Maternity T-Shirts Guide
How to Find Comfortable Maternity T-Shirts
Congratulations on being pregnant! You know you’ll need a maternity t-shirt (or two). Here’s what you should you look for to make sure that you get the best deal – and most maternity tees – possible.
Maternity T-Shirts = Maternity Cut
A true maternity t-shirt has a ‘maternity cut’ which allows you to buy your pre-pregnancy size with room to grow in the belly and in your bust line, hips, and shoulders as well. Maternity t-shirts are unique because they are custom shirts, and aren’t made by the hundreds of thousands at a time like your every day t-shirts. Of course, there are folks out there who say they’re selling maternity shirts – but using regular shirts instead.
The cut is essential when looking for a maternity t-shirt. Make sure there is more material in the front of the shirt than in the back. The t-shirt shouldn’t be ‘cylinder’ shaped (men’s t-shirt are cylindered t-shirt – just a roll of fabric that doesn’t change in width from the shoulders to the hemline). The t-shirt also shouldn’t be ‘fitted cut’ like women’s fitted t-shirts without enough room for your tummy to grow.
When laid flat, the front of the maternity t-shirt should be slightly longer than the back of your shirt – your tummy is going to be bigger than your backside (we always hope that’s the case when we’re pregnant), and the extra fabric in the front allows for a ‘level’ look around the hem.
Avoid “extra stretchy” or “form fitting” maternity shirts that ‘stretch’ to grow with your expanding tummy. Often, these shirts are regular (non-maternity) ribbed t-shirts, or a synthetic blend, and the material WILL stretch around your tummy, to an extent. Since the material is stretching, however, it will also shorten in the front and bunch in the back, making an uneven (and uncomfortable) hemline. Depending on how big your tummy gets, the t-shirt will also feel binding across your breast and tummy. What you end up with is nothing more than a regular t-shirt stretching over your tummy – and it LOOKS like the shirt is stretched. Because your tummy stretches out the shirt, you won’t be able to wear it post-partum or during your next pregnancy.
Maternity T-Shirt Fabric
Maternity tees should be made of breathable and natural fabrics. The purpose of wearing a t-shirt is to be comfortable. If you wanted to be uncomfortable, you’d go buy a corset. Pregnancy hormones have a nasty habit of making you over-heat quickly, and your skin becomes more sensitive (for some mom’s, skin becomes super-sensitive). The basic reason for this is because there’s more blood flowing through your body, causing increased skin sensitivity. Synthetic fabrics retain body heat, not to mention they tend to make your skin feel ‘itchy’, even when you’re not pregnant. The higher the percentage of natural fabrics (for instance, made of 90% or 100% cotton), the better.
The heavier the cotton weight the better, as higher cotton weights becomes softer and more comfortable with washings, while lower weights tend to wear ‘thin’. We preferred at least a 6 ounce cotton when we were pregnant, which was thick enough to be comfortable, yet not so heavy that the shirts were ‘hot’ to wear (being pregnant in Oregon in August isn’t as bad as some parts of the country – but it was hot enough). After much research and personal experience, we chose to make our own maternity shirts with a 6.2, 100% cotton material.
Quality is important in any shirt you buy. While it’s hard to tell quality from a photo, you should look for maternity t-shirts that are double-stitched and made of good material.
Try to buy ‘made in the US’. Not only do you promote our local economy and businesses, but the workmanship quality tends to be better than those made overseas. Sizing is more accurate as well. When I was pregnant, I tried on three different maternity shirts one morning – same brand. The first two didn’t ‘fit right’ – too small around the tummy and made the shirt look frumpy, and the third fit perfect. Since they were all from the same manufacturer, I checked the labels to see if maybe my tummy had gone up a size. The first two shirts were large and x-large. The shirt that fit (while the others were too small) – was labeled a medium. I laid them one on top of another and, sure enough, the large and x-large were the same size, and the medium was bigger than both of them.
As we started the process of designing our own maternity t-shirts, I mentioned my experience to one of our designer friends. That was when I learned that when shirts are manufactured overseas, and if they ‘run out’ of a certain size during sewing (say, they have an order for 100 large shirts), they will simply take shirts from a different size (medium or x-large usually) and stitch in the ‘large’ label to meet the quantity need for the large sizes. No wonder it’s so hard to find shirts that fit!
Sizing is important. You should be able to wear your pre-pregnancy size when you buy maternity clothes. Unfortunately, there is no manufacturer standard for sizing, and as you are aware from your non-pregnancy wardrobe what one brand calls medium is another brand’s x-large. If you gain more than 27 – 35 lbs. during your pregnancy, or are expecting twins, your maternity t-shirt should be the size larger than your pre-pregnancy size.
It’s amazing how many people, shops, and stores sell non-maternity t-shirts (regular t-shirts, tank tanks, ribbed shirts, henleys, baseball jerseys, etc.) as maternity tees. Just calling it a maternity t-shirt doesn’t make it so. And several of these stores sell these non-maternity maternity shirts for the same price as real maternity shirts.
Some Signs that You Aren’t Getting a ‘True’ Maternity T-Shirt:
One size fits most. Let’s face it – the majority of one-size-fits-most shirts really are one-size-doesn’t-fit-well-on-most-people. The same holds true for maternity t-shirts. Just like a modified Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you’ll find that it’s too big, too small, or just right. To be honest, it costs money to create shirts in different sizes. Some stores have decided to reduce the expense by simply selling a ‘one-size fits most’. While some products (such as belly bands, pant extenders, etc.) really do fit multiple size ranges, it just doesn’t work for maternity t-shirts.
One size fits two or three sizes. Maternity t-shirts that say they fit a multiple size range usually aren’t being really honest. This reminds me of a Halloween costume I purchased a few years ago, that fit sizes 4 – 10. It was a Snow White dress with a belt that you could tie around your waist to make the dress fit your size. If you were a size four, I suppose it would fit, but would be rather baggy in the hips, shoulders, and bust line. I was a size 8 at the time, and it fit fine – but a friend who bought a similar costume was a size 12, and felt that the chest and arms were too tight. Same thing for maternity t-shirts. If you have a t-shirt that fits multiple sizes in the small to large range, it’s probably a perfect size for the middle size. If you’re a size at the small end of the range, it’s most likely going to be a bit baggy (probably in the chest, as the tummy material will be stretchy and cut rather small), and if you’re a size at the top of the range, you’re going to feel it’s a little tight everywhere. The maternity t-shirt might be made of a ‘stretchy’ material, but it can only stretch to a point before the material becomes binding and the shirt ill-fitting. Again, there are some maternity accessories that do fit multiple sizes well. Maternity t-shirts just aren’t one of them.
Order a size larger than your pregnancy size. Unless you’re expecting twins, and the product specifies ordering a larger size for a twin pregnancy – “order a size larger than your pre-pregnancy size” is usually a warning sign. Again, these shops may be selling non-maternity t-shirts as ‘maternity’. Yes, ribbed cotton will stretch, and mens ribbed tank tops do stretch a little more, but the material can only stretch to a point before it becomes binding and ill-fitting and looks – well, stretched out.
Standard Cut . These maternity tees are on 'standard' unisex, womens or mens t-shirts. No maternity shirts - and therefore no maternity fit and comfort - here!
The Bottom Line
Finding a maternity t-shirt that’s of good quality, comfortable, and fits just-right was something I searched for during my pregnancy, then spent six months researching as we began to develop our own maternity t-shirts, and have continued to research as our business continues to grow. Through trial and error, I came up with the following guidelines when looking for maternity t-shirts (which happens to be the same guide we used when developing TummyWear maternity shirts):
- Buy ‘real’ maternity cut t-shirts. Stay away from ‘wannabes’, as they aren’t cut to meet the growing needs of your body.
- Buy maternity t-shirts made from natural fabrics (such as cotton). Stay away from maternity t-shirts that are made of synthetic materials.
- Buy good quality maternity t-shirts. Stay away from the cheap stuff!
- Buy maternity t-shirts in your pre-pregnancy size. Avoid ‘one size fits all’, or one size fits multiple sizes.