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Dressing for Two

pregnant woman looking through her closet

When I was expecting my first child, I didn't think I needed a whole new wardrobe. Surely I could get by with just a few maternity basics, paired with some choice selections from my husband's closet, right? Wrong. One day, a coworker pointed at my waist, where my unbuttoned jeans were poking out against my oversize shirt, and said loudly, "Is that your belly button popping out like that?" I was mortified, but I learned a lesson: When you're expecting, your body changes -- and your clothing should too.

During pregnancy, comfort is key, and it all begins with your briefs. Whether you wear thongs, bikinis, or Bridget Jones "granny panties," stick to the style you're used to -- just buy them at least one or two sizes bigger as your belly grows. Be sure they're cotton so the fabric will stretch and breathe.

Your belly won't be the only part of your body that grows -- your breasts will change too. "One of the more obvious changes in early pregnancy is tenderness and, later on, enlargement," says Jennifer Niebyl, MD, head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, in Iowa City. "If you don't get proper support, you're going to be very uncomfortable." A soft, cotton sports bra can help in the first trimester when your breasts are very tender. Later on, look for a soft, elastic cup, and skip the stiff underwire -- it may be uncomfortable as your breasts get heavier.

Your breasts will probably continue to get bigger throughout your pregnancy, so don't buy a ton of bras during your first trimester. Play it by ear, and change sizes when you feel like you're spilling over or you're uncomfortable in the ones you've been wearing.

In your last trimester, ask a knowledgeable salesperson to help you find a maternity bra that will double as a nursing bra. Make sure the cups and the bra band aren't tight. Anything too restrictive can increase your chances of heartburn.

During your first trimester, you'll probably be too small for maternity wear but won't quite fit into your regular bottoms. You can use a belly band -- a seamless Lycra band (essentially a tube top around your waist) -- to get more mileage from your current pants and skirts. Put it on over your regular pants to hold them up and cover the unbuttoned waist. You can also wear it over maternity pants that are still too big, making them fit and concealing the extra fabric.

When you're approaching your second trimester, shop for jeans. Choose one dark pair and one light pair that you can dress up or down. You'll feel and look best in whatever style you preferred pre-pregnancy, so if you love those boot legs, stick with them now.

Balance is key when you're choosing bottoms to complete an outfit. Vanessa Knox-Brien, creator of Isabella Oliver maternity wear says, "If you go flowy on top, choose slim, fitted jeans or leggings. If you pick a fitted tee, try a pair of wide-leg trousers."

For lounging around the house, sweatpants are a good choice. Choose elastic, Lycra, or drawstring -- anything adjustable is best, especially since you'll be able to keep wearing it for a few months after you give birth. And don't forget to raid your husband's closet. His boxers and big shirts are perfect for sleepwear.

Your work and party wardrobes depend on your job environment and social schedule, but there are a few staples to stock up on. Start with every woman's essential -- the simple black maternity dress. Choose a streamlined knit dress, either short-sleeved or sleeveless. Pair it with a blazer for the boardroom, or jazz it up with a funky wrap for a night out. Empire waists or A-line dresses will flatter your new figure, but wrap styles can also adjust to your growing belly.

For super dress-up affairs, save money by buying a tunic with a little sparkle and pairing it with a black skirt, fancy accessories, and dramatic makeup. Or get a sexy halter top. "I think styles that show off shoulders look phenomenal on pregnant women," says maternity-wear designer Liz Lange. "Just make sure you invest in a supportive strapless bra to go underneath."

As your pregnancy progresses, you might notice that your shoes feel tight. "Your feet and legs will most likely swell as your body retains extra fluid," says Dr. Jennifer Niebyl. You'll want to pick shoes that are about a half size larger than your current size to allow for swelling and to maintain good circulation. You may also find your feet have become wider because of ligament-stretching relaxin -- a hormone -- and your arch may drop, so consider arch-support inserts.

In your later months, be careful about shoe styles too. As your belly grows, your center of gravity will shift forward, says Dr. Niebyl, so shoes that provide stability are critical. Skip the heels. Instead, find a flat shoe or stable kitten heel. And during your third trimester, forget the laces -- bending over will be a challenge. Go for mules, clogs, or boots that slip on and off easily.

Begin building your wardrobe with these must-haves.

white t-shirtblack leggingsfloral A-line skirt

  1. Jazz up a classic white maternity T-shirt with a cute necklace or scarf for casual get-togethers, or wear it during the weekend for schlepping around the house.
  2. Leggings are stretchy and super comfortable and can be paired with almost any long maternity top. A pair with flared bottoms will make you feel less top-heavy.
  3. A knee-length A-line skirt is comfortable for dress-up occasions from meetings to parties. Get one in black to go with everything and one in a pretty print.

Copyright © 2007. Reprinted with permission from the July 2007 issue of Parents magazine.