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By Teresa Gallagher and Maria Mueller

Congratulations! You’ve just found out that you will be expecting a new baby!

...Sooner or later, you realize that you are going to need a maternity wardrobe.

Where do you start?

Here are some basic do’s and don’ts to take the anxiety out of shopping for maternity clothing that will help you look and feel your best during your pregnancy.

Why frustrate yourself by trying to expand waistlines with elastic bands and open buttons? With the exception of a few people, buying maternity clothes will be inevitable. The more wear you are able to get out of them, the better your investment will be. So, as soon as you can’t zip up your favorite pair of jeans, treat yourself to the comfort of maternity jeans - topped with your everyday button down white oxford, no one will know the difference, but you will certainly feel it!

Avoid impulsive shopping sprees! Start slowly and work your way up, selecting clothes that will work well together. For your first pieces, try to stick with basics that will go with everything. As you "grow" along, add fashionable prints and colors that will mix and match, giving you fresh new looks, as well an occasional, much needed, psychological boost. Black leggings, denim jeans, twill pants, and a short cotton interlock skirt are a few ideas for basic bottoms that allow creative combinations with any color or print top.Or, if you prefer to wear your tops as your basics, try a white or classic French blue button down oxford, a denim shirt, or a solid color cotton/spandex tunic top.

After establishing your basics, then feel free to splurge on that one complete fashion piece you just can’t live without - a boot leg jumpsuit, a fabulous print dress, or a coordinating pant suit. This will add a big splash of fashion to your maternity wardrobe in a financially minimal way.

For the workplace, if you need a 2 piece suit, start with one great style that makes you feel every bit as professional as you did before. If you need black or dark blue, look for some texture in the material, such as a ribbing, to add some interest. If color is acceptable in your work environment, venture from black to contemporary eggplants and burgundies. But take a wait- and- see approach. Resist the temptation to go out and buy five work outfits. You might be able to use your basic bottoms here, and coordinate them with a fashionable cardigan sweater set, or a solid color separates jacket layered over a smart career blouse.

Maternity manufacturers have finally realized that women would like to continue dressing in the pre-pregnancy style to which they have become accustomed. You will find a great selection of outfits styled to flatter your figure. Top quality maternity vendors such as Japanese Weekend, Belly Basics, and Duet Designs have brought boot leg pants, tailored career suits, and cardigan sweater sets to the maternity marketplace. You’ll also be able to find many occasional outfits, such as a basic Little Black Dress, to take you through all your special events and parties!

Choose the fashions and colors that best fit your personality and make you feel great! If you love (or have) to wear two-piece suits to work, there are many fabulous and affordable options. If you were not comfortable wearing hosiery pre-pregnancy, you don’t have to start wearing them now. There are many fresh, new styles in maternity pants and pants suits to select from, ranging from basic leggings, to boot legs, to bell bottoms! And you have just as many color and print options as your non-maternity peers. While basic black is always a secure choice, the newest shades like soft lilac and French blue are almost irresistible.

...on quality. Most women do not purchase more pieces than they need for the term of their pregnancy. Sooner or later, maternity clothes are stored or given away. They wear the same pants and tops over and over. This usually means repeated washing or cleaning. You don’t want to see your favorite pair of leggings unravel before your eyes, which is the downside to poorly manufactured clothes. The key is to look for the best quality in what you need as you go, and to make all the pieces work together and count.

Inquire about return policies before you purchase. Many stores will only allow you to make an exchange or receive store credit. If so, make sure to try the clothes on. Many mail order and internet maternity boutiques will necessarily permit returns because of your inability to try on selections, but be aware of time restrictions and calculate the cost of return or exchange shipping in your decision to buy.

Select your pre-pregnancy size. Maternity clothes are designed this way. After all, your arms and legs don’t get longer, and your basic body structure will remain the same. Well made maternity clothes give you the extra room only where you need it - belly, bust, hips, and arm holes - while maintaining the pre-pregnancy proportions of each size range. Front hemlines on tops and jackets may be slightly longer earlier in your term to allow for gradual leveling out as your belly expands. Also earlier on, expect a little extra material in dresses and jackets to allow for expansion - jacket clips or built in ties are used to gather it back until you need it (and you will!).

The variety of maternity styles and shopping options should give you great confidence in selecting a wardrobe. Be confident that the fashion you crave is out there for you, and be confident that you are able to expect the best and know how to get it. Looking your best will make you feel great, and feeling great is what it’s all about!

Best wishes for a healthy and happy pregnancy!

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