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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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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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Jess
Guest
Jess

I would caution against buying non-maternity clothes and expecting to wear them once your bump is really prominent – you won’t realize how much it’s riding up on you. Maternity clothes have extra length in front so as you grow the bottom of your belly isn’t exposed. But as you get bigger you can’t SEE the bottom of your belly, so sometimes it’s hard to tell when it’s time to retire the non-pregnancy shirts.

kari Weber
Guest
kari Weber

I HATED how expensive it seemed everything was. Our Old Navy had exactly 4 things: 1 style of jeans (never in my size), 1 sloppy looking pair of yoga pants, tank tops that always seemed TOO SHORT despite being Maternity, and some UGLY frocky type shirt. I am 5 feet 10 inches tall, and although I know Old Navy sells tall sizes, you have to buy them online (where you can’t try them on!) Who wants to waste half their pregnancy ordering-waiting-returning-etc.? I found that I was about the same size in maternity as in pre-pregnancy clothes. I also LURVED… Read more »

Leslie
Guest

I am 36 weeks and one of the surprising things about clothing my pregnant body has been that it isn’t so much the WIDTH of the top that matters, but the LENGTH. I have plenty of tops that still fit me–as in, they go around my growing girth–but are now too short. So whereever possible, whether maternity or not, look for tops that are LONG on you…you will get much more wear out of them! And throughout my pregnancy I have been a big fan of dresses; you can get much longer wear time out of them than pants!

Stacy
Guest
Stacy

I found that extra long tank tops really helped cover the space between non-materity tops and pants once the belly started to be visible. Plus you get to re-purpose them during brestfeeding (buy stretchy ones and wear under a regular shirt–stretch the tank down to expose your boob and pull your top shirt up and voilà, nursing top). But yeah — buy a couple flowy shirts or stretchy dresses just for fun and then reassess as you go forward. Congrats!

Katie
Guest
Katie

I went through a similar thought process three months ago…and now that I am almost six months pregnant I am *just* showing in an obvious way around the belly (also my first pregnancy and I’m on the tall side). But I treated myself to one or two sale items at a local maternity boutique that were good earlier on and will probably work later – like an empire-waist dress that is a little longer in the front. This may not apply, but when I grew out of my normal bras, I thought I could just go up a size in… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

Let me say this. From someone who was a total cheapass during my first pregnancy and probably looked horrible (I prefer not to remember), I have managed to spend about the same amount this pregnancy and (if I may) dress far, far better. Rather than relying on stupid in-store Old Navy Maternity, I ended up signing up for notifications from Gap.com and Old Navy.com. The sales. OH MY GAWD, THE SALES. You get 30% discount coupons almost every other week, and if you stick to things like dresses in a decent cut, you can buy out of season for later… Read more »

Stefanie
Guest
Stefanie

When you do decide to go shopping-take a friend! I was also of the skinny-minnie variety and it can be hard to find stuff that will flatter your changing body when you’re used to trying to create a figure. The first time I went shopping for non-maternity-but-a-little-roomier clothing, I tried a few things on and ended up in tears over how fat I had gotten (I really hadn’t, but was picking styles that weren’t flattering for me). I was lucky enough to be pregnant at the same time as my sister, so we went together for the next trip. Instead… Read more »

HereWeGoAJen
Guest

I bought nearly all my maternity clothes in one swoop when I outgrew my regular clothes. My main word of warning: make sure they are LONG enough. I ended up holding down the front of my shirt with one hand for the last two months of my pregnancy because nothing covered my stomach but I certainly wasn’t buying more clothes then!

Holly
Guest
Holly

I’m 31 weeks pregnant with my first baby now, and I vote for early purchasing of maternity dresses — they look equally fine at, like, 12 weeks as they do in, well, the dregs of the third trimester. They seem to have magical enlarging qualities, and since I have a serious dress fetish, these have been the go-to garments that have kept me feeling pretty and put-together for my whole pregnancy. The Motherhood Maternity and Gap Maternity dresses (and Pea in a Pod, when you can find them on sale) are all surprisingly affordable (like $30 to $40 each), and… Read more »

Stacey
Guest
Stacey

I’m a size 0/1, XS/S in shirts so I had a huge problem finding maternity clothes — the smallest pants I could find were a size 4. Nothing like wearing a belt with an elastic waistband. When I was nearing the end of my first trimester I went out and bought some looser, non-maternity clothes. I bought them on clearance, so I didn’t spend more than $5-10 per piece, so when some of them didn’t quite fit right later on I didn’t feel bad. And? I still wear them, even though my belly’s completely gone. Another thing that I did… Read more »

Erica
Guest
Erica

Ok – I know this was just your side note, but I’ve been sighing a LOT! So much so that my husband is always, “What’s WRONG with you?” and my office mate at work always asks if I’m ok. What is with the SIGHING???? *sigh*

kellyannecat
Guest
kellyannecat

Excellent advice, Amalah. I bought a bunch of late-maternity wear when I was still in my 1st trimester. Predictably, I grew in unexpected ways and directions, and none of it fit by the time I needed it. So I ended up with a very limited wardrobe of cheap maternity clothes that got horribly rundown by constant laundering. Not the end of the world, but it would have been nice to not have felt like a total frumpasaurus for those months. If I had to do it again, I would buy clothes as I need them, and as they fit.

Crabby Apple Seed
Guest

My biggest regret on maternity clothes: not buying enough nice clothes. I felt like I shouldn’t be spending tons of money on clothes I wouldn’t wear forever, so I bought a few work outfits (which I wore over and over), one nice dress, and one pair of jeans. I spent my days off in my running pants (which fit the whole time and were admittedly the most comfortable thing I owned- I had a pair of maternity running-type pants and they always slid off, I hated them) and my husband’s t-shirts. And I felt…comfy, but also dumpy. I wish I… Read more »

EW
Guest
EW

The other thing you may want to get for your bra is an extender clip, which you can get at Target. I went up a cup size quickly, but then just had my ribcage expand. With the extender, I could keep the same bras until the end of my pregnancy (when I switched to a nice set of nursing bras from Bravado that I am still wearing).

AVD
Guest
AVD

Here’s a vote for shopping early – like all women’s clothing, maternity stores have clothes for the upcoming season, not the current one. Like you, I had the majority of my maternity-clothing time in the summer, and if I hadn’t shopped before I needed to, many things would have been gone. This was especially true for really basic things like tanks and shorts, I had about two to choose from by the time June rolled around. I strongly agree that it’s not a waste of money to have a few things that you love and feel great in. A couple… Read more »

Karen
Guest
Karen

I used the bella band for the first few months as well and it was really useful to bridge that gap between “a little fuller than usual” and “BUMP”. My other suggestion is to hit up local thrift stores in your area. It takes a bit more hunting, but I found some great shirts, pants and skirt all for $2-6 each. Because they had only been lightly used before they’re in really great condition, and name brands to boot.

Mia
Guest
Mia

I second the ideas of buying #1 long enough and #2 long stretchy tank tops (on sale $8.99 @ Target whoo!) A few of my maternity shirts I bought early on don’t cover the tum any more although they fit everywhere else, so layering them over a cheap tank is a nice fix. Plus layering over a tank is good because you may get unexpectedly hot, and I don’t know about your office, but striping down to your bra is really frowned upon in mine. Also I think the wise Amalah said it somewhere else, count on doing more laundry… Read more »

lindswing
Guest
lindswing

Oh, I did the sighing thing! I just chalked it up to needing more oxygen. I did it incessantly. Bella Band, yes. I hear the one at Target is a much cheaper version, though, and to steer clear. I STILL use my Bella Band on occasion, and my baby is 6 months old. I’ll also echo the facts that you’re going to need non-pre-pregnancy clothes to wear for a few months after the baby is born, and length is going to be your biggest challenge as you approach the end of pregnancy. I had really good luck going up a… Read more »

Calee
Guest
Calee

Just because you won’t be wearing these clothes for years in a row, doesn’t mean you won’t be wearing them for just as long as your regular clothes if you plan on a subsequent pregnancy. I bought cheap things the 1st time around then loaned what survived my 1st pregnancy to my best friend a few months later. She wore the best of both of our shopping trips for 2 pregnancies and now I’m wearing the collective stash again. We wear different pants sizes so I made sure to buy 2 pairs of slacks I loved this time (Yay GAP)… Read more »

Sharon
Guest
Sharon

I have to second the sales from gap.com etc. PLUS, at least a year ago, they did free return shipping on maternity items (or you can return to a store), so I’d just order boatloads of stuff, try on in my house, and ship back things that didn’t work. And really, everyone carries pregnancy differently, and it even differs between pregnancies on the same woman, so give yourself lots of leeway and room to wait and see. Experiment with what looks good and is comfortable at different points of the pregnancy, and have fun! (I feel like I just typed… Read more »

Ms. K
Guest
Ms. K

I’m going to weigh in on the side of waiting (a little) to buy maternity clothes, and also on spending money to get good ones. It’s just like shopping for your regular wardrobe: don’t skimp on tailored, good-quality basics. Spending $$ on flowy-yet-tailored pants and a tailored skirt with maternity waists, both in a neutral color (black, gray, navy, brown or cream, depending on your wardrobe needs) will be totally worth it. You will probably also want to splurge on a good maternity dress, as Amalah said, esp. if you know you will have events to attend where you want… Read more »

Wallydraigle
Guest
Wallydraigle

Going into my first pregnancy, I had a few loose-fitting tops already that I thought would look cute in the first parts of pregnancy. If they looked cute on me while I was skinny, you’d think they’d look cute until I got pretty big, right? WRONG. I just looked fat. Not every woman looks this way in a loose-fitting top, but I did. I think it may have been my really short torso and the way I carried all out front and really high that did it, but still. Don’t go overboard on that style of clothing (or any style,… Read more »

Courtney
Guest
Courtney

I didn’t sigh more, but I *laughed* more. Especially in my first trimester. I would have these crazy laughing jags – like sleepover giggles, where you can’t stop even though nothing is that funny. I guess it’s better than crying for no reason.

jessasmamma
Guest
jessasmamma

i am fairly petite, and i only bought two or three maternity items during my entire pregnancy, even though i gained 32 pounds! i bought one pair of maternity jeans, one maternity shirt (that i wore to christmas dinner and only bought because i thought it was really pretty lol) and a bella band. let me tell you, the bella band is gods way of saying “go ahead, eat that third slice of cake. you’re pregnant!” and still letting you “fit” into your pre preggo jeans! i bought mine at target for $20 or less. basically it lets you wear… Read more »

eva
Guest
eva

I am all about leggings with long cardigans and flowy sleeveless tops for work these days at 15ish weeks along with pregnancy #2. With #1, I definitely crammed into regular clothes for far too long, and totally ruined some of them. The bella band last time? awesome! this time? sucks ass, totally uncomfortable, and I was about 10lbs lighter pre-pregnancy this time than last time. Go figure. So yeah, my co-workers are subjected to me in leggings until we hit summer at which time I’m planning to live in sleeveless stretchy maxi dresses and light cardigans from Old Navy that… Read more »

Tammigirl
Guest
Tammigirl

I didn’t read the response to this because I rushed here to tell you what I’ve learned recently. Since it does me no good (my child who had this issue is now in college) I would love to see someone benefit from it. I mean same thing – only she would never take a bottle. She would literally gag on it. ‘They’ say babies with this issue are longing for the comfort of the womb. They loved that snuggy little place and are having difficulty outside of that environment. My very own “Don’t stop touching me” baby daughter learned this… Read more »