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A Pregnant Woman's Guide to Maternity Clothes

Being pregnant with my first child, I had zero experience maternity clothes shopping.

I had no idea what sizes I would need nor what products would work for me.

Given that every body type is so different, and each pregnancy is so different, this post will simply serve as a guide and just a place to start. Ultimately, you will have to make some decisions yourself on what will work best for you. I just thought I'd share what I have learned in this first pregnancy.

When Should I Start Buying Maternity Clothes?

To me, this question has a simple and easy answer.

(or, as soon as you find out you are pregnant.)

Here's why: CLEARANCE.

Take advantage of that clearance rack! If you buy as soon as you find out you are pregnant, the clothes on clearance are going to be the right season for when you are in your third trimester. I did a little shopping in the first trimester (early winter) and I got great summer tanks and maxi dresses for a steal! I'm talking $3 tanks and $8 dresses. You won't find that if you wait until you need it.

A lot of people might say to hold off until you hit the second trimester if, heaven forbid, you were to lose the pregnancy. Of course, just like announcing to friends and family, this is entirely up to you. You could always begin shopping and keep the items in the bags with receipts in case you need to return them. (I highly recommend keeping receipts for ALL things pregnancy/ never know if/when you will want to return or exchange for a different product).

I did feel a little silly buying maternity clothes so soon. I had no bump yet. I didn't know how long my clothes at home would work for me.

But I love shopping. And I had waited for this pregnancy for 4 years.

So I felt it was my right to do it! So do what feels right for you. A lot of women can go almost the entire pregnancy wearing their original clothing and don't really need anything maternity. I lost a few pounds in the first trimester due to strong food aversions and "evening sickness", so it wasn't until the beginning of the second trimester that my waistband became tight. I also had a lot of empire waist shirts that were flowy and still worked for awhile. The problem I eventually ran into was that the shirts weren't long enough to cover my belly fully. 

What About The Hair Elastic Trick for Pants?

And that little trick where you weave a hair tie through the button hole on your jeans to expand them? Yeah, that wasn't enough for me. Plus my pants wouldn't stay up! I know it works well for a lot of women, but honestly, it will just depend on how you are carrying your baby and where you put on your weight. 

How About The Belly Band?

The Belly Band is basically like a bandeau top, but for your muffin top, haha! You wear it over the top part of your pants and your growing belly. It allows you to do the hair elastic trick (or simply leave your pants unbuttoned) while keeping it covered so no one else can see. It holds the pants in place, while providing a little support for your belly.

The Belly Band worked for me for the first trimester (when there is lots of bloating) and into the second. For me, the Belly Band would roll up when I would go from sitting to standing. I've always had to wear a belt with my jeans to avoid my pants riding down too low in the back, so trying to go without a belt, with pants unbuttoned just didn't work for me. I was constantly readjusting my pants and the band. But it may work great for you!

What Size Do I Buy?

I have had to do a lot of online shopping (well, browsing, at least) to find maternity clothes in my area. Most provide a conversion chart in which you find your pre-pregnancy size for each item and it will give you your pregnancy size. I quit looking at them after awhile because it turns out, your pre-pregnancy size is the same as the pregnancy size! However, if you were a little between sizes or on the edge of going up to the next size before getting pregnant, you will want to go up a size in maternity. By the third trimester, your whole body is going to be huge. So you may want to go up a size anyway! My sizes ranged all over the place in different brands pre-pregnancy, but I tend to average a medium in tops. I have mostly mediums in maternity, but I also have quite a few larges, too. Just consider the weather when you will be in your third trimester. Will you want your clothes to be a bit loose or fit more snug? It just comes down to personal preference.

Since I am due in the beginning of July, I have a lot of people warning me of how hot I'm going to be. They just laugh and say, " are going to be miserable!" And then they smile. They must be speaking from experience! I am glad that I am not going to be huge in the middle of winter, though. I like that I can just throw on a tank and a maxi skirt or some shorts instead of having to layer up and wear boots and a coat. The least amount of clothes for me, please! :)

There is a chance your feet will swell and expand from relaxin (the hormone that relaxes your ligaments to allow your belly to expand and to prepare for childbirth). If this happens, you might have to go up a shoe size or two. So don't buy any shoes during pregnancy unless you are in your third trimester (or your feet have already swelled and you need new shoes)! I have a little bit of swelling that I noticed while wearing a particular pair of sandals, but my running shoes still fit. I know of several women who have said their feet grew in size during pregnancy, but then did not return to their original size afterward, so it can be permanent.

How Can I Save Money on Maternity Clothes?

What a great question.

The best answer is to be patient, and be resourceful.

If you are shopping ahead of your baby bump, you can wait for an item to go on sale (which is the main reason I recommend shopping early). Try not to pay full price for anything! Get on the email list for maternity stores so you can get coupons and notifications of sales. It's better to have an inbox full of solicitations from stores before you need it than to have to pay full price! And shop that clearance rack! See if you can get what you need from this rack. Remember, you do not need to pick out things that are super fashionable (they tend to be the most expensive items - pick a few great staples for a work wardrobe and just wash them often). Maternity is mostly solids and stripes, anyway! This is just a temporary wardrobe, so try to be frugal and don't overbuy.

I have bought most of my maternity clothes from Old Navy. They have sales often, plus they do a  10% military discount on top of whatever sales or coupons are going on. They have a decent selection in-store, and have some great online-only items, too. Returns are easy; online purchases can be returned in-store.

I like Motherhood Maternity a lot; their clearance is amazing, and so is their overall selection. It's more pricey than most other places, but I think it's worth it for the selection. They carry nursing items and other products like pregnancy pillows and nausea remedies. They also will give out little welcome baggies with coupons and product samples - this is how I ended up getting 3 FREE Avent bottles!

Check your local department stores to see if they have a maternity section. Most of mine around here do not have one. I got lucky and found some great clearance items at Belk - $10 per top! Some department stores have maternity online, although I have not purchased anything from them.

Target is a great place to look...if you have a SuperTarget. Sadly, ours is not a SuperTarget, and the maternity selection is quite pitiful. 

Walmart also has maternity, but the same story here...not all locations have it!!

You can also check out secondhand stores. In my area, we have Once Upon A Child, a store that is mostly secondhand children's clothes, toys, and gear. My location also accepts maternity clothes. Clothes Mentor is another secondhand store that also accepts maternity clothes. I got a pair of white capris here for $6! It still had the original tags on it. I'm not a big fan of buying secondhand clothes, but for items that you are really only going to wear for like 6 months (and then for a bit postpartum), I just couldn't justify spending $34 on them for brand new.

Another great way to save some dollars is to borrow maternity clothes from a friend or family member. Remember to take care of them as if they were your own clothes. Keep them organized if you borrow from multiple people - consider marking the tags with their initials. Be sure to return them as soon as you are finished with them in case they need them back for another pregnancy of their own!

What Type of Belly Panel Should I Look For?

There are two types of panels on maternity shorts and pants (well, actually there are 3...)

Full Panel: this panel covers a good majority of your belly. It will feel like your pants go up to your armpits, but it keeps the pants up nicely.

Below the Belly Panel (also called demi panel or low panel): this one is like a thick, high, stretchy waistband that goes under your belly.

Modified Waist (I don't know what it's actually called): this is a relatively new design in maternity bottoms in which 2 v-shaped elastic sections are added to the hip areas of the pant. The rise on the waist looks identical to non-maternity clothes. They may still have a fly and a button, although both are non-functional (unless you purchase from high-end boutiques...those pants are pricey!).

I have purchased all 3 fits. 

And I like each one of them for different reasons.

The full panel is my favorite for coverage. You never have to worry about a shirt not being long enough and your baby belly hanging out. It also helps to keep your pants up! Again, I usually have to wear a belt to keep my pants up, so a full panel was the next best thing. CONS: the full panel can be too tight for third trimester bellies, and the stretchy material is not cotton and can be a little too hot for summer pregnancies, not to mention it can be annoying to have that panel over your belly all day. Also, dark panels can be seen through light colored shirts. You may want to get only the tan-colored ones. (Old Navy has a good selection, same with Motherhood Maternity.)

The below the belly panel is my favorite for later in pregnancy. You have gained some weight, and the elastic waist feels nice and comfy. There is no fabric pressing on your belly, so it is very comfortable once you have a third trimester belly. CONS: I found this fit to be uncomfortable on my belly in the first half of pregnancy - the waistband put too much pressure right where baby was growing. Once baby grew up and out of my pelvis, these were a much more comfortable option. Also, different brands will fit differently, and some waistbands may be too tight or too loose for your size. Shop around for your favorite brand! (I like the ones at Target.)

I purchased one pair of shorts with the elastic section on the sides. I liked it because it felt like "normal" shorts to me, while still accommodating my preggo body! This is definitely the way to go if you can't stand the panel at all. I ended up returning mine before I wore it; I swapped it for a pair I liked better elsewhere with the below the belly panel. CONS: You may find these pants don't stay up well enough and you end up tugging at them all day. I had a problem with mine when I sat could see a little too much in the back! But I have a large butt, so that could be why. :)

Why Do Maternity Clothes Fit So...BAD?!

I have some awful fitting maternity jeans. They are super tight right after being washed, and stretch out to probably a whole size (or two) too big by the afternoon.

The fact of the matter is, is that maternity isn't a huge market. The clothes do not move very fast in a store, so they do not stock very much. If they were to make jeans based on every body type and keep them in-stock in every size, they would probably lose money on it. Maternity clothing is going to be somewhat ill-fitting. This is your new life. You will have to temporarily hate your wardrobe to grow your little one. But it's worth it! :)

I plan on using this to my advantage post motivate myself to get back into my pre-pregnancy clothes!

*  *  *

I hope this guide is helpful to you. Of course, this post is based on my personal experience with maternity clothes; you may have a far different experience or have entirely different preferences. And that's okay! Enjoy this magical time in your life! Thanks for reading!


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