Comfort and Convenience: What to Wear During Labor

Medically reviewed by Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB on January 8, 2016Written by Jessica Timmons on January 8, 2016
pregnant woman in hospital clothes

If you’re like many mothers-to-be, you already have your hospital bag packed and ready to go. You packed several going home outfits for baby, and probably a few options for yourself, too. You have nursing bras, toiletries, and a sweet little knit hat.

But have you thought about what you’ll wear during labor?

In the grand scheme of things, what you wear during labor and delivery isn’t that important. While any hospital or birth center will provide a gown for you to wear, you might enjoy taking that decision into your own hands.

These ideas and tips will help you find something that’s comfortable and convenient.

Hospital-issued gowns

While they aren’t the most flattering articles of clothing, hospital gowns are functional. Snaps make them easy to get on and off without the need to pull them over your head. They’re designed to be loose for easy access. Plus, you’ll be able to change into a fresh gown whenever you need to.

Buy your own gown

If you prefer not to wear the hospital gown, you can buy your own. Unique hospital gowns and wraps have become quite the cottage industry, especially on merchant sites like Etsy.

Many merchants are selling gowns in response to the demand from women who want to wear something special on delivery day. The odds are high these days that a photo or two will end up on social media for friends and family to see. Other moms-to-be just want something comfortable and functional without foregoing style.

There are gowns with halter ties to make skin-to-skin contact and breast-feeding your newborn fast and simple. Others have open backs for easy access if you’re getting an epidural.

Birthing wraps

Birthing wraps are wrap dresses that let you cover up completely. But they still allow for complete freedom of movement and easy access. There are lots of designs, colors, patterns, and even fabric choices. Shop around for something that you’ll look forward to wearing.

The potential downside to wearing your own gown or birthing wrap is the price tag. You’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth spending roughly $40 to $100 for something you may only wear one time.

Your own clothing

For some women, wearing a comfortable old T-shirt or nightgown provides a sense of familiarity. This can be reassuring during labor and delivery. But be warned, childbirth can be messy. One advantage to wearing hospital-issued gowns is that you won’t care if they’re ruined during delivery.

If you do choose to wear your own clothing, opt for something loose on top. There will be a lot of action below the waist, so pajama bottoms or a pair of sleep shorts aren’t necessary.

You could choose to pair a sports bra or nursing top with an oversized tee, for example. Or, just wear a nursing bra alone for the support. Just make sure your bras and clothing are free of metal. If you need to have a cesarean delivery, metal can cause burns because of the electrocautery instrument (the device used to cut and cauterize).

Keep these considerations in mind if you decide you really don’t want to wear anything issued by the hospital.

  • Keep it washable. All manner of bodily fluids could be flung about during labor and delivery. Don’t wear something that can’t be washed or thrown out completely.
  • Stay open. Easy access to your belly and genital area will be required frequently. Between IVs, epidurals, fetal heart-rate monitors, cervical checks, and more, it’s easier on everyone if you’re mostly undressed or wearing something that allows for quick access.
  • Allow for movement. You may end up walking the halls or moving about during labor. Keep in mind that something that allows for movement and provides some coverage could be important.
  • Show some skin. Skin-to-skin contact with your newborn is essential after delivery. If you’re breast-feeding, you won’t want to struggle with your clothing.

If you’re having a scheduled (or unscheduled) cesarean delivery, you’ll have to follow your hospital’s regulations for what to wear.

In the buff

If you’re planning to have a water birth, a bathing suit top may be the best option. If you won’t be taking a dip and don’t plan on moving around much during labor, you might choose to simply wear a nursing bra. You can use a thin sheet or blanket for modesty and comfort.

The takeaway

Keep in mind, what you wear during delivery may seem important now, but it will be very low on your priority list once labor really begins. At that point, function and comfort will trump all. Most importantly, you’ll want to be in something that doesn’t get in your way and doesn’t make you too hot.

Getting ready for delivery day? Find out what else you need to pack here.

Jessica
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