make pumping easier. I also keep a drapey cardigan in my office now to stay warmer when I pump if I am wearing something that involves getting half naked.

  6. EBMom says:

    The anger, oh the anger. Cannot believe I am reading this from a political nominee. Apparently, ladies, taking care of a newborn is not work: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2017/01/25/trump_s_budget_pick_didn_t_pay_taxes_on_his_nanny_because_he_didn_t_think.html

    Proud to pay my nanny on the books. And give her paid vacation, holiday and sick days. And contribute what we can to health insurance costs, which is nowhere near what I wish it was. And follow CA overtime rules to compensate her fairly for long days, even though in my state we don’t have to pay her overtime until she hits 40 hours. I was literally sick reading this article.

    • Anonymous says:

      If that quote is legit (and I have no reason other than the “alternative facts” world we apparently live in to believe that it isn’t) that is despicable. Also paid my nanny on the books because as a low level gvt employee with a security clearance, I felt obligated to in order to protect my employment. I mean, aside from it being the law and everything.

  7. Sonny says:

    I bought three pairs of Charter Club stretchy straight leg pants from Macy’s. They have been excellent. I’ve lost 15lbs since I bought them, and they still fit well. I will wear them forever.

    On top I wear: nursing bras, undercover mama tank, prebaby sweater or top, scarf, blazer. I look very put together, the blazer and scarf mask my post baby boobs and gut pretty well.

  8. On any of these threads, I immediately jump in an advocate for button downs! (Especially if, as Kat suggested, you can find them in a print.) Easy access for nursing or pumping, super professional, and generally cut in ways that are forgiving of weight fluctuations

  9. ElisaR says:

    I found dresses to be very difficult to wear during the months that I pumped. Pants with a stretchy waist (Nic& Zoe Wonder Stretch featured on this site http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/niczoe-the-wonder-stretch-straight-leg-pants-regular-petite/3845463?origin=category-personalizedsort&fashioncolor=NEW%20PHANTOM) were ideal for my changing size. I was lucky to find 2 pairs in my size, they are hard to come by. Button downs and flowy blouses from Loft or Pleione at Nordstrom seemed to work well on top. Nursing bras were tough for me as I was vastly different sizes my breasts – milk only came in on one side and I fed my son entirely from one breast for 6 months. I lived in the Bravado nursing bras during that time.

  10. EB0220 says:

    Postpartum I wore ponte dresses. I got a bunch of them at Talbot’s on sale. They seem thicker than the Lands End ponte to me and therefore camouflage the postpartum bumps better. I encourage dark-ish colors but not black. Black ends up looking so gross with kid snot, milk, drool, etc. Gray is the best because it hides all that stuff. I would wear bike shorts and a nursing cami under the dress. Before breakfast, I put on the cami and shorts. Then I’d throw the dress (plus a blazer if cold) on right before walking out the door. I’d unzip the dress and pull it down to my waist for nursing and pumping during the day. It worked really well. Now I wear pretty much the same thing, but slightly more fitted sheath dresses in wool. I still have runny noses to contend with but no more nursing/pumping.

  11. Susie says:

    I swore by Maggy London wrap dresses (from Nordstrom) when I returned to my business casual office from maternity leave last year. A few reasons:
    1. Maggy London dresses in particular were cut a little fuller in the skirt than many wrap dresses, more forgiving to a pp figure. Plus they came in petite.
    2. Washable!
    3. I pumped at work from 3-12 months postpartum (using a PISA) and found it easiest to open a wrap dress and unclip a nursing tank to pump. I zipped my pumping bra over my dress.
    4. Dresses required less outfit thought/coordination than pants or skirt + blouse. I struggled a lot with coordinating multi-piece outfits as pieces of my wardrobe phased in and out of fitting.
    5. Actual wrap dresses (rather than faux) were maximally flexible for me as I eventually lost weight. I am still wearing them now (my kiddo is 14m and now weaned) and still feel like they look good.
    6. They also worked well for social/family occasions; they were appropriate for my daughter’s baptism, my mom’s funeral (5 months pp), and other events.

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