Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How I Shop for Maternity Clothes

I found maternity clothes shopping overwhelming the first time around.

I didn't really know what to expect to happen to my body (other than I'd get bigger) and I didn't know where to shop.

AND the prices on those maternity items almost killed me.  I had been used to being REALLY thrifty so seeing $20--$40 price tags on stuff I had been getting for less than $10 was painful!
Actually it was worse than painful, it wasn't plausible, we couldn't afford the clothes I needed at those prices.  I needed to buy stuff on the cheap.

 I spent my first pregnancy desperately trying to figure out what I was doing and feeling very frustrated in the process.  (Of course it didn't help that I wasn't a standard size---I'm short and curvy, and ended up with an outrageous bustline that made it so that if I bought a top large enough for my chest the sleeves were often waaay too loose on me.)

This time around I am so much more prepared and I'm thrilled to have this stuff under control so I can relax and enjoy myself.  Obviously it's easier this time around because I already have clothes from last time, but I did need to do some shopping since I'm starting this pregnancy at a different size than last time.  It's not a big deal for shirts, but I did need new pants.  Lucky for you, that means a "Make Your Own Maternity Jeans Tutorial"!

Anyway, I thought I would make a post about ways I shop and what I shop for, in case it would help anyone else out in their pregnancy(ies).

My first trick is that I shop for my maternity clothes before I am pregnant!
I know it sounds risky and, to be honest, when I do it I usually question myself and think, "What if I don't get pregnant?"  But doing this has been a HUGE money saver for me!  I feel pretty confident that maternity clothes manufacturers realize that it's hard to shop off season for maternity clothes---because you are only pregnant for so long and when you need clothes you need clothes---so they are free to charge more for their stuff without the consequence of women avoiding their line.
I get around this game by buying before I'm pregnant.  I've gotten great new stuff for so little.  Recently (before this baby made a home in my belly) I bought a really cute pair of shorts at JCPenny, as summer was coming to an end, for $7.00!  I've also collected a few great summer maternity dresses on clearance at Target for $4.95.  Both of these types of items are originally priced close to $40!  Huge difference.
If the idea of shopping before you get pregnant is too crazy for you, you still can take advantage of some deals if you start shopping for when you're bigger as soon as you find out you are expecting.
Aim for basics like jeans, shorts, skirts and classic dresses. Tops are harder to plan ahead for.

Second trick: I shop for every season!
I know this might sound crazy since you are only pregnant for 9 months and you don't even show for the first couple, but I needed clothes (particularly bottoms) for all the seasons!  I can't speak for everyone, but I can speak for me.  It took me 10 weeks after my daughter was born to be able to wear my loose (non-maternity) jeans out in public again.  (I know you may not have the same experience, and I may not this time, but it gives me a general time line to prepare for.)  I live in the Midwest of the United States and my daughter was born at the end of June.  It was hot out until September and just because I could get those jeans on didn't mean I could get my shorts back on.   
(For some reason---it's just how my wardrobe seems to work---my shorts are always tighter than my pants, which usually makes me sad come summer when I find out I have to suck it in and eat less to make it work.  But of course it made me extra sad the summer after having a baby!)  

Anyway, to state it simply: I needed maternity clothes for at least 9 months because, even though I didn't need them for 2 months at the beginning of pregnancy, I add in 2+ months after baby is born.  And around here that amount of time covers all the different seasons of clothing.

(I thought this idea through: I can't foresee a pregnancy, any time of year, where you would not want maternity jeans/pants.  But I figured that maybe if I had a baby in February I might be able to skip out on summer clothes, but that's only if August, September and April were mild.  Or maybe a March baby if: September, April and May were mild.  But let's be honest, those months are often quite warm.  Now that I've had one baby I'm having to get into my maternity pants ASAP so the span of use is longer.  And if I'm finding shorts for somewhere between $7.00 and $3.00, why not have them around just in case?---I'd rather be comfortable.)

Plus, if you try to skip a season and then find out once the baby is born that you just aren't ready for your regular clothes as soon as you think, it's hard to shop at this point.  One, because now you have a newborn. And two, because you aren't gonna wanna buy maternity pants when you are done with pregnancy.  But if you try to buy regular pants it's gonna be a nightmare trying to find some that fit because, really, your legs will be one size and your waist will be another.  Maternity bottoms are where it's at for a while. So its wonderful to have them around already.

 Moral of my story: Shop all seasons' worth of maternity wear.

Third trick: plan for more than just the belly! 
Pregnancy happens to your whole body.  (I know, I know---the maternity models make it seem otherwise, but they just have a pillow in their shirt.  And, yes, you will see some lucky pregnant ladies who look like they have a basketball in the shirt, but I bet if you asked even they would say other things have shifted.)
Mainly, your hips will widen and your breasts will grow.

How much?  Well that's different per person.  The general rule for breasts is about 2 cup sizes.  But I can tell you from experience it can be a lot more than that---with my first pregnancy I went up 5 cup sizes (not normal, but it sure is possible).
And I have no idea the measurements of the hips, it really does vary per women.

I also noticed that my arms were larger by the end.

How can you shop ahead and be prepared for this?  
It might sound hard, but it's not too bad.

For tops and dresses: ALWAYS make sure there is room to grow in the chest.  If it is perfectly fitted on your chest, buy the next size up.

For pants:  Most (if not all) maternity pants are made from cotton and spandex/lycra, which will make it so your hips will have the ability to do their thing.  So buy pants in your pre-pregnant size. (I stayed in my prepregnancy size throughout my last pregnancy.)  However, keep in mind that this is the time to buy a size up if you are concerned or between sizes.  No one is gonna see the tag, buy the size that fits well.  Be comfortable.
And if you find out your hips are getting bigger than your pants, don't feel like you wasted money by starting in the original size, because the larger size would have been too loose to start with, and you will probably be back in these original maternity pants once the baby is born.

And kinda a side note: I mentioned that my arms were larger at the end; I found that I liked a (short) sleeve that had a bit of length and flowiness---I avoided cap sleeves like the plague.  I was still ok with sleeveless, it was just that the short tight sleeve looked crazy on me.

This all boils down to looser is better when shopping ahead.  Gone are the days of fitted, fitted fittings.  Embrace the days of stretch!

Fourth trick: I am fabric picky!
First of all I love cotton. I try my hardest to get cotton regardless of my pregnancy status.  But when I am pregnant, I want have to have breathability, and cotton is where it's at.  Having hot hormones in the hot summer (this will be my second summer baby) makes cotton an absolute must!  But even if you are having a winter baby, believe me cotton is still your friend.
You would be surprised how often you will find maternity clothes made from 100% synthetic material---which supports my theory that maternity clothes designers often have never been pregnant.  Us sweat machines don't like what synthetic material does!  Avoid this stuff even if it's on super sale, I bet it won't get much wear (especially towards the end). 
If you find something that is a cotton and synthetic mix material I think that's ok, as long as it is mostly cotton.

you will do the best if you find clothes that are cotton and somewhere between 4%-6% spandex/lycra. 
(If you look at maternity clothes' tags that's the norm for spandex.)

I highly recommend that you only buy clothes that are made from stretch-knit (cotton with a pinch of spandex, of course).
Woven clothes will only fit during specific times of your pregnancy, whereas stretch-knit will be able to expand with you.

Fifth trick: I only buy full panel maternity pants!
This tip is because these type of maternity pants are the only thing that fits right off the bat, all the way till the end, and after the baby is born.  I don't wanna mess with pants that won't fit right away and won't fit at the end, or after the baby is here. That's too many pants and too much money!
This type of pant also helps keep a smooth tummy profile -- unlike the shorter panels which can sometimes give you a double bump look.
And in the same way I found the full panel to be a nice, light, sorta "holder-in-er" postpartum.

If your full panel maternity jeans fit you correctly in the legs and hips, you will be able to wear them even if you haven't gotten pregnant yet.  (I have a tutorial on how you can tailor your pants to fit just right.)  If you aren't ready to wear the panel pulled up, you can fold it down and wear it similarly to belly bands.
*I know some women love the belly bands that help you to wear your regular jeans unbuttoned for a while longer, but that thing did not work for me at all.  I don't know if it's my curves or what, but it was always rolling up on me and, therefore, not doing its job.  Also, I didn't like how the button and fly would show through it and my shirts, making it obvious that my pants were not zipped.  But that's just me, I have friends who swear by the belly band.  (Maybe you can borrow one and see what you think before you buy.) 

Don't fall for the full panel that has knit fabric and an elastic band at the top of it---it won't fit right away, then it started to hurt me at the end, and didn't fit at all after J was born.  They aren't worth it.
I don't think maternity lines are really making these kind anymore (but you may run into them.)

Always get the full panel that feels almost like tights material.  It has nearly endless stretchiness and returns to its original small shape.

I will say that Motherhood Maternity (and its associated brands) has the ultimate in these types of bands.  So if you want to splurge on one maternity item, I would say do it on this!  Not all full panels are created equal.  (But don't forget to look at thrift stores and sales for these, to save some cash.)

Sixth trick: I love wearing dresses, especially at the end!  
When my daughter started doping lower in my pelvis, I started disliking the feel of pants and shorts---well, waistbands at least.  I didn't like stuff embracing that area.  I felt like it hurt me and I worried it was tight on my daughter's head as well (that may have been taking it too far, but us pregnant women think a lot of our babies!)  The only thing that felt ok was a dress.

I also like that dresses don't cling to the bump, so I think it helps to keep strangers from proclaiming annoying things like, "Whoa you're about to pop!"  (Why do people think that is ok?!)  When you are in a dress they can't really tell.

Also for summer baby mommas, it doesn't get any better than a breeze-easy dress.

And if you have a c-section, like I did with my first, a dress feels great afterwards because it doesn't touch your incision.

And dresses are awesome for hiding a postpartum belly for the same reason, it floats out over the belly.

Dresses are phenomenal in a maternity wardrobe!

Seventh trick: Look for Nursing-ability 
If you plan to nurse, having your maternity wardrobe double as a nursing wardrobe is awesome!  This tip is because, as I mentioned, it takes a while to fit back into your normal clothes.  If it is your first breastfed baby you may find (like I did) that most of your old wardrobe isn't nursing-friendly.  So having maternity clothes that provide seamless transition is great because it's one more reason you won't have to try shopping with your newborn.  (If breastfeeding comes slower than expected, you will be really glad to not have to attempt leaving the house and risk being forced to breastfeed out in public.)

So what does nursing-ability look like?

Well for me, I LOVE tops/dresses that have enough give that you can pull the neckline down enough to get your breast out. So to shop for that: when you are in the store, just pull on necklines and see if they have give.  Most stretch knit tops have give, but not all do---it depends on how the stitching was done.  So make sure you test it.  If your tops/dresses can be pulled down underneath your breast then for sure you can nurse in them.

Other styles that work well are: 
Crossover necklines that can be pulled to the side far enough to get your breast out

Wrap dresses and tops also benefit for the ability of pulling over to the side

Cowl necks that have a lot of stretch that can be pulled down

And that's all your options when it comes to dresses.

Shirts of course can also be pulled up from the bottom.  Those are my personal least favorite kinds.  If they are loose (which---when we're are talking maternity---often times they are), I have a hard time keeping them from falling down and getting in the way.  If they are more fitted, they aren't as cumbersome.  (But then again, they are also more revealing of the recovering post-baby figure.)  Honestly, I just love tops that can be pulled down from the neckline.

You can also get shirts that unbutton; once again, not my favorite because it takes so long to open and close.

But as long as there is a way to access your breast in your maternity clothes, you will be able to expand their lifespan into the new mommy days.

Eighth, and possibly the most important trick: You don't have to buy maternity clothes to wear when you are pregnant!
Seriously!  It's true!  It's awesome!  I didn't realize this for a long time with my first pregnancy.  Well, I grasped it in a small way right off the bat, but really only in regards to a couple pieces I owned before I got pregnant that I wore till about 25 weeks.  But I never stopped to notice that I could buy regular clothes to wear for pregnancy.  I guess I was just scared that at some point they wouldn't fit anymore because clearly only maternity clothes will fit a pregnant woman (or so I wrongly assumed.)  I only figured this out a week before my due date when I was sweating to death and needed a sleeveless dress I could wear before she came. (Which ended up being 3 weeks later!) I looked all over town at the maternity clothes and nothing fit---once more proving my theory that maternity clothes designers have never been pregnant (when you try on a maternity dress and the only tight part is in the waist it screams "clueless"!)  So out of sweaty desperation I tried on a cotton-stretch-knit empire waist non-maternity dress (one size larger than pre-pregnant) and it fit awesome on my full term body.  Yes, the front of the dress was a little higher than the back of the dress---but for how big I was it wasn't a big difference---and believe me at that point I would have worn a moo moo.  I didn't care anymore, I just needed comfort.
Of course if you are expecting multiples, or just carrying your baby very far out, you may have a harder time doing this at the end but you could always use a dress as a tunic with leggings and/or just do this type of shopping for part of your pregnancy, and then you can wear these things again after the baby(ies) are born.  

So how do you do this?
Look for things like cotton, stretch-knit, empire waist, non-maternity tops and dresses in a size or two bigger than you would have gotten pre-pregnant.

Or just outfits that are cut looser---I bought a sweater dress that was intended to be sort of baggy and it worked great.

I've also found regular tank tops that are every bit as stretchy as maternity tank tops (because they had at least 4% spandex mixed in the cotton.) You should double check that they will keep growing (if you still aren't full term.) You can do this in a fitting room, by shoving a couple wadded up shirts into the belly and see what happens.
I also just bought a couple of pairs of non-maternity leggings I found on sale up 2 sizes, since they were low rise and had a wide elastic waist band that I can fold over once to make room for a growing belly.

Just look for stuff that looks like you could fit a big belly (and boobs) inside.

*Apply the other tips and you will have a whole new world of shopping open to you.  It's a pretty awesome feeling to not be restricted to a handful of stores.  

This non-maternity dress would make a phenomenal maternity dress!

Ninth trick: Thrift stores!
Now that you know you can buy stuff that's not maternity, the thrift store is an awesome place to shop.  My most-complimented "maternity dress"(pictured above on tip six) was a non-maternity dress I got for $4 at the thrift store.
So look for bigger regular shirts and dresses to work with your growing body.  
And you can also find actual maternity items at a great deal here.  (I can show you how to turn regular pants, you can buy at the thrift, into maternity pants.)  The thrift is a great place to shop, especially if you are into tweaking things with your sewing machine, like I enjoy!

Last trick: think ahead! (to after the baby arrives)

When you are just starting to show it's so fun to show it off, wearing fitting shirts so everyone around will see your new life within.  But as you near the middle of your pregnancy it's a great idea to think ahead to after the baby comes.  The norm for women is to look about 5 months pregnant after delivering their baby.  (I'm pretty convinced I looked closer to 6.5 months pregnant when I got home.) And once you've delivered it's not the cute round belly of pregnancy, its a vacant soft and loose belly --- that's not as fun to show off.

With that in mind, when you reach about 5 months pregnant its an awesome idea to shop ahead and find stuff to camouflage your belly as much as possible.
--Make sure you check for nursing-ability if you plan to breastfeed, and take into account what season it will be when your baby is born and up to a few months old.  You will also want to be very sure there is room in the bust, and that the shirt will look flattering on a large bust (think ahead if you don't want too much cleavage) because initially, when your milk comes in, your breasts will be even larger than while you were pregnant.  (You will feel HUGE.)
 Even once your belly returns to "normal" ,if you are nursing, its a good bet that a lot of your pre-mommy wardrobe is gonna look too tight in the bust for quite a while --- its nice to have things to fit the current figure ready to go.

You get extra bonus points if you can find these types of clothes in colors which are friendly to: spit-up, snot & drool, and milk leakage. Anything light colored hides spit-up and snot & drool. (Black, however slimming, will clearly show every ounce of that stuff.)  And patterns can do a lot to camoflauge wetness, such as any leaks that happen (and they will!) Of course spit up and drool are wet too, so patterns are pretty much awesome at this point.

So doing this think-ahead-shopping is nice because you won't be facing the stores when you are feeling weird about your figure and simultaneously quite busy caring for your baby.  You'll be prepared for the postpartum days!
This shirt's shape and style would be phenomenal at hiding the "leftovers"

Okay, so those are my thoughts on how to shop for maternity clothes ---  the days of expansion and the return.  They worked wonders for me.  I hope they help you out as well!

**If you'd like even more shopping advice, 
breaks down which pieces of maternity clothes
 you need 
 to get the most bang for you buck.
And what looks best during each trimester.**

*If you've found this article helpful, I hope you will check out my healthy pregnancy section. There were a lot of things I wished I had known the first time I was pregnant, that could have aided in a better pregnancy and perhaps a better delivery. I've been so excited to share what I learned along the road of my second pregnant on my way to a really great VBAC. 


  1. I've started a little stock pile of clothes I have that just aren't in style anymore but I've realized would look much better when/if I'm ever pregnant. I even gave one to Lauren and she wore it with Scarlett. Lots of empire waist shirts/dresses.

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often. breastfeeding tops

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  4. Hi Lydia
    I am so happy I found your blog. :) Thank you for all this really helpful advices.
    In two weeks, we'll make a trip to New York and up to Providence (RI). On this opportunity I would like to go maternity shopping (as here, we only have C&A and H&M that sell maternity clothes you can afford). For which shops do I have to look out in the US?
    Thank you, Saskia

    1. Hi Saskia,
      I'm glad you're enjoying my blog! :)
      Well, I've never been to the East Coast. They may have more to offer. But where I live in the midwest, I found most of my maternity clothes at: Target. (They have cute stuff at good prices. And their clearance can be amazing at times.) Also a little bit of stuff at: Old Navy, and JcPenny (but some JcPennys have more than others). Those stores, I just mentioned, each have small maternity sections inside them, but they mostly sell standard clothes. We also have a store called: Motherhood Maternity that is exclusively Maternity wear. I never really bought much from them (their prices are a little higher, but not outrageous), but I like their jeans the most.
      We have H&M here too, but not many of ours stores here have the maternity line -- but my friends and I like to use a lot of their regular line during pregnancy.
      (Around here: Target is a stand alone store. Old Navy is sometimes in a strip mall, or inside a regular mall. JcPenny, Motherhood Maternity and H&M are almost always inside a Mall.)
      Good luck shopping! Have fun on your trip. And all the best to your growing family!

    2. Dear Lydia
      oh, that's great! Thank you soooo much for sharing this with me!
      I'll send you some pictures "me wearing american maternity clothes". :)
      Greetings from Switzerland, Saskia

  5. I wore stretch-knit cotton Palazzo pants from thepalazzoexpert.com. They have the most comfortable (and stretchable) pants that I wore both during pregnancy (I wore it until I was pushed into the labor room) and can still wear post-pregnancy :) They have various colors and I bought all colors coz they are priced at a bargain for the quality that they have..and wore different colors each day. Talk about being fashionly cautious huh? Haha..I love how these pants make me stay stylish and not look dull with maternity clothes (I personally don't find any maternity wear interesting).

  6. What a fantastic article. You really have given some excellent tips here. Its not all about fashion its about comfort as well. Because at the end of the day your carrying around another human so yes you want to look good but you need to feel good also. Thank you so much for this post, very enlightening.

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