by Colette Bouchez
Regardless of how much or how little you spend on your pregnancy wardrobe, the one area where you probably shouldn't skimp is in your undergarments. While some stores can go overboard in trying to convince you of what you need (will you really be all that comfortable in a pregnancy thong?) still, there are some basic undergarments that can make an important difference in not only how you look, but also how you feel.
According to Colette Bouchez, author of the new book Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy (Doubleday/Broadway Books, NY - Feb. 10, 2004), among the most important is a well-made pregnancy bra.
"Depending on how quickly your breasts enlarge, you may have to change sizes or even styles more than once during your pregnancy, so it's not necessary to buy a lingerie wardrobe right from the start," says Bouchez. That said, she advises that's a good idea to do a little window-shopping early on in your pregnancy so you can familiarize yourself with what's available. When the time comes for a new size or style you'll have an idea where to go to find what you like and need.
For most women, Bouchez says that a bra with wide set straps that are also thicker in width helps give much needed support while minimizing pressure on your shoulders.
"Remember, together, your breasts can gain as much as 5 pounds during pregnancy, which in case you don't already know, can feel a lot like hanging a watermelon around your neck and expecting your shoulders to carry the weight," says Bouchez. So, she says, the thicker the straps the more the extra weight will be distributed, which means the less your shoulders and upper back will feel the strain.
You should also seek out the smoothest, softest fabrics possible, choosing bras with a minimum of seaming in the cup area. In fact, the smoother and softer the cup is, the more comfortable your growing and tender breasts will feel. Also remember, says Bouchez, you are going to need more coverage than you did before, to help support painful and tender breasts, so by pass the décolletage styles and instead look for full cup coverage.
In general, she advises that when purchasing pregnancy lingerie look for fabrics and styles that will hold up to repeated washing. Remember, you probably won't purchase as many pieces as you normally might do, so each one is going to get more than the average number of washing. Styles with lots of lace or other trims, or thin or fragile fabrics may not hold up as long as you need them. What can also help: Hand wash and line dry your pregnancy lingerie. This puts less wear and tear on fabrics than a washer and dryer, the heat of which can also quickly beat up elastic and spandex.
Whether or not you need to purchase pregnancy panties - or simply buy a larger version of what you already wear - is strictly a matter of personal taste. In fact, if you still want to wear those old bikinis, and they feel comfortable, and then feel free to do so - being pregnant doesn't have to mean starting every day by pulling on a pair of billowy Grandma Bloomers.
But Bouchez reminds us that during pregnancy you're likely to have extra vaginal discharge as as well as some degree of incontinence, so you'll want to choose fabrics that are easy to wash, dry quickly and don't stain easily. You may also need to choose a style with a substantial crotch width. In the event that you will want to wear a sanitary pad during your pregnancy, it helps if the crotch is wide enough for the pad to fit comfortably and adhere.
The one specialty lingerie item Bouchez insists you should definitely consider is maternity pantyhose.
"It seems no matter how large a size you choose in regular hose, the top is likely to slide off your belly and end up in an uncomfortable puddle at the top of your crotch. Maternity pantyhose have a wider, softer, stretchier top that can more easily smooth up and over your tummy, and remain relatively secure on your stomach for the whole day," she says. Another must-have for many women: A pregnancy girdle.