In a country as child-crazy as China, there’s no shortage of places to buy baby products. But for expecting moms, the perennial question is: “Where do I buy maternity clothing?” At times, it’s difficult enough to find clothes as an expat woman – let alone a pregnant expat woman. Don’t despair; it’s possible to find clothing that flatters your figure without draining your bank account.
As a parent-to-be, some of the first things you’ll be looking to pick up are essentials, like milk bottles, diapers, and baby wipes. Stores that offer one stop-shopping for all things pregnancy and baby-related include UK superchain Mothercare (which boasts its own in-house brand) and parent-owned businesses Counting Sheep, BabyGro, and baby international. Boshiwa 365, Lijia Baby, and Leyou are domestic retailers with locations throughout Beijing and extensive online stores (Chinese only).
Strollers, Car Seats, and Nursery Furniture
Counting Sheep, baby international, and Mothercare are your best bets for big-ticket items like cribs, strollers, changing tables, and car seats. Shop with a clear budget in mind, or you might end up paying a premium for high-end imported brands. Strollers, for example, range from the beautiful but pricey Inglesina Classica (RMB 28,888 at baby international) to no-frills models made by domestic manufacturers like You & Me (starting from RMB 438 at Boshiwa 365). Mid-range imported strollers by Quinny and Mothercare can cost anywhere from RMB 2,500 to RMB 5,500. Twin strollers are available at baby international and Mothercare in the RMB 4,500-5,000 price range.
When it comes to furniture, Swedish superstore Ikea carries a surprisingly wide range of nursery products. Hensvik, Somnat, Sundvik, and Gulliver cribs range from RMB 599 to RMB 999 and are available in a variety of colors. You’ll also find changing tables, mattresses, highchairs, and quilt covers. If you’re in Beijing for the long haul, consider getting a crib that grows with your child. Denmark’s Leander Bed (RMB 12,800 at baby international) is a five-in-one crib that can be taken apart and reassembled as the child gets older. There’s also the Stokke Sleepi (RMB 13,800 at Counting Sheep), a convertible oval crib that accommodates newborns and toddlers up to age 3. With an extra Junior Extension, the Sleepi can become a child’s bed (ages 3-10) or even a mini-sofa.
When shopping for car seats, one thing to look out for is whether the seat is equipped with Isofix – a newer installation system that anchors the child seat directly into the car. To find out if your car is compatible with Isofix, check the user manual. The Römer and Maxi-Cosi lines of Isofix car seats are good bets (RMB 2,290-4,580 at baby international). In non-Isofix car seats, Boshiwa 365 carries the well-reviewed Britax First Class Plus (RMB 2,980) for kids up to 18kg, corresponding roughly to ages 0-4. Whatever your budget, one thing you shouldn’t skimp on is safety. Check websites like Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org, subscription required) or Consumer Search (www.consumersearch.com) for the latest product reviews across a variety of categories.
Bottles and Infant Formula
Breastfeeding advocates, health professionals, and parents all over the world agree that “breast is best.” However, there are situations in which the mother might be unable to breastfeed for any number of reasons. If you must buy infant formula, be very selective about your purchase. Though the tainted milk scandal is four years behind us, the scope and severity of the contamination – not to mention recurring reports of adulterated milk – have left parents permanently skittish. Stick with imported brands like Holle (RMB 238 for 600g), Milupa (RMB 275-298 for 800g), or HiPP (RMB 220-275 for 600-900g) from Germany, and Bellamy’s (RMB 398 for 900g) from Australia – all available at baby international. You can also find milk formula by German brands Rosalo (RMB 298 for 600g) and Töpfer (RMB 268 for 600g), and Holland’s Primavita (RMB 398 for 900g) at Leyou.
What you put the milk in is just as important as the milk itself. Avoid bottles with bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic compound that can leach into food and liquids. BPA is a banned substance in Canada, the US, and Europe – but not in China. To tell if a bottle contains BPA, look for the recycling number inside a small triangle symbol at the bottom of the bottle. If the bottle is made from number 7 plastic, it probably contains BPA. Another indicator is opacity; BPA-free bottles tend to be cloudy or have a golden tinge, while those containing BPA are usually transparent.
Medela is a reputable American company that makes BPA-free plastic bottles; find their products at BabyGro and baby international (RMB 88-98 per regular bottle or RMB 128 for a set of three). Alternatively, use glass or stainless steel bottles. Counting Sheep sells Life Factory glass bottles (RMB 145) with silicone sleeves for better grip, as well as Safe Starter stainless steel bottles (RMB 198). For a touch of luxury, there’s the Philips Avent Digital Bottle and Baby Food Warmer (RMB 798 at baby international). This plug-in device boasts an ultra-fast function that can warm 125ml of milk at room temperature in under two minutes.
Diapers and Accessories
Disposable diaper brands like Huggies, Pampers, and Libero can be picked up at any major supermarket or ordered online from retailers like Lijia Baby, Leyou, and Boshiwa 365. They’re available in a mind-boggling assortment of box sizes, from six to 128 diapers. Alternatively, reusable cloth diapers are becoming increasingly popular among eco-minded parents. Some require waterproof diaper covers, while others are all-in-one models. Modern cloth diapering systems feature flushable, biodegradable liners that catch poop. Cloth diapers can be found in a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes at BabyGro, Counting Sheep, and Mothercare. If you’re on the fence, try the Bambino Mio Nappy Trial Pack (RMB 155 at BabyGro) complete with a diaper, liner, and cover.
Diaper bags are a must for parents on the go, but no one likes to carry around something that evokes burp stains and poopy diapers. Thankfully, Counting Sheep and baby international carry the urbane Skip Hop line of bags (RMB 285-899), with smart features like bottle pockets, magnetic closures, and a built-in changing pad. Skip Hop bags can be clipped to a stroller or worn like regular bags. There’s also the Hoppop (RMB 1,088 at Counting Sheep), a diaper bag that transforms into a baby seat – perfect for those restaurant outings where highchairs are not available.
As one mom-to-be put it, it’s “pretty slim pickings” when it comes to finding stylish maternity wear in Beijing. Thankfully, there’s the Internet. British retailer Asos offers a huge selection of trendy maternity clothes, with over 200 styles of dresses, tops, pants, leggings, skirts, swimsuits, and more to choose from. Asos automatically displays prices in RMB and offers free shipping worldwide. Results can be filtered by product type, size, price range, dress shape, and even sleeve length. Dresses range from approximately RMB 165 to RMB 515, tops and blouses cost RMB 103 to RMB 361, and bottoms (skirts and pants) fall between RMB 124 and RMB 361.
For fashion-forward moms, there’s Nine Months Maternity, a Hong Kong-based retailer that delivers to mainland China. Their brands include Jules & Jim, LA Made, Glamourmom, Stephanie Schell, Zula Maternity, and more. Prices are in HKD and run a bit higher than in mainland China; dresses average between HKD 500 and HKD 800, with the more expensive models costing up to HKD 2,000. However, many of Nine Months Maternity’s brands are exclusive to the boutique and made overseas. Shipping to mainland China costs HKD 50 per order.
For something closer to home, check Taobao (see p62 for a crash course in online shopping). It can be overwhelming at first, but China’s answer to eBay has many gems. We like Happy Maman for its simple striped tunics and dresses, Ai’ai Miya for its cute blouses and long cotton jersey skirts, and Momnuri for its breezy pastel tops and sailor-inspired prints.
The options are more limited for moms who’d rather shop in person.The H&M store in Qianmen carries a basic selection of maternity jeans (RMB 299-399) and tops (RMB 79.90-249) – with the odd dress or jacket – but doesn’t come anywhere near the options on the aforementioned online sites.
For nursing bras, the US’ Bravado is hands-down one of the best brands around. Their bras feature overlapping sizes, an extra lining for breast pads, discrete nursing clips, and a simple fitting system. They range from RMB 300 to RMB 380 and can be found at BabyGro and Counting Sheep. Bravado also makes nursing tops (RMB 330-345) for easy breastfeeding on the go. Other good places to shop for nursing bras and maternity wear include Canlemon and Triumph.
For a complete list of resources for baby gear and maternity clothing, turn to p70.
Tips for Maternity Shopping
Make the most of your current wardrobe. Buying maternity clothes doesn’t have to mean re-hauling your entire closet. Accessories like the Bellaband (available at BabyGro) are designed to hold up unzipped pre-pregnancy pants, skirts, and shorts.
Leverage your contacts. Save money by asking friends and family for gently-used maternity clothes or accessories. You can also try groups like Beijing Mamas or Baby Cafe.
Get the timing right. If it’s a single-child pregnancy, chances are you won’t start to show until the second trimester. Your old clothes will continue to fit for the first three months; after that, it’s generally best to buy as you go. Keep in mind that you won’t be out of maternity clothes right after you give birth; it usually takes several months to slim down, so hold on to your threads for at least nine months afterward.
When possible, try everything on. This might seem like a hassle, but it’s worth it. Most sizes are based on pre-pregnancy measurements; when in doubt, go for the larger size. If you’re in the early stages of pregnancy, it’s worth asking if the store has a prosthetic “tummy.” If not, stuff a shopping bag with clothing and put it under what you’re wearing. If the clothing item is uncomfortable in any way, don’t buy it.
Go for layers. Pregnant women can go from feeling too hot one minute to too cold the next, so layers are your best bet. Favor stretchy fabrics like jersey and Lycra, which will last you through several stages of pregnancy.
Buy the right nursing bra. These provide extra support and have flaps that can be opened with one hand for breastfeeding. Most women buy nursing bras during their third trimester. In general, you can expect to grow one or two cup sizes and one or two band sizes during the pregnancy. Six to eight weeks after the baby’s born, you might go up another cup size or two. After eight weeks, your band size will shrink to pre-pregnancy size and your cup size will be one size larger than pre-pregnancy size. When in doubt, ask a lactation consultant for recommendations.
Don’t neglect your feet. Most women will experience bloating during pregnancy. Find a pair of comfortable shoes that you can slip into without bending over. Birkenstock sells cork-soled sandals that mold to the feet, while Naturino shoes use a patented technology that mimics the feeling of walking on sand.