April 29, 2013 at 8:13 AM ET
When you are pregnant, even the most routine tasks can feel daunting. Getting out of bed can make you nauseous. Opinions about whether you’re gaining too much, or too little, can drive you nuts. And finding something to wear to cover your new figure? Forget about it!
“The way women are scrutinized during pregnancy is terrible,” says stay-at-home mom Jane Ray. “Particularly when it comes to weight gain and fashion, women who are pregnant should wear what makes them feel good and embrace the size they’re in.”
Ray was born and raised in the UK and is currently living in Jersey City, N.J., along with her husband, toddler son, and baby on the way. She has witnessed firsthand the criticism pregnant women face in the US and UK, and thinks celebrity moms-to-be get the worst of it.
Take Duchess Kate, for example, who has been scrutinized since the moment she announced she was expecting, with critics constantly judging her for maintaining a small figure. Recent outings in which she displayed her small royal baby bump in non-maternity clothes has only fueled speculation. Meanwhile, Kim Kardashian has been attacked for showing off her belly too much, with tight clothes and revealing tops.
Both illustrate the point that women, pregnant or not, come in a wide variety of healthy shapes and sizes. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that a first time mom might sport either a barely-there bump or a more voluptuous figure.
“The criticism of Duchess Kate’s small bump is crazy,” says Ray. “She has always been tiny so a small bump is to be expected.”
It’s not just her bump the world is watching, but also how she chooses to cover it. When you’re idolized by fashionistas around the world, there is an added pressure to enchant your followers with impeccable maternity style. And when you make a misstep? Watch out, because the world is watching.
To be fair, most women would take the heat if it meant they’d have a slew of stylists chomping at the bit to dress their changing figures. With a posse like that, dressing during pregnancy looks almost easy.
“I remember going into client meetings and just wanting to get up because my clothes were just so tight,” says Susan Cho, a New Jersey based mother of two who launched Fourth Love, a maternity line featuring pieces you can wear during and after your pregnancy. “Investing in expensive quality pieces was not an option because my priorities were changing. I was in a constant search for clothes with the right shape, coverage and price point.”
When it comes to outfitting your bump, there are no hard and fast rules. Some new moms might start showing in the first few months of pregnancy, and some further down the line. You never know how your body’s shape will transform, which makes it especially difficult to determine whether you’re going to end up as a style “do” or “don’t” in the world of maternity fashion.
“I tend to stay away from jeans, tight pants and uncomfortable tops” says Colleen Bischoff, mother of two from Sierra Madre, Calif. “I also found that necklaces and scarves were great accessories to bring wandering eyes back to my face after they’ve noticed my gigantic belly.”
During her first pregnancy, Bischoff faced scrutiny over her petite size and lack of maternity wear.
“When I was pregnant with my daughter I was teaching the second grade and was able to wear conservative, non-maternity clothes till about month seven,” she said. “People would always comment about how small my bump was and it made me super paranoid. Turns out, I just had a small baby.”
During her second pregnancy, Bischoff’s style quickly changed due to her blossoming bump and the fact that she was now spending much of her day chasing after her young daughter.
“When I was pregnant with my son I started showing earlier so I started wearing maternity clothes around four months. As much as I didn't want to spend money on maternity clothes, they actually fit better and were more flattering,” she said “And even then, people would ask me if I was having twins. You just can't win! ”
For most moms-to-be, their day to day activities dictate how early, or how late they’re willing to invest in maternity clothes.
PR executive Zoe Weisberg Coady, co-founder of New York based PR firm Brandstyle Communications, believes pregnancy should not deter a woman from looking or feeling chic. Similar to Duchess Kate’s style, Zoe would prefer to wear non-maternity clothes as long as possible, albeit in larger sizes.
“I am not a big fan of maternity clothes in general,” says Coady, who is expecting her second baby in June. “I think you should dress for your body type like you would when you are not pregnant. A lot of women resort to leggings and big tops, but you can wear a great pair of maternity jeans, a non-maternity blazer, a simple t-shirt underneath with a scarf, earrings and ankle boots and look chic and still be comfortable.”
“I barely bought any maternity clothes this time around and worked more with what I had. I also invested in a great pair of flat, super-comfortable boots that I live in,” she said.”
Experts like maternity designer Cho say that accentuating your belly is a good starting point when fleshing out your wardrobe. “Your belly is your best asset so flaunt it with elegance. Mixing regular clothes and accessories with new maternity clothing is the best approach to get the most mileage out of your closet.”
The switch to a maternity wardrobe is individual, and might happen after two months, five months or even eight months (if you’re lucky!) But let’s not forget about after delivery, when your cute baby belly fails to magically melt away overnight.
“I think a lot of women don’t realize that their maternity clothes don’t get packed right away after the baby arrives,” says Cho. “It is important to have few pieces that make you look and feel great during and after pregnancy.”
Regardless, most moms would agree that whether you’re fashion-forward or fashion conscious, pregnancy is a time to be celebrated, so flaunt your bump with pride.
“This is the only time in your life that a belly hanging over your jeans or skirt is considered adorable,” says Bischoff. “Luckily, the majority of people love seeing pregnant ladies and give tons of compliments, so store them up because once you have the baby, all the ooohing and ahhhing will go directly to the baby!”