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How Soon is Too Soon For Maternity Shopping?

By Amalah

Dear Amy:

How soon is too soon to maternity shop?

I read with interest and great identification last week’s post about feeling blubbery rather than earth mothery (actually, and this week’s one! About the essential oils! I had no idea!). I am still early in my third month of pregnancy and my figure hasn’t really changed much (though I am sure I will ride the emotional pendulum when it does), but I feel awful enough from constant nausea. Ginger tea aside, I tried taking some advice from last week that I hoped would make me more excited about being pregnant than miserable: shop for cute pregnancy clothes so I have something fun to anticipate! (Because a first baby isn’t enough to look forward to, apparently.)

I should say that I give myself permission to shop but rarely, so setting out for this was kind of an Event for me. My local Old Navy doesn’t have a maternity section, but there were plenty of trapezey dresses and swingy summer tops that seemed like they could accommodate some extra girth. Hooray! But fun turned to confusion in the changing room when I stuffed a sweater into the waistband of my jeans (for verisimilitude, natch) and realized that I have no idea what else is going to expand besides my belly. My non-pregnant self is generally a skinny minnie with eggplant tendencies. So I wondered: If a top has a roomy middle, can I stay in a small size indefinitely, or will other things, like my BACK, grow too? Can I really anticipate Major Bewbage going forward when they have so far been a big pregnancy disappointment? If the sleeves on a Small fit me now, will they make my arms look sausagey later? I tried on some large sizes, but they wouldn’t stay on my shoulders – is there any reason to think that will change? I have no issues with wearing larger sizes when they suit me better, but if any parts of me might actually stay small, I’d rather not just pull a tarp over the whole thing.

There are lots of events to attend this summer, when I’m 25-30 weeks along, but I don’t know whether I’ll even be ROUND by then. (I don’t plan to “dress pregnant” until I’m truly showing so this is shopping for the future to encourage myself along.) Is there any way to plan ahead for my growing proportions? Am I jumping the gun? Do I need to drive the 20 miles to the next Old Navy that has actual maternity wear? (I’m not an Old Navy fanatic, just trying not to spend much on clothes with a short life span.) Do I just need to back off and see how my expanding butt shakes out? If you tell me there’s no way to predict and that I’ll just have to go shopping repeatedly over the next several, interminable months, I’m sure I’ll be able to bear it. But I am really curious whether I can try on clothes NOW, when the hormones are otherwise making me weepy and sad.

Since I’m not very far along and we haven’t even told our parents yet, I’ll sign off,
Woe Is Me

(Unrelated side question: my husband has commented that I’ve been *sighing* a lot the last several weeks. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until he calls me on it. I tell him I’m taking in extra oxygen for the baby, but I wonder if it’s just my secret self-pity coming out. In your vast mastery of the Internet and all things maternity, have you ever heard of pregnant women sighing more than usual?)

Shopping for maternity clothes is tough. Writing about shopping for maternity clothes is even TOUGHER, because it’s so not one-size-fits all. (HA. A pun! Not even on purpose!) Everybody “shows” differently and at different times, and we all gain weight in different places and at different rates.

But honestly, my number-one-rule about maternity clothes shopping is to NOT let yourself fixate on the “short life cycle” of maternity clothes, at least to the point that it’s stopping you from buying CUTE CLOTHES THAT FIT PROPERLY. Yeah, something you buy in the first trimester might not fit for the duration of the third. NO BIG DEAL. You still didn’t “waste” money on it, provided you got any wear out of it at all. You need clothes. You need to look presentable. You need to feel good about yourself.

And here’s the big secret: You will very likely continue to wear maternity clothes after giving birth. But probably NOT the overly-huge stuff you bought to accommodate the end of your pregnancy. You’ll be grateful for a nice stack of clothing from early on when you were just up a few pounds and a little rounder that usual, rather than going out and buying MORE new clothes to get you through those first couple months.

That’s what I did with my first pregnancy — I’d only done mostly super-cheap maternity clothing and hand-me-downs, and ended up wasting more money after Noah was born on bigger clothing that I probably only wore for three months. With Ezra, I bought fewer clothes, but NICER ones (mostly at consignment boutiques), and focused on modifying my own wardrobe whenever possible. (Regular clothing at the time was super pregnancy-friendly, as everything was long and flowy and waistless. A lot of it still is, right? I feel like I haven’t been paying attention what with OH GOD EZRA STOP THAT WHAT ARE YOU EATING NOW?) I had to put a lot of that aside right at the end in favor of a lot of tanks and shapeless dresses from Old Navy, but then I went right back to it after giving birth and can count a good four or five items that I still wear because they just aren’t very maternity-like at all. They’re just cute tops. I also have no regrets about having a nice bin of maternity clothing in our basement to possibly use again or share with friends or sell at the consignment shop.

So. How does this apply to you? You’re at that point when you don’t really *need* maternity clothing, but want to partake of the excitement, but are afraid of buying the wrong size and wasting money. If you really want to be cost-effective, then yes. You wait until you actually outgrow existing clothes and buy things as you need them. But really, if treating yourself to a cute trapeze dress or roomy top makes you happy? Just buy it, and don’t stress out about possible sausage-arms in six months. If it fits now and looks cute and has room around the middle, you’ll probably get plenty of wear out of it down the road.

But everybody is different. Every pregnancy is different, even on the same woman. I generally I found that I could continue to buy my pre-pregnancy size in maternity clothing, at least nine times out of 10, for the duration. A maternity size small is a little more generous *everywhere* than a regular size small. More of a ballpark size small. A little bigger in the arms and boobs and butt and thighs and everywhere that pregnant women tend to put on a little weight.

(My sister, on the other hand, who is tinier than I am and is firmly in XS territory, sent me a box of maternity hand-me-downs that were all sized large. Though whenever I saw her I would have sworn she carried pregnancy the same way I did — all belly with just a hint of plumping elsewhere. But she also never looked like she was wearing stuff overly big and baggy. So…I DO NOT KNOW.)

But. You say the larger sizes are sliding off your shoulders. That means it’s not the right size for you, nor will it likely ever be. Go for things that fit (but aren’t tight anywhere) but leave room in the belly — or anything that adjusts (pants, tanks, sundresses). Use your pre-pregnancy size as your guide. I think it’s best to stay in your own jeans and pants for as long as possible, either with help from a Belly Band or rubber band, and invest in good (premium, non-saggy-butt) maternity denim only when you do have a sense of how you’re carrying the pregnancy and can get the proper size.

Definitely resist the urge to buy NOW for special events three or four months from now
— you might not be pleased with how your choice fits or looks by then. (And when you DO splurge on a special-occasion maternity dress, offset your anxiety over the one-time-useness of it by wearing it whenever possible, like on lots of extra date nights with your husband.)

And resist the urge to buy everything all at once. This is hard, I know, because you think that’s the way to ensure that you get the most out of the clothing and your money. I found the opposite to be true. If you see something you just LOVE right now, even though you don’t technically need it yet, buy it, but stop there. Try stuff on, marvel at that crazy pillow thing the maternity stores have, then go to the baby section and buy a onesie or some cute socks instead.

PS. As for the sighing? I am no longer surprised by ANYTHING that pregnancy causes. It does so many weird things, it can change your EYEBROWS. Or your EAR WAX. The sighing could be from your body needing extra oxygen (true), diminishing lung capacity as things move around in there (also true), or just hormones generally mucking with your emotions and causing you to sigh in response to worry or weepiness or a passing thought of brownies (girl, you know it’s true).

Illustration by Secret Agent Josephine


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Published April 5, 2010. Last updated March 27, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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