Saturday, February 28, 2009

Belly bands keep your pants and spirits high

My post on BabyLegs inspired me to start an ongoing series highlighting products that have made my life easier in pregnancy, birth, or parenting. I've been commenting on products in other people's blogs and realized I've never mentioned some of my faves in my own.

No one's paying me to plug their products, and in many cases I used a made-at-home version, crafted either by myself or by someone online. Granted, I'll use some affiliate links, but you're free to ignore them. I think they're helpful for illustration purposes (free stock photos!), at any rate.

Today I'm going to sing the praises of the belly band. You might know it under such commercial names as the BellaBand or Tummy Sleeve.

A belly band is a stretchy tube of knit fabric that hugs around your tummy.

You use it in early pregnancy to wear your non-maternity pants longer -- just unfasten them as needed, and let the belly band be your hide-it-all, wide belt. You can scrunch it down or pull it up.

You use it in mid-pregnancy to keep up your maternity pants. Sometimes those stretchy bands that come standard on maternity jeans don't stay up well until you're seriously popped. The belly band gently constricts and keeps your pants in place. Very important to keep your pants secure when you're already feeling a little conspicuous!

I liked the safe, hugging feeling it gave, and wore mine throughout the pregnancy. Toward the end, it's nice to hide any lowdown stretch marks while still showing off the cute (huge) shape of your bump. Also, especially if you have a long torso, you'll find that maternity shirts don't hide your whole tummy toward the end. The band keeps your belly respectably covered. Plus, the layered look it gives is fashionable without being bulky, particularly helpful if you're sweating your way toward a summer birth.

After you give birth, you can go back to wearing your belly band as when you were just starting to show -- to keep up your suddenly looser maternity pants, or to add some give to your regular pants as you flirt with resuming a contoured waistband.

For nursing, it can help you breastfeed discreetly without a special nursing top. Just spread it out from your waistband to under your bra, then raise your shirt to breastfeed. The belly band will keep your tummy, sides, and back comfortably covered.

Being tall and carrying a 12-pound baby (ok, I didn't know it at the time), I worried that the commercial versions might be too tight on me because I'd heard the fabric and sizing were particularly snug (though I believe they've come out with more sizes since then). The last thing my sensitive protruding stomach wanted was to be squished!

So I went online and found sellers on eBay who offered a range of sizes. (I've put in a cool little widget at the bottom of the post so you can see who's currently selling any type of belly band, or or use this link.) Some sellers make belly bands according to your measurements, and some simply recommend a particular diameter according to your pre-pregnancy size.

I picked the seller with the fabric I liked best -- a soft cotton jersey in all-purpose black.

And then I wore that sucker every day. I dreaded whenever I felt it needed washing, because then I had to wait for it to drip dry. Fortunately, despite my obsessive daily wearing, it never got smelly, I think because it was over my waistband for the most part.

I realize it would be very easy to make your own belly band. Simply buy a foot of stretchy fabric, like jersey knit. Measure the smallest part of your belly or use a tight t-shirt as a good guide. Fold the fabric over (right sides together if your fabric has such a thing) and sew up one seam, using the setting your sewing machine recommends for knit fabrics -- generally some sort of zig-zag or specialty stretch stitch. Knit fabrics usually don't fray on the edges but roll, so you shouldn't have to hem the sides. You might want to hem for looks, but make sure you serge or keep using the stretchy setting so your band's not constricting on the edges.

I was entirely planning to make additional belly bands on my own but wanted to buy my first one to make sure I had an idea of the size and height of the band. But then I could never find a suitable fabric at the store -- I'd find something that was too stretchy, too thin, too gaudy, too slippery, or too expensive. The band I bought was really the perfect combination of opaque, taut, and soft, with just enough give. Because it was black, it disappeared under my clothing so no one was assaulted by a strange swath of, say, lime-green peeking out under my maternity shirt. I really wanted to find some dark brown or navy blue jersey, perhaps even in a tasteful print, but I couldn't. Very discouraging, and bizarre. Maybe there was a run on those shades in Seattle, for nine months?

But these DIY instructions tell you just to use an old t-shirt you have lying around. Depending on the shirt, it might not be quite as snug as the jersey in my favorite belly band, but it would definitely be soft! Plus, it's a good way to recycle and be all frugal. Bonus -- if your t-shirt is tight enough, you don't have to sew a thing, just cut off the top! If you wear your t-shirts oversized, though, you'll need to take in the width a little and create a new seam.

If you're making your own and want to get fancy, you could sew some nice stretch lace edging on the bottom, as in some of the commercial styles, to give more of an obviously layered look.

For a little more money, and perhaps sacrificing some of your self-respect, you could head out to the local five-and-dime (I'm pretending these exist) and be the creepy pregnant woman buying a tight tube top from the juniors section.

So there you are, ladies -- all my tips for the fantabulous belly band. Keep your pants up and your dignity intact, no matter what your tummy size.


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