This article started with two email messages, one from out of the blue:

“Hi! I hope you don’t mind queries from strangers. My question seems to get the telephonic equivalent of a blank stare from gun shops. I’m 4 months pregnant, and carrying my Glock 19 in a fanny pack is no longer comfortable. I’m looking for some carry option that can work with maternity jumpers and/or sweaters over leggings. Will I have to find the lightest .22 I can as an interim firearm, and stick to fanny packs? What would be likely to work in my ‘condition’?”

The other email came from a friend who is pregnant: “I’ve been thinking about the issues of self-defense while pregnant. One feels a bit more vulnerable, especially in the later stages.”

Why bother to carry at all, during what is clearly an inconvenient and difficult time for a woman to go about armed? Well, because crime doesn’t cease just because a woman is pregnant. Indeed, the perceived incapacity might make a pregnant woman a more appealing target to some criminals. And then there are those incredibly rare, but endlessly publicized cases where mentally ill people who want a baby try to steal it from the mother’s womb.

So, let’s assume that some moms-to-be want to be prepared to protect themselves and their unborn children from the worst threats out there. Can it be done? How?

There are two primary considerations to carrying while carrying: comfort and access. Either one without the other is an unacceptable solution.

Nothing around, or near, the waist is going to be comfortable. Period. Not belt slide holsters, not pancake holsters, not leather pouches, not cross draw, not small of back, not strong side low or high ride, not midriff holsters (also known as belly bands), not fanny packs. Maternity pants have elastic waists which do not allow a firm belt to support a holster. Any firm belt would be uncomfortable. Any holster fastened to an elastic waist without a belt would sag unacceptably and would make drawing dicey at best.

A thigh holster is also out of the question, since the ones that don’t slip down your leg are supported by a band around the waist.

Thunderwear is a nylon holster pouch that goes in front of your body, at the hip line, inside pants or a skirt. Straps extend around the hips, ending in Velcro to fasten and hold the device. It can be worn as low as you want. This could be a good carry option as long as it is possible to draw easily, but it may become increasingly impractical as the months go by.

In early pregnancy, an ankle holster under nice, wide-legged pants might be a good option, but later on, bending becomes much more difficult, making this method of carry less attractive.

OK, we’ve established that any holster at or near the waist will be too uncomfortable, and anything below the waist is likely to be unreachable. So, what’s left? A lot, acutally.

What about a shoulder holster? There are many designs and styles. Obviously, models that are intended to be attached to a belt in front or back should be avoided, but there are holsters that balance the gun under one arm with spare magazines under the other arm, and thus require no attachment to the belt to provide stability.

Personal body type is an important factor here, since it is necessary to reach across the chest to grab and draw the gun. Changes that occur to the breasts or rib cage during pregnancy may affect the accessibility of the gun. Some holsters hold the gun horizontally; this position is easy to draw from, but may show through the back when a thin woman stretches or leans over.

Shoulder holsters require two layers of clothing, one for comfort (so the holster doesn’t directly contact your skin), and one for concealment. Normally, shoulder holsters are worn on top of a shirt, and under a jacket, but this is not the only possibility. I know one woman who (not pregnant) wears a shoulder holster on top of a cotton turtleneck, under a shirtwaist dress. She just leaves the dress unbuttoned far enough to enable her to reach and draw the gun.

You might try a shoulder holster over a jumper or sweater, and under an open blouse instead of a jacket. As long as two layers of clothing are comfortable (that is, until the famous pregnancy-induced metabolism speedup occurs, when you may find yourself uncomfortably warm in a T-shirt in a blizzard), you might be able to comfortably wear a shoulder holster.

Be sure to get plenty of help adjusting the shoulder holster initially, and help checking the adjustment from time to time. A well-fitting shoulder holster is one of the most comfortable rigs available; an ill-fitting one is an instrument of torture. (Tip: put the gun and the spare magazines into the shoulder holster before you put the holster on.)

An interesting variation on the shoulder holster is one that dispenses completely with any nylon or leather harness. It is essentially an undershirt with a holster pocket under each armpit. You can put the gun on one side and extra ammo on the other, or just carry the gun alone. Kramer makes an excellent model called the Confidant shirt holster; Concealment T and other companies have similar products. These aren’t made specifically for women, pregnant or not, so some experimentation with sizes might be called for. I can imagine needing to take scissors to cut up the front as necessary to accommodate an expanding belly.

What else might work?

The old gun-in-a-pocket method is a good possibility, particularly a coat pocket during the winter. If it doesn’t show or shift position, no holster is needed. But you might want to consider a pocket holster, which would prevent the gun from shifting position, and would prevent lint or other pocket stuff from getting into the muzzle or other sensitive parts of the gun. If you are carrying in the pocket of lighter clothing (a vest, say, or a shirt-jacket with large, low pockets), you might want to use a pocket holster.

A pocket holster in maternity pants will probably pull the pants unacceptably to that side. The pocket of a jacket, however, might be an excellent place to conceal a firearm, especially if you are willing to change to a smaller caliber, lighter gun for the duration.

Something the size of a Glock 19 is a bit big and heavy for most pockets; you don’t want a revealing sag. For smaller guns, Kramer, Milt Sparks, DeSantis, Thad Rybka, and even Uncle Mike’s make dandy pocket holsters. If you are willing to switch guns, the new Glock 26 (9mm) and Glock 27 (40 S&W) would be smaller alternatives to the Glock 19, though they are not smaller by much. For the pocket, you might want to consider a hammerless revolver from S&W such as the 640 or BodyGuard. A Seecamp .32 or or a .380 from Beretta or another manufacturer would also be small, light, and yet pack enough punch for many defense uses.

Another choice is clothing that is specifically designed to hold (and hide) a gun. There are a lot of concealed carry jackets and vests on the market. They have hidden pockets for the gun, and may have internal holsters as well. Most are styled and sized for men, but if you can find one you like that fits, this could be one of the best solutions. A few of the sources are Concealed Carry Outfitters, Concealed Carry Clothiers, 511 Tactical, ConcealJackets, and Coronado Leather. You may even be able to find a vest or jacket designed for women travelers with interior pockets that could hold a gun instead of a passport; try places like TravelSmith, Magellan’s, Orvis, and REI.

What else would work? A holster purse.

In these pages, we have fairly thoroughly explored the pros and cons of off-body carry. Basically, you sacrifice some access time and some security (i.e., someone might steal your purse), but you gain a tremendous amount in convenience and concealability. Whatever you do, don’t toss a gun into a regular purse! Get one specifically designed for a gun, preferably with an interior holster so the gun will be in the same position every time you draw it. You will have no trouble finding purses large enough to accommodate your Glock, though you may still want to consider a smaller, lighter gun for off-body carry.

The selection of holster purses is much larger than it used to be. You can almost certainly find one (or more!) that fits your wardrobe and your budget, as well as your gun. The return policies of most holster purse manufacturers are liberal, so you don’t have to depend completely on pictures in a catalogue or on the web, but check them carefully before you buy.

Good holsters (or other carry options) are expensive. The best, especially leather, will set you back a few bucks. So, you might want to try to borrow a few holsters from friends to try out before committing yourself to purchase one. Nylon is less expensive than leather, but beware the cheapest of both types.

Whenever you place an order for a holster, find out what the return policy is. You might not be able to return a leather rig, since wearing it for even a few hours will result in marks on the leather, but you should be able to return any holster that is still in salable condition. To try a holster with minimum damage, wrap your (empty) gun in a single layer of plastic wrap from your kitchen before putting it in the holster; wear the holster around the house for several hours before deciding whether to keep it or not.

Although this column has consistently advocated regular shooting practice at a range, that should be avoided during pregnancy, because of the possibility of exposure to lead dust or fumes. A very small amount of lead could be quite harmful to fetal development. Instead of live fire, you can dry fire (unloaded gun, safe backstop, no ammo nearby) to maintain your skills.

Stay safe! Best wishes to you and your impending family.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns Mar-Apr, 2006, Copyright © 2006, Lyn Bates