The adorable baby bump held an allure for me when I learned I was pregnant with my first. I had visions of how cute I would look, even though I suspected I would be more of the portly grandma looking pregnant lady instead of the cute, skinny except for the bump type of pregnant lady. Anyway, in the beginning getting the bump is the genuinely real sign of this completely insane, life-changing transformation going on in your body while you’re serving as a human incubator. There are of course other outward changes that could be seen first: pregnancy boobs are a fun one if you start out fairly flat chested like I did, but then there are also the months of being puffy and sick looking, and after that there’s weirdly chubby like you can’t stop eating giant burritos for lunch, before you get to a legit bump.
I found out I was pregnant a week before I started a new job. Not only was it challenging for me to stay awake, attempt to somehow look normal on my constant trips to the bathroom and generally keep it together in the first trimester, I had to dress myself. I learned about all of the weird looks of being pregnant before you hit cute bump stage and how to dress for it, as well as what to wear when I hit legit bump. My job wasn’t a high-paying one, so all of this had to happen on a budget. Here’s what I learned about maternity clothes:
Tip #1: Yes, please to hand-me-down clothes
My sister-in-law was one of my first phone calls when I had a positive pregnancy test. She was excited for me and quickly shipped down an enormous box of hand-me-down maternity clothes. This was helpful for t-shirts and a few tunic-type tops that I could wear casually with jeans or leggings. However, I’m 5’3″ and my sister-in-law is about 5’11”. Only one of my other friends had a baby, and she gave me a couple of cute tops and dresses, but they were a seasonal mismatch from her January baby to my late-September due date. I held onto everything I could though, and it turns out I was able to wear more stuff with the second pregnancy when I popped sooner.
Hand-me-downs came in handy more with my second pregnancy when I had to get through a winter. More expensive maternity items, like a maternity coat or formal wear for a wedding or event, are best borrowed or second-hand as you may never wear them again.
Tip #2: Keep early maternity clothes multipurpose
The items you need when your waistband starts to get tight but before you’re really huge can also be worn again immediately postpartum. This is where foldover skirts from The Gap or Old Navy can be a huge help. J. Crew also has stretchy fold over non-maternity skirts depending on the season. You’ll be able to wear them from the time you get a little puffy until the end days, rock them comfortably after delivery whether you have a vaginal birth or a c-section, and it won’t feel as bad as wearing full panel pants postpartum when you can’t fit in anything else.
I never used belly bands. I’m sure that they’re awesome and some people love them. I didn’t like full panel pants in my first pregnancy, and you might. I didn’t like the feeling of the band or panel, but again, give it a try. I wish I had just bought larger pants to keep wearing normal pants a bit longer, as I wouldn’t have had to do it after delivery when I didn’t want to keep wearing maternity jeans.
It’s also a cost savings to think through what you can wear comfortably in the early days that you can nurse in later. I didn’t realize this the first time, but I learned that a lot of actual nursing shirts are also maternity shirts. This can be good, but there was a point postpartum where I was tired of still looking pregnant, though I wasn’t fitting in my pre-pregnancy sized clothes. I found that Henley shirts, button down shirts that I needed for work and would still like later, or tunic tops helped a ton. I thought that deep-V shirts would work, but I didn’t realize my boobs would get so much larger as to make those unworkable for nursing. If you find nursing shirts that are sold as maternity shirts, pay attention to the fabric. Shirts that hug your growing curves and look super cute accentuating that pregnant bump may hug your not so cute weirdly settling baby weight postpartum. Scan the sales at Anthropologie and you’ll likely find some boho shirts and maxis if nothing else that can do double duty.
This is also a time to think about swim wear. I never bought maternity bathing suits. I waddled proudly down the beach with my huge belly in a bikini with my boobs dangerously poised to make their escape. In retrospect, I wish I had found some cute one piece suits in the first trimester to wear to baby swim classes. It was something I never thought of until my first son was six months old and I realized I wasn’t comfortable wearing a bikini to a mommy and me class.
Remember, your first pregnancy will be a different bump than following pregnancies
If this is your first pregnancy, you may not pop until close to 20 weeks or so. I had a little bump, but I really didn’t pop until about 19 weeks. I wasn’t in full maternity wear until nearly the third trimester. Don’t spend a ton of money early on maternity clothes, even if you’re trying them on in a store with a fake bump. If this isn’t your first pregnancy you may be wondering why you look super pregnant so early. Yeah, that happens. It’s like your body remembers how much space it will need so it just gives up early and makes way. I was in maternity jeans at 14 weeks with my second pregnancy, and had to invest in more maternity clothes due to a major seasonal mismatch as well.
Tip #3: Leggings aren’t pants unless you’re pregnant
This is pretty self explanatory, but leggings are very helpful pregnant. I didn’t buy maternity leggings, I just sized up with basic H&M and Uniqlo leggings. I really like the Uniqlos better for quality, colors and styles. If you sign up for Uniqlo’s emails, they have promotions every week. This is a good way to stock up on those double duty items mentioned above on the cheap, like Henley tops or this awesome, button down flannel tunic top that I wear all the time nursing my second. Through the early summer of my first pregnancy I wore a lot of leggings and flowy boho non-maternity tops until I was about 28 weeks.
Tip #4: Cheap is good
Pregnancy is long and covers multiple seasons if you live in a place with seasons like I do. If I had to replace all of my clothes through these seasons it would have been insanely expensive. Sure, I would have loved a whole new wardrobe, but let’s be real.
You will need clothes, but try to keep the bulk of the clothes on a budget. Everyone has their own style, but here are some places online with reasonably priced maternity clothes, with reasonable as less than A Pea in a Pod prices:
- H&M. Yep, they have maternity clothes! Some stores carry limited selections, but online is better. Be warned, it’s H&M quality. I love the nursing tank tops to sleep in while pregnant and nursing (double duty again!), but I’ve struck out with the fabrics for the nursing tops. They tend to be too clingy and the double layers sag apart.
- Asos. Good source for cute stuff, but I didn’t try it so I can’t vouch for the quality.
- The Gap and Old Navy. I think the quality is better at the Gap, but shop the sales and see what works for you.
- If you need office attire, Loft has maternity clothes online.
- Not totally cheap but more moderately priced is Topshop. I had some really cool skinny jeans in my hand me down box, and the sale items are priced better.
- Motherhood Maternity is to A Pea in the Pod as Old Navy is to The Gap. I found some shirts I liked on sale, and that’s enough for me to suggest it as an option.
Check online or ask other moms to see if there are any maternity consignment shops near you, like Wiggle Room or Greenberries. It’s a bonus that these stores also have high-quality baby consignment stuff too if you have your registry ready.
If you have a neighborhood listserv and are willing to pick through bags, see if you can get a bagged lot of clothes. If you find that you don’t like or don’t fit in them, you can repost the clothes or see if there is a local organization that will accept donated maternity clothes like ShareBaby.
Tip #5: Splurge where it matters to you
I have a thing for well made and stupidly pricey jeans. In my first pregnancy I spent $200 on a single pair of maternity jeans. They are so soft, so stylish, and I ended up hating them and never wearing them, much to my dismay. But we all have these items. If there is something that you love not pregnant and you want to have it pregnant, buy it.
Your boobs may be the place to spend some money. I started out as an A and only went up to a B pregnant, so I just grabbed some cheap bras from H&M. But, if you start out any bigger than that it’s worth having comfortable bras, especially as my boobs hurt most of the first trimester, and then in the third trimester when my skin was crazy itchy fabric mattered. If you find bras you love pregnant and they fit you nursing but aren’t nursing bras, Nordstrom will turn them into nursing bras for you (yep, another double duty item!).
Side note: if you’re wondering about your boob sizes pregnant and nursing, I can only tell you what happened for me. The week after I found out I was pregnant with my first I jumped from an A to a B. When my milk came in I was a solid D, and when my supply regulated and I wasn’t engorged all the time I was a full C/small D. I got pregnant with my second while nursing my first, so I stayed about a C pregnant this time, and I’m back to being a full C/small D. I’m terrified of what my boobs will look like when I’m finished nursing this time, but I’ll cross that saggy bridge when I have to.
Tip #6: Feel beautiful
My body changed a ton while I was pregnant and it wasn’t just in my belly and boobs, and some of it hasn’t gone away. My ribcage is larger now after two babies than it was before. My feet didn’t change sizes like my mother told me hers did, but my hips are larger, my thighs thicker and my belly is squishier.
While my body was undergoing all of these changes from growing an entire human inside me, there were times I really felt like the host, like I had a parasite and was losing control of my sense of self demonstrated through the takeover of my body. It’s hard. Yes, it’s exciting and all of that, and if you keep your eye on the baby prize it’s easier to deal with the changes. But there are days when I felt like I was just an incubator – a cranky, heartburn-ridden, pizza craving science project.
When you can, try to dress in a way that you like and that’s close to your style or any style other than pajama jeans. It makes the physical transitions easier when you can at least look in the mirror and like what you have on, and recognize yourself in it.
Featured image credit goes to my bestie @emily_mustachely.