Six Tips for Buying Maternity Clothes

by Tara M. Bloom

ingrid-isabel collectionWhen it comes to buying maternity clothes, take the following information to heart in order to ensure you get the best look, feel and value for your pregnancy and postpartum needs. Whether you're buying maternity clothes online or in stores -- or simply going through the closets of formerly pregnant friends -- knowing what to look for, why to look for it, and considering your changing needs will enable you to create the right wardrobe for flattering you throughout pregnancy.

TIP 1: Size Matters

Women are often told to choose maternity clothes in the same size they wore pre-pregnancy, but it's not as simple as that. First, not all maternity clothes are designed for pre-pregnancy sizes. Most, but not all, of them are, so it pays to do a little research on the brand or to try on the items. If you can, read the labels on maternity clothes to find out if they’re pre-shrunk and how they base their sizing.

Keep in mind that as your pregnancy progresses, your weight may, too. Consider the following three women:

My friend’s wife, let's call her Girlfriend #1, went through her whole pregnancy without gaining any weight but she was 30 pounds overweight to begin with.

Another girlfriend, let's say Girlfriend #2, who was at her ideal weight when she got pregnant, had already gained 20 pounds in her first trimester. She's in her second trimester now and not gaining weight as rapidly.

During my pregnancy, on the other hand, I put on over 50 pounds.

Each of us women will have different needs for buying maternity clothes.

Girlfriend #1, for example, was able to buy maternity clothes based on her pre-pregnancy size, and didn't have to make any maternity purchases until later in her pregnancy when her belly "popped."

Girlfriend #2, on the other hand, had to find maternity pants and bottoms in her first trimester. She's also able to buy maternity clothes based on her pre-pregnancy size, because her weight gain is mostly in her belly.

I was a size 8 when I got pregnant, but went up to a 10 and then a 12 by the time my daughter was born. I have an hourglass body type, so I have full breasts and wide hips. During pregnancy, they both got much larger, and I simply couldn't fit into size 8 maternity clothes. Where my body changed and filled out required me to size up.

TIP 2: The Fit Can Flatter -- or Fail

In an effort to minimize buying maternity clothes, and worrying that what fits them now won't fit them later in pregnancy, many women will make the mistake of buying sizes that are too large, or buying men's clothes or plus-size clothing. Avoid this because you'll end up with maternity clothes that are too loose and baggy and don't have "give" in the right places. Unless you're buying a maxi dress or A-line sheath, loose, baggy maternity clothes are unflattering. Even if you're plus-size before pregnancy, you still want to invest in buying maternity clothes, as opposed to larger plus-sizes, so you can enjoy the specific support, comfort and fit of clothing made for pregnancy.

Choose high-quality, well-made maternity clothes with any of the following features that ensure a flexible, stylish fit:

  • Ruching (gathers): on the side for maternity tops; on the waist for maternity bottoms
  • Patterns or all-solid colors that create a slimming effect
  • Extra length in the torso for shirts, tops and dresses
  • Adjustable waist bands, such as drawstring
  • Extra-long torso to provide complete coverage as your body grows
  • Empire waist tops and dresses

TIP 3: Fabric is Important

When buying maternity clothes that you hope will last through several pregnancy stages, choose high-quality, well-made items. Ideal maternity clothes will be made with strong, stretchy material that will grow with you, so they'll stay snug, flattering and supportive as your body changes.

Look for: Breathability, softness, durability and stretch are the things to look for in high-quality, comfortable maternity clothes. Natural fabrics such as cotton, modal, and bamboo will be soft and breathable -- helping you with those pregnancy hot flashes and itchiness that are so common. Blended jersey made from those natural materials together with Spandex or lycra deliver the stretchiness, support and shape retention you need to accommodate your body as it changes.

Avoid: Maternity clothes should NOT be "permanent press" or "wrinkle-free." Recent articles have shown that such fabrics are treated with chemicals like formaldehyde that are dangerous to pregnant women and their babies. You should also avoid synthetics like polyester that hold heat to the skin and any clothing with dyes that rub off when you hold them. These fabrics can make you very uncomfortable and what's the use in buying maternity clothes that are too hot or itchy to wear?

TIP 4: Essentials Are Worth the Investment

A common complaint about buying maternity clothes is price. When you shop to save, you generally encounter lower quality collections. Poorly made maternity clothes fall apart quickly in the wash, shrink or don't retain shape after laundering, pill and fray, slip down over your belly, ride up, make you too hot, and itch. Instead of shopping for quantity, shop for quality.

Determine your budget for buying maternity clothes, then set aside at least 75% of it for acquiring new, high-quality, essential pieces that will be the foundation of your daily wear. Some everyday favorites worth your investment are:

  • Basic maternity tank tops, camisoles and t-shirts
  • Maternity jeans
  • At least one maternity dress
  • A pair of black, dressy slacks
  • Maternity leggings

Combined with items from your regular wardrobe, these maternity essentials will take you through the seasons and stages of your pregnancy in comfort. Change layers as needed by simply adding sweaters, wraps, jackets, scarves and accessories from your regular wardrobe.

TIP 5: Build on a Strong Foundation

Before pregnancy you wouldn't dream of going out of the house with a poor-fitting bra, so don't do it now! Maternity lingerie is an important foundation for looking and feeling your best. Without the right bra, your tops and dresses aren't going to look as great as they could and you're going to be quite uncomfortable. Because breasts grow and change throughout pregnancy, women are often confused about how and when to buy a maternity bra -- sometimes so much so that they skip it or put it off as long as they can.

Don't.

Instead, get yourself one or two really well-made maternity bras as soon as you need them -- say a t-shirt bra and a dressier bra, or a t-shirt bra and sleep bra. High-quality bras can be underwire or soft-cup (if underwire, look for a really flexible underwire that's been approved by lactation consultants). They'll be made from a very stretchy but shape-retaining material that allows for the extra cup-room you need as your pregnancy progresses. As for your rib cage expanding and needing a larger band, you can get bra extenders to solve this problem if it arises for you.

High-quality maternity bras aren't cheap. But these are your breasts, ladies. Treat them with care throughout pregnancy (and breastfeeding) and you'll avoid suffering more pain, aching, and problems than are necessary and you'll be looking and feeling your best.

TIP 6: Experiment with Maternity Accessories

I'm not talking scarves, jewelry and bags, I’m talking about abdominal support belts, maternity belts, belly wraps, "BellaBands" and support hose.

After buying maternity clothes and wearing them for a little bit, women complain about:

  • Belly panels that fall down
  • Maternity pants that fall down
  • Maternity pants or panels that irritate their belly buttons
  • Maternity tops that don’t provide enough coverage or ride up

Because other women have faced these maternity clothes challenges, there are now a plethora of mom-invented maternity accessories to help you. "BellaBands," for example, are supportive, stretchy abdominal bands that you can wear over your unbuttoned pre-pregnancy pants to make them last longer, or over maternity pants to help hold the belly panel in place and provide extra abdominal support. BellaBands also help cover your abdomen if you're wearing tops that are too short to cover your pregnant belly.

• The Invisibelt helps keep pants up while retaining a seamless look (so you can wear t-shirts and snug tops without a belly panel outline glaring through).
• Abdominal support belts can provide relief for an aching lower abdomen, back or pelvis.
• Maternity support hose helps prevent swelling and hides leg veins that often appear during pregnancy.
• Belly wraps are worn under maternity clothes to help lock in moisture from your belly creams or oils (making their application more effective at preventing stretch marks) and protect your maternity clothes from staining.

Tara M. Bloom has a passionate desire for women to have safe, healthy, confident experiences of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. She's the founder and CEO of Maternitique, a resource for women seeking naturally safe and beautiful maternity products through their childbearing years. Read more of Tara's maternity guides on her blog, Materni-Talk.

Copyright © Tara M. Bloom. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.