Expecting a baby can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling times of your life. However, it throws up a lot of uncertainties and anxieties because it is new ground for everyone, especially the first time. One of those anxieties can be maternity clothing and not feeling good about the way you think you look.

Maternity clothing has improved to the point that in the early stages of pregnancy “outsiders” cannot tell that you are wearing maternity clothes. For many maternity clothes mean leggings, dungarees and loose T-shirts. Having said that we sell a lot of those as well!

I have tried to list some general advice below in different sections. It is hopefully just some commonsense, but also helping a new mum-to-be understand the options on the market now, with different fittings.

General Advice

The most important thing to do is to measure yourself properly - particularly in the bust and under the bump, across the hips. These are the two main measurements used by the manufacturers. If you are in between two sizes go to the largest, - you reduce the risk of seams pulling and your underwear showing! You will also help to prolong the life of your maternity clothes, and more importantly you will look better.

The next measurement is length - skirts are normally measured from under the waistband, dresses from the nape of the neck to the hem, trousers, leggings and jeans are the inside leg length. If items are suitable for petite or taller ladies I have tried to indicate these in the descriptions.

In some of the descriptions I have indicated if an item can be worn post-pregnancy, thereby providing more value for money. These are generally pull-on items that have elasticated waists, drawstring waists or those with simple folding waistbands that have grown with the bump but retain their shape and comfort after the birth.

Finally, remember that you may wear a couple of sizes during your pregnancy - this is normal and is usually due to the way the baby lies and the extra fluids you are carrying - not because you have eaten too much!

Another point to remember is that your shoe size may increase - don't be tempted to continue wearing tight shoes, you will increase the likelihood of circulation problems. Be kind to your body, be realistic and you will look fantastic!!

Types of Maternity Clothes styles

Manufacturers have different ways of fitting maternity clothes using zips, fabric panels, drawstring waists and adjustable elastic. The most common method is the stretch fabric panel which is used by many manufacturers for skirts and trousers - this has been nicknamed the "kangaroo pouch" by some of my customers! This is very comfortable and can be combined with adjustable elastic waists. Some manufacturers use zips, either side of the panel or horizontally on the side of trousers so they are adjustable as bump grows outwards.

The most common method of waist adjustment is the adjustable elastic which has a series of button holes that you simple move along and fix to the button/s on the side of the waistband as you grow.

Another method commonly used is the waist ties on dresses and blouses - again allowing you to adjust as you grow. Most maternity clothes do not scream "I've just had a baby!" and you can continue to wear your maternity clothes post-natally as long as you want.

When a customer tells me how many weeks they have left, I automatically add on 6 weeks. This will give you an indication of how long post-natally you could be wearing your clothes - and this may be longer if you are breast-feeding. As someone once said, 6 weeks is equivalent to 42 days of looking in your wardrobe for something to wear, and when you've not had much sleep with a newborn baby, you don't want to have to think too hard! However, you do want to avoid wearing your nightclothes and dressing gown all day, every day.

Breast Feeding

The most important thing about breastfeeding is to make sure that you are comfortable and wearing the correct size maternity bras. Your bust size will change during your pregnancy so you will have to have a couple of support bras per size. You can now buy extension clips that will give you extra width across the back but these are not a substitute if your cup size changes drastically. I went from a 36B to a 40DD so these are only a short term measure.

You should be measured for your feeding bras at weeks 36-38, by a trained fitter. They are available in good stores such as Mothercare and there is also a network of volunteer bra fitters trained by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).All profits from this service go to the NCT. The NCT website will help you find the nearest branch that can provide this service. The NCT also runs an excellent breastfeeding help-line so they can help you too. For good advice try and choose someone who has breastfed themselves - there is no substitute for home-grown advice. I was fitted for my first pregnancy by a young shop assistant who, although a trained fitter, did not have children so could not give me advice about different types of bras from a personal point of view. Alternatively, if you see someone breastfeeding, ask them for advice, they will not only be flattered but they will be pleased to help. We only stock BRAND NEW bras, 90% of them are feeding bras.

As a minimum you should have two day bras and a sleep bra, but you will find that you need more, unless you want to be washing them all day. There are two types of feeding bras - drop cup and zip. Again this is down to personal preference - and you may need a bit of practice juggling the baby and doing the cups up after a feed! The drop cups clip onto the lower part of your bra strap; the zips are either central and go around the cup or are on the outer edges of the cups. The only disadvantage of the zips method is that you can sometimes catch yourself - ouch! Zip bras are best for larger busts as they provide the equivalent support to an underwire bra.

If you are a confident feeder you can wear loose fitting normal tops and T-shirts for feeding but there are many discreet breastfeeding tops available that use buttons or concealed zips that allow you to feed without pulling your top up to expose your midriff and your underwear (however pretty it is!). The most important thing is that you are comfortable both physically and mentally with feeding at home and out & about.

Specials - Tall & Petites

Are you tall? There are very few high street companies who sell longer-length maternity clothes as part of their normal stock – the situation is changing but very slowly and most can now be found online as independent suppliers because they were just as frustrated!

I have labelled certain items as petite because they are particularly short in length. Remember you can be petite in height but a size 18 or petite in size but also tall. I have a Japanese friend who is a size 8 but found that some of the trousers were too short because she has long legs!

What would I recommend for a minimum wardrobe?

This will depend very much on your circumstances and the season, but to help you minimise your cost and still have enough clothes to see you through a year (yes it could be that long!) I suggest that you try and stick with a base colour that you know flatters you and then add a few pieces in accent colours. A base colour will be navy, black, beige, cream or white. Some people prefer black as they find it slimming but navy is kinder in the spring and summer months.

Accent colours are used to "lift and accentuate" the base colours. Look at the colours against your face in daylight or good indoor lighting, like halogen. People are described as having warm or cool colours - warm are more disposed to yellow tones, cool to bluer tones. The overall effect must take into account skin, hair and eye colour. I have olive skin, black hair and hazel eyes. I am described as a "burnished winter" which means I can wear large amounts of black and navy and white, but my accent colours must be clear and bright, i.e. sapphire blue, jade green, purple and scarlet red. Yellow tones make me look sallow so I cannot wear sludgy greens or orange as they have too much yellow and not enough blue to balance my skin tone.

As a special treat, why not ask your partner to buy you a colour analysis session then you will know which colours suit you best and will always buy your clothes with those colours in mind - no more fashion mistakes!

Consider the clothes you have in your current wardrobe, and your partners, that you could wear for some of your pregnancy. In the early days, you may simply undo the bottom button on a blouse worn over a skirt, and we nearly all have an item of clothing that we wear when we feel bloated during our periods or items of clothing that we fluctuate between depending on the diet!

I would suggest that for a mum at home with the children or working in a home environment the minimum wardrobe should consist of one or two pairs of jeans, (substitute two pairs of shorts in the summer plus a pair of jeans), one pair of smart casual trousers, four or five T-shirts/tops/blouses, two skirts, two or three day dresses and one special outfit - although I would suggest that should the circumstances arise this is a hired outfit, unless you know that you are going to get the maximum wear out of it and it will not be seen by too many of the same circle of friends.

If you are working in an office or corporate environment, ask your personnel office for guidance on dress codes. Some companies will expect you to keep up the pre-pregnancy standard and others will relax the rules slightly for days with your colleagues in the office but may ask that you still "dress up" for your clients. In this situation the same wardrobe as above would apply but you could add a suit for client visits (or replace the day dresses) and perhaps add a few more tops so that the wardrobe is more versatile. A suit will be the most expensive item in your pregnancy wardrobe - as it often is in a normal working wardrobe. An alternative to the suit is a good plain or finely pin-striped tailored jacket and a pair of tailored trousers and a tailored skirt.

How do I match my wardrobe if I am buying through the website?

Some clothing websites have a facility whereby you put in the items codes that you wish to order and they come up with suggestions of other items that you might buy to go with them. All designed to increase your spending!

We do not yet have this facility, although I am happy to advise you as I can physically see the stock and match colours ( I have daylight and halogen lighting), but a good clue is to look at the items either side of your chosen codes, as they are likely to have originated from the same seller.

And don't forget we have a no quibble returns policy!