Maternity Clothing Hacks: When to Spend a Little and Where You Can Save A Lot

Right off the bat let me establish that this is meant to be a (mostly) tongue-in-cheek look at maternity clothes with just a little bit of actual advice thrown in, because I am not a fashionista, not a style savvy mama, and not often found wearing anything besides a comfy tee shirt and jeans whether I’m pregnant or not. I also realize that my views won’t be applicable to everyone’s circumstances or everyone’s body – by a long shot! If you’re excited to order a shitload of maternity clothes and you can afford to rock the amazing maternity fashions that are available to you, go girl! Do what you can to find joy in your bod during this weird time of having it taken over by another human. If your size necessitates specialized clothing (lookin’ at my big-busted mama friends! I see you!) then investing in certain high quality pieces could be wise for you because cheaping out on bras probably ain’t gonna cut it. This guide is just some basic advice from a third time mama with very low standards on how to cut some corners if your budget isn’t leaving room for a $70 maternity t-shirt that you’ll only wear for a few months.

All of these photos were taken at 35+ weeks and feature non maternity clothes!

Where I Got Swindled:

  • after ordering a ton of brand new maternity clothes online during my first pregnancy I was shocked when it all arrived. The shirts and dresses only had 1-2 extra cm of fabric on the front side of the dress and were otherwise exactly the same as my non-maternity clothes. They fit me well for the first few months when I only had a tiny cute bump but were laughably short once the bump grew even a little, which is when I actually needed clothes that fit.

When to Spend on Real Maternity Items:

  • shorts and pants: unless you plan on living only in dresses and stretchy rompers for 9 months you’re likely going to need some maternity pants. I bought two pairs of jeans from TopShop ($80 each) after finding that the stylish jeans at my local maternity store could run up to $150-$200 per pair! Old Navy also does some amazing maternity jeans but the sizes sell out quickly so you need to keep your eyes out for frequent restocks. I’m Canadian, but when I was in Palm Springs while pregnant I found that TJMaxx and ROSS in the US each had a small rack of denim maternity shorts with cute pairs for about $10-$15 (I’ve never seen this at Winners but they should get on board!).
  • special events: hard to imagine during these Covid days but you might be invited to a wedding again one day! Depending on your bump you might be able to wear one of your existing outfits well into the second trimester (god bless stretch fabrics!) but if you’re in later pregnancy or just wanna dress up there are a lot of options available online at PinkBlush (on the fancier side) and Asos (more casual dresses).
  • professional clothes: if you have a big girl job like at a bank or office you will obviously need to spend a little more money than those of us who work in more casual positions or from home. You can look around for some used pieces first – call your local consignment stores to see if they offer used pieces or post to your local Mom Group or Buy and Sell on FB and see what comes up! Lots of women have maternity clothes gathering dust that they’re wiling to part with, often for free. Otherwise Old Navy has some decent budget-friendly professional stuff and Asos has some very cute and trendy skirts and tops that you can layer under your existing blazer/ cardi/ jacket of choice.

Where You Can Avoid Maternity Pieces (and Save Money!):

  • (most) nursing bras: I admittedly do not have a large bust, but of course that changes quickly postpartum and, for many, in early pregnancy already. The size of your breasts will also adjust over the course of the first few months – they start out pretty engorged but after 3-4 months when baby has found a bit of a schedule with feeding (or you’ve found a schedule with pumping or formula), things will reach a new normal and that’s a great time to invest in a good quality nursing bra that you can wear out of the house and feel good in – Knix has a new line of nursing bras but I’ve gotten away with two of these from TopShop (just basic comfy mesh and lace, $7). At home I have always just worn and slept in basic bralettes (try Aerie or Blush) and sized up. I find when you need nursing access it’s easier to just pull them down – you do not always need something with a clasp! I personally found it to be a waste of time and the plastic mechanism can break easily anyway. I also found these super helpful during my second pregnancy and postpartum when my ribcage expanded (ugh) and my bras were too tight to be comfortable (spoiler alert: ribcage never went fully back to normal so I guess I’m just a whole new bra size now).
  • basic tees: not only are maternity tee shirts way overpriced, they’re often SO ugly, with truly awful corny graphics about being pregnant splayed across the front, sometimes in glitter. I guess that could be cute for your instagram feed or something but most of us would probably prefer a plain tee. Even though I am a very long torso-ed person I easily found inexpensive basic shirts that were long enough to cover even my 40 week bump. I found some at my local thrift store and another 1-2 at my WalMart (I don’t generally shop for clothes at Walmart but spending a minimal amount on a few tees during late pregnancy got me through to postpartum during a very hot summer).
  • dresses: if you’re having a late-summer or Fall baby you may want to search for a few breezy little summer dresses now! I scoured the thrift store and the local discount store (shoutout to Army and Navy) and bought a couple cheapie ones that would be long enough to cover a bump. I mostly wore these at home all summer in late pregnancy or I’d add small workout shorts if I wore them out in public. Can’t say I was very into shorts or pants near the end, especially when the temps hit 34 degrees!
  • leggings and comfy pants: I’ll admit that my bump outgrew my Topshop jeans the last month of my first pregnancy but by that point it was October and I’ve always been more about comfort in the Third Trimester anyway. Many women recommend Old Navy for a pair of comfy leggings for late pregnancy and I’ve seen some good options at Target as well, but you can also score a “buy one get one free” deal every couple months through the more expensive maternity stores. Don’t bother paying full price as this deal happens often! At home I generally just wear my regular comfy pants and fold the front down under the bump.
  • workout wear: I’m on my third pregnancy and haven’t bought any maternity workout wear yet. A lot of Lululemon’s basic tanks are super long and stretchy and will fit comfortably over a third trimester bump (I have one that is too long even when I’m 40 weeks!) and discount stores like TJ Maxx and Winners usually have a huge selection of workout tops as well – just size up and you’re sure to find something to accommodate a bump for around $15. I wore my pre-pregnancy workout shorts throughout all of my pregnancies and just rolled the front under my bump, but of course if you do a lot of workout classes or runs you may want to invest in something that looks cuter in public. Don’t get sucked into the need for a nursing sports bra either – I don’t think I’ve ever fed a baby during a workout.

I know, I know, these are hardly earth-shattering pregnancy hacks, but I find that in late pregnancy I’m usually so uncomfortable that I don’t care if I’m wearing fancy expensive clothes or not. Maybe dressing up is the only thing that keeps you going through that uncomfy phase and that’s fine, too! But First Time Mom’s often feel they need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe when they find out they’re pregnant and I wanted to share with other budget conscious mamas that you don’t need to run out and spend hundreds to look cute, you just need a few staple pieces, a fair amount of stretch, and an open mind!

Emotional Isolation and the Struggle of the First Trimester

I decided to announce my pregnancy with baby number 3 at only ten weeks pregnant, prompting more than a few people to ask me whether I thought that was an altogether wise decision. My answer, of course, is “yes!” It was the right decision for me, and not one that I made arbitrarily.

I know that everyone is different and many women value their privacy. Perhaps I’m at risk of being labeled an over-sharer but I learned, painstakingly over the course of my twenties, just who I was and how I operate and I’ve come to know that sharing is just who I am. Personally I find speaking about my experiences therapeutic. I’m not a very private person because finding commonality with others makes me feel like I’m part of a community and one of my biggest fears is emotional isolation. Feeling like we’re the only one going through something hard can be incredibly difficult and I’m grateful for the platforms we have in 2020 to speak about our experiences and easily find others who are feeling the same way (this ability to surround ourselves with only others who think the way we do comes with obvious dangers as well, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Feeling so bad in the first trimester but not being “allowed” to tell others or talk about it always feels a little tortuous to me. Since 2020 started I’ve missed appointments, cancelled plans, barely left the house, and completely dropped the ball on all parenting-related responsibilities without being able to give anyone any explanation. Sometimes it feels as if the hardest parts in pregnancy and motherhood are the ones that are also considered too private to talk about. The majority of pregnant women feel nausea during their first trimester and it often lasts all day (that morning sickness label is exceedingly false for many!). There’s also a pervasive fatigue, like a cant-keep-your-eyes-open, exhausted-down-to-your-very-bones kind of tiredness, the likes of which challenges even that postpartum fatigue once baby arrives and decides not to sleep for the first six months if it’s life. I described the First Trimester to Tom as waking up with one of the worst hangovers of your life, but every day for weeks. You don’t have the appetite for any food but know you have to eat something to feel better and you wake up and wistfully dream about bedtime before you’ve even gotten out of bed to start your day. This is what the First Trimester is like for most of us so why should we have to suffer through it in silence?

There are some super exciting moments in these early days as well, like peeing on a stick in the sleepy hours of the morning and then sharing the happy results with your partner (or your hetero life partner/cousin, in my case), telling family and friends, and going to your first ultrasound appointment to see that tiny blob in your growing uterus and hear baby’s heartbeat for the first time. There’s nothing quite like those exciting and anxiety-ridden first few months of pregnancy and we try our best to enjoy it with gratitude and hope, even through the nausea and food aversions.

As in all things, what’s right for me may not be right for you – maybe you’re the type to keep silent and maybe you, like me, are prone to sharing and commiserating with others. Whatever feels right for you, do it! But know that you’re not alone – the first trimester is a tough time for all of us.