When it comes to buying maternity clothes, the holy trinity of affordability, practicality and comfort are invariably invoked.
And yes, all three are important. But when your tummy is so big you can't see your feet, your bosom has burst its Rigby & Peller cups and your bottom seems to have enlarged without any contribution from croissant or doughnut ingestion, what you most crave is an item of maternity clothing which is fashion fabulous enough to lift your sagging spirits (as well as your sagging everything else).
Affordability is definitely important, but it is a flexible concept. If you are a Harvey Nicks girl, you will consider Isabella Oliver a positive bargain. If, on the other hand, your go-to shops are Zara and River Island, you may consider the three-figure price tags of much of the Oliver collection a tad pricey.
Expensive maternity clothing is, generally, only worth the outlay if (a) you intend to wear the garment virtually non-stop, so justifying your purchases over a cost-per-wear basis, or (b) if you are a working woman who needs to look polished and uber-chic every day.
I almost literally shudder at the word "practicality", with its overtones of uniform and utility. But in matters maternity, practicality has its virtues. Since it is often possible to fit into normal (ish) clothes well into the second trimester, a maternity wardrobe usually becomes essential for only a few months. From the point of view of practicality, this means keeping your maternity wardrobe as minimal and as versatile as possible. It also means that what you do buy should be fuss-free in laundry terms, especially if you have another child/children and are likely to have regular close encounters with paint- and marmite-smeared fingers.
As for comfort, this issue has all but vanished with the current ascendancy of the draped dress and the maxi as key items of maternity wear, along with stretchy, jersey harem pants and long, loose tops. Just make sure the waistband of your maternity jeans isn't too tight, and your shoes are flat enough not to send you sprawling and wide enough not to pinch your (probably swollen) feet, and any comfort issues will be unconnected to what you wear.
Which brings us to fashion fabulous, and the cheering news that any woman currently pregnant has endless shops and websites offering gorgeous ways to dress her bump, affordably. On the high street, Topshop is virtually unbeatable as the market leader in on-trend, well-priced maternity clothing, like the draped dresses, pussy-bow blouses and colour block jeans, above. Their maternity stock, however, tends to be limited at all but their main Oxford Circus branch so it is often better to buy online.
Gap, Dorothy Perkins, Matalan and M&S all offer maternity collections with some unexpectedly strong pieces, such as a colour block dress at Dorothy Perkins and great jeans at, predictably, Gap. Online, the ASOS maternity collection has directional and desirable pieces, including ripped skinny jeans and great tops and dresses.
On-line specialists like Isabella Oliver, Seraphina and low-cost Simply Be all have good pieces, while online, lounge wear brand, Lucza offers well-cut tops and dresses which work for maternity wear.