Generally, finding a nice-looking dress to wear while discreetly breastfeeding your baby involves spending a lot of money. However, if you have a sewing machine and basic sewing skills, you can make your own nursing dresses for much, much less. You should probably find a few thrift-store gems to practice on first, before you take needle and scissors to your favorite “going out” dress, though. The best kind of dress for this endeavor is something with a double-layered top, such as a faux-vest (which covers the front bodice and ties in the back) dress, or a faux skirt suit, which looks like a skirt and top but has a second layer underneath the top to which the skirt is also attached. You can also apply this technique to tops like mock sweater sets. Ultimately, you just need something with an under layer which you can cut openings into, and an over layer which will hide those openings but allow access when you need to feed your baby.
The size of the dress you are converting should be slightly bigger than your regular size, because if the bodice is snug fitting, the nursing openings will gap and pull, and may cause embarrassing modesty issues if you aren’t careful. Also, if the bodice isn’t hanging loosely, and the material is a thin fabric, those nursing openings may show through the over layer. So try on the dress before you start the project, taking into account that your chest may be quite a bit larger than normal when you are nursing a baby. Once again, be sure to practice on a thrift store dress before moving on to finer clothing.
To begin, while wearing the dress, mark two straight lines (perpendicular to the waistline) at the places you want the nursing openings to be. You will want to make the openings large enough that you can maneuver the baby to your breast and not have a lot of fabric getting in the way-a two or three inch opening will not be enough. Make sure, before you start sewing and cutting, that the over layer completely covers these markings, with room to spare. This is particularly important for vest-dresses, whose over layer provides a limited amount of coverage. Once your lines have been marked, the next step is sewing. It is very important that you sew around the edges of the opening before you cut the opening, or you will end up with stretched and malformed fabric, and your openings will not be neat.
If possible, use the buttonhole-stitch function on your sewing machine. If you do not have that, a very small zigzag stitch will do. Experiment on scrap fabric first to make sure your stitches will be small, neat, and very close together. Starting at the top of your marking, and using the straight line as your guide, sew a buttonhole or zigzag stitch from top to bottom. Sew a few wide stitches at the bottom, and then sew back up on the other side of the marking. Your two straight lines of stitching should be very close together, but be sure to leave a small space in between the two lines so that you can actually get the nursing opening open! Back at the top of your opening, make a few wide stitches again, and then cut your threads. Repeat on the other side, again using the straight line that you marked as your guide. Because you are dealing with several layers, make sure that you are only sewing on the one layer that you will be cutting, because unpicking buttonhole stitches is very, very time-consuming and frustrating.
When you have finished the stitching, and removed the dress from the machine, cut all loose threads, and get out your sharpest scissors. Very carefully, cut in between the two lines of stitching to create the opening. Make sure that there are no gaps in the stitching, and that you do not accidentally cut any stitches, or you will find stitches and fabric unraveling after the first wash. If you choose to convert a dress with more delicate fabric, you will need to be very careful with your sewing and cutting, because those types of fabric will stretch and unravel much more easily than denim or even light cotton.
Congratulations, you have just created your very own, very inexpensive nursing dress!