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Right now, I'm not quite willing to admit that I need maternity clothes -- even though all of my in-between clothing doesn't fit. It's not a fun place to be.

The pants are pinching, buttons are popping, and this morning I walked all the way into my daughter's school to drop her off, not realizing that my (non-maternity) shirt was riding up, completely revealing a lovely strip of my baby bump.

Although this is my fourth baby, it would appear that I still have a lot to learn about the right way to dress my pregnant body. I've always been one of those women who have eschewed buying maternity clothes, out of...I don't know, cheapness? But also because in the back of my mind, I've thought that it was a waste to buy an all-new wardrobe for a period of time that lasts only a few months.

But for the sake of comfort, self-esteem, and most likely the benefit of everyone in the schoolyard, it's time for me to admit defeat and start buying some pregnant-friendly clothes -- so I turned to the experts for a few tips on maternity fashion.

1. Love the leggings. "You can never go wrong with a nice pair of leggings that you can dress up or dress down, depending on the event," advises Lourdes Leon-Vega, a maternity fashion consultant with Tutti Bambini Maternity Concierge in Miami. Leggings can help transition regular dresses or longer tops into pregnancy wear.

2. Consider a consultant. Although I could obviously use some professional help, I have to admit that I have never really considered hiring help for my wardrobe. But if your budget allows, a maternity consultant could help you design your wardrobe. "A maternity wardrobe consultant offers personal styling and personal shopping for pregnant women," Leon-Vega explains. "Some women have a difficult time dressing their changing body, and a maternity wardrobe consultant is there to help take the guesswork out of maternity clothes."

pregnant woman
Credit: Ericka McConnell

3. Know that every woman is different. Part of my hesitation in purchasing maternity clothes is that I'm -- confession -- only at 16 weeks. And for some reason I thought there was some rule that I shouldn't have to buy maternity clothes before 20 weeks. Although Leon-Vega concedes that most women do purchase their first pair of maternity jeans around the 5th or 6th month, it's important to remember that every woman and every pregnancy is different. "There really isn't a 'best time' during pregnancy to buy maternity clothes," Leon-Vega says. "Although many women can keep wearing their prepregnancy clothing during the first trimester, some are very sensitive in the belly area, and they find low-waisted maternity pants more comfortable. Many women have no belly one day, and the next day they wake up and find that their belly has popped and nothing fits." Once you pop, the fun doesn't stop, right?

4. Stock the essentials. What are the essentials of the maternity wardrobe? "Leggings or pants with an elastic or drawstring waist, a basic dress that can be accessorized depending on the event, and comfortable and 'safe' shoes," Leon-Vega suggests. And for "safe" shoes, she recommends forgoing the heels and relying on flats for the duration of your pregnancy and possibly even postpartum, as foot swelling can take some time to dissipate.

5. Ask around. If you do have some reservations about spending a lot of your hard-earned money on a new maternity wardrobe, there's no harm in asking your fellow mommy friends if they'd be willing to share. My friends and family often swap maternity jeans and sundresses. It makes sense, and if you're willing to share your own purchases, chances are they will be, too. "Hand-me-downs are great!" says Dr. Sheryl Ross, an OB/GYN at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Online consignment shops and mom-to-mom sales are also good ways to score some discounted maternity wear.

6. Shop for transitional pieces. In the early stages of pregnancy, before the bump takes over, invest in a few pieces that will give you more room and come in handy in the postpartum months as well. Think loose, roomy shirts, or clothes a few sizes bigger than you usually wear. Avoid anything tight around your waist, especially in the pants department.

7. Stay true to yourself. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dressing during pregnancy. One expert I spoke to advised avoiding stripes, but in my online maternity shopping, I came across the cutest striped maternity dress -- and I bought it. You're still you when you're pregnant, and your style doesn't have to drastically change. Embrace your new curves -- and your own sense of style.