Maternity Clothes 101: Your Complete Buying Guide

Four seasons, one very stylish bump.
ByHeather Stachowiak Brown
Contributing Writer
Updated
Aug 2020
pregnant woman wearing maternity maxi dress
Photo: Darcy Strobel
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As soon as you notice the first hint of a baby bump, you may start wondering when to buy maternity clothes. You’ve probably scrolled past and admired that Instagram fashion blogger with the perfectly shaped pregnancy belly who makes dressing her bump look effortless and fun. Now for the reality check: Figuring out which maternity clothes actually fit and flatter can be a daily challenge for many moms-to-be. But with the right maternity clothing, you’ll look—and feel—your best as you count down each trimester to your delivery day (promise!). Here’s a rundown of when many moms-to-be start wearing maternity clothes, which basics should be in every woman’s maternity wardrobe and where to find the best items out there.

When to Buy Maternity Clothes

No two bodies experience pregnancy the same way. Which means, if you’re wondering when to start wearing maternity clothes, it totally depends on you. If you ask around, you’ll find that expectant mothers start wearing maternity clothing at all different times during their pregnancies. But here are some clues you may be ready to purchase maternity clothes:

  • Unbuttoning the top button of your pants is no longer reserved for after meals.
  • Spandex is your preferred clothing material.
  • You feel bloated all day, every day.
  • Your bump starts to peek out of your shirt to say hello to passersby.
  • Your button-down shirts don’t actually button all the way down.

These signs coincide with what’s happening with baby’s growth in utero. “At 20 weeks, the uterus is typically at the level of the navel,” says Trina Pagano, MD, an ob-gyn at the Cleveland Clinic. “So many women begin to show at this point, but there is variability depending on the mother’s height and body type, weight gain, number of babies in utero and if it is a first pregnancy. For first pregnancies, the bump typically ‘pops’ a little later than in subsequent pregnancies.”

For first-time moms, it’s easy to get excited about being pregnant and showing off your bump, even during the early stages of pregnancy. Resist the urge to start buying maternity clothes in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. “In the first trimester, you’re still sorting through the changes in your body,” says Jenny Greenstein, a New York City-based personal stylist for pregnancy and motherhood and founder of YourSoulStyle.com . “In the beginning of your second trimester, when your belly starts to take shape, [is when] you want to start collecting your items.” That said, if you see a maternity must-have on sale that you absolutely love, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy it.

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How to Buy Maternity Clothes

So all signs point to the fact that you need maternity clothes. But where to start? Read on for tips on the basics you’ll want in your maternity wardrobe, what to look for in quality maternity clothes and how to figure out the right size.

What size maternity clothes to buy

If this is your first pregnancy, it’s nearly impossible to figure out how your body will change as your pregnancy progresses. Which means it’s even trickier to estimate what size maternity clothes you’ll need to buy. “Typically, if you’re a size six pre-pregnancy, then you’ll probably be a maternity six. But everyone is different, so you might be a maternity eight or you might be a maternity four, depending on how you carry your pregnancy,” New York City-based stylist Samantha Brown says. “It’s important to buy what’s comfortable, same as when you’re not pregnant. It has a lot to do with the proportions of someone’s body.” And keep in mind, not every part of your body is growing at the same rate. “Some women go up many bra cup sizes before their belly even pops out, so I’d say just ignore the maternity clothing sizing and buy what fits and feels right.”

How much maternity clothing to invest in

A lot depends on the season you’re due and exactly how your body changes, but choosing a few maternity wardrobe staples is a good place to start. A pair or two of quality maternity jeans (in a wash that goes with everything) will take you far, as will at least one pair of basic black leggings—trust us, you’ll live in these staples postpartum too. If you don’t already own a few longer tees and tanks that could stretch over your bump (don’t forget to shop your own closet!), consider buying a minimum of three to five maternity T-shirts or tank tops in colors that pair well with your existing wardrobe. They’re great to throw on under your favorite blazer, jacket or a stylish cardigan. It’s also a good idea to invest in two to three versatile dresses that can be dressed up or down, whether for work or play. Depending on what you’ve got planned for the latter weeks of your pregnancy, you also might want a fancier dress suitable for a wedding, maternity photoshoot or your baby shower. Beyond that, what you need might be purely seasonal (think: a winter coat that can actually zip over your belly, or a maternity swimsuit.

Maternity clothing essentials

Two buzzwords you’ll hear on repeat when it comes to maternity clothing are “basics” and “essentials.” While some items will sound like familiar favorites in your pre-pregnancy closet, others are maternity wardrobe staples unique to accommodating and flattering your bump.

All the T-shirts. Buy a few stretchy maternity T-shirts in white, gray and black. Nothing tops off a pair of (maternity) jeans better than this most basic of basics.

Mom jeans, please. With so many changes happening to your body, you’ll feel comforted that you can still throw on a pair of jeans. And once you try super-comfy maternity jeans, you may never want to go back to your old ones.

Leggings for days. It’s a good idea to have a few pairs of leggings in rotation. They mold to your body and are hands-down the best option for comfort.

Don’t underestimate your underwear. Invest in comfortable but pretty underwear and a few stylish, supportive bras. (Many maternity bras double as nursing bras, which gives you more bang for your buck.) Being intentional about this most intimate layer of clothing sets the tone for every else you put on.

Maxi to the rescue. A form-fitting version of this popular dress may help to make you feel less frumpy as your body and silhouette change.

LBDs are your MVPs. You’ll need a little black dress or two that you feel confident in and can wear to a wedding, a shower or an after-work event.

Suit yourself in blazers. An oversize blazer is a great second layer. It’ll keep you looking chic and will fit even as you grow throughout your pregnancy.

Tips for what to look for in maternity clothes

As you shop around for maternity clothing, remember these basic tips to get the most out of your budget. A few wise purchases can even last you beyond the bump.

Does it stretch? “Pay attention to the fabric of the maternity clothes you’re buying, because you don’t know where the weight is going to continue to grow as you move through each trimester,” Greenstein says. “Anything with a flex fabric, a stretch fabric or a jersey fabric is definitely going to give you more flexibility.”

Test for sheerness. Sometimes you just have to bend over, touch your toes and ask the fitting room attendant if she can see anything she shouldn’t be able to. “Maternity clothing tends to have a lot of stretch in it, so it’s important to look at it in motion,” Brown says. Garments that go sheer when stretched are something to look out for when shopping for maternity clothes.

Embrace ruching. It’s a feature that allows your maternity clothes to grow with your bump. “It works with any single body type,” Greenstein says. “Even if you buy an item with ruching in your first trimester, you’re never going to run into any issues, because it totally flexes with your shape.”

Think beyond pregnancy. “It’s really nice when a maternity brand has nursing features built in,” Greenstein says. “If you intend on breastfeeding, invest in maternity clothes that you feel beautiful and feel comfortable in for your nine months and beyond.”

Where to Buy Maternity Clothes

With all the physical and emotional changes you’re experiencing, pregnancy can sure feel like that awkward puberty phase all over again—unless, of course, you have a number of maternity clothing brands recommended by expert maternity stylists in your back pocket.

Here, a list of the best stylist-approved retail stores and e-commerce sites to help you stay true to your style during this huge transition.

For on-trend style

Most of us are pretty in tune with what’s hot each season, and that doesn’t have to change once you’re pregnant. These four fashion retailers carry trendy maternity clothes that will keep you pregnancy-chic.

For maternity work clothes

Dressing your bump for work can be challenging: You want to look polished, but comfort is key. Brown recommends sticking to tried-and-true maternity clothing to get you through the day and right on into the evening. We recommend hitting up these retailers:

For inexpensive maternity clothes

Since you’re only wearing these looks for a limited time, you might want to outfit your maternity wardrobe without totally emptying your wallet. Here’s our go-to list for cheap maternity clothes (that still look like a million bucks) for those who want this season’s styles without spending a lot.

For plus-size maternity clothes

Plus-size and pregnant? There are stylish, comfortable options for curvy girls who want to show off that bump.

For petite maternity clothes

If you’re petite and pregnant, don’t hide your bump in oversize styles when you can find comfortable maternity classics tailored to your more pint-size proportions. Try these stylish, maternity clothing options with petite sizes.

For comfortable maternity clothes

Where to Rent Maternity Clothes

If you’re willing to put these style tips into action but unwilling to commit to a whole new wardrobe, clothing rental services are a great way to supplement.

Rent the Runway has a great selection of maternity and postpartum-friendly clothing under its subscription services, giving you access to over 450 designers and brands. Both the standard subscription ($89/month) and the unlimited subscription ($159/month) give you four new pieces a month, but with unlimited, you can swap them out as you like and keep them for as long as you want.

Le Tote also has a maternity subscription option where you can choose your favorite styles and wear them as many times as you like. Simply ship everything back in the pre-paid envelope once you’re ready to receive a new tote of fresh looks. Plus, if you absolutely love an item, you can choose to keep it at a special member price (up to 50 percent off retail). Maternity subscriptions start at $79 a month.

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