pregnant woman wearing maternity maxi dress
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Heather Stachowiak Brown
Contributing Writer

Maternity Clothes 101: Your Complete Buying Guide

Four seasons, one very stylish bump.

You’ve probably scrolled past and admired that Instagram fashion blogger with the perfectly shaped pregnancy belly and not a pound out of place on the rest of her body. No matter the season, she 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!).

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 expecting 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, founder of and fashion editor for the urban pregnancy lifestyle site Well Rounded. “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.

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 maternity basics you’ll want to stock up on, 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 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.”

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 staples in your pre-pregnancy closet, others are essentials unique to accommodating and flattering your bump.

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.

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. (You can hold off on nursing bras for now.) Being intentional about this most intimate layer of clothing sets the tone for every else you put on.

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 menswear. 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 your body is 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

Stripes? Nautical? If it’s in this season, you’re already rocking it. That doesn’t have to change once you’re pregnant. Greenstein says these three fashion brands 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.

For inexpensive maternity clothes

Greenstein’s go-to list for cheap maternity clothes (that still look like a million bucks) for those who want this season’s looks 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. Greenstein offers these stylish, budget-friendly maternity clothing options.

Where to Rent Maternity Clothes

If you’re willing to put these style tips into action but unwilling to commit to a whole new wardobe, clothing rental services are a great way to supplement. Rent the Runway recently introduced maternity and postpartum-friendly clothing into 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.

Fall and Winter Maternity Clothes

Wrap yourself (and your bump!) in cozy comfort—oversize sweaters for the win—with a few basics that will carry your pregnancy through the fall and winter. First up: leggings, a maternity clothing staple that pairs and plays well with almost any top. Wear them with a cozy, oversize sweater and a pair of over-the-knee boots. In the fall, especially, layers are your best friend. “Vests, jackets and blazers are great to make the most of stretching an item through the season, because you don’t necessarily have to wear them closed,” Brown says.

If you live where it snows during the winter months, make sure you wear appropriate footwear. “Pregnancy hormones, weight gain and change in center of gravity lead to clumsiness, a common symptom of pregnancy,” Pagano says. “To prevent falls and strains, high heels and high wedges should be avoided.”

Need a little bit of bump style inspiration? Here are a few maternity clothing pairings for you to try once the fall and winter roll around.

Fresh outfits: Fall maternity clothes

Photo: Motherhood; Topshop; H&M; Zara

Look 1: Lovely layers
Pair a lightweight duster and a mock turtleneck for the ultimate transitional outfit. The cinched-waist Tencel doubles as a dress, but also makes the perfect topper for this versatile high-low sweater that gives you comfortable coverage for work or play. The skinny jeans extend a long, lean line, putting extra emphasis where it belongs—on your bump, of course.

Get the look

  1. High-Low Sleeveless Sweater, $25,
  2. Lightweight Duster, $66,
  3. Mama Skinny Jeans, $50,
  4. Block Heel Pumps, $36,
Photo: A Pea in the Pod; Topshop; Ingrid and Isabel; Adidas

Look 2: Sporty chic
Add athleisure to your look with a pair of joggers and comfortable kicks—topped with a classic camo jacket for warmth and style. You’ll look chic without suffering for fashion.

Get the look

  1. White Three-Quarter-Sleeved Shirt, $30,
  2. Camouflage Jacket, $85,
  3. Knit Joggers, $50,
  4. Adidas Gazelle Sneakers, $100,
Photo: Isabella Oliver; Hatch Collection; Ripe Maternity; Topshop

Look 3: Not-so-basic black
You’ll look long and lean, bump included, in this on-trend Isabella Oliver cold shoulder top and tailored-but-slouchy pants, topped with a sleek blazer that elevates this outfit.

Get the Look

  1. Maternity Tank, $55,
  2. Everyday Blazer, $268,
  3. After 5 Pants, $90,
  4. Platform Trainers, $50,

Fresh outfits: Winter maternity clothes

Photo: H&M; Nordstrom; Topshop; Vans

Look 1: Faux sure
Faux, of course. Add a faux fur vest to glam up this otherwise casual winter ensemble with a hint of luxe.

Get the look

  1. MAMA Sweatshirt, $30,
  2. Tart Maternity Faux Fur Vest, $168,
  3. Destructed Maternity Skinny Jeans, $59,
  4. Vans Hi-Top Sk8 Trainers, $65,
Photo: H&M; Isabella Oliver; Motherhood; Vans

Look 2: Haute mama
A rocker tee, distressed denim and a cozy cardigan are all you need to create an effortless off-duty model look. Add a pair of high tops for extra comfort and cool points.

Get the look

  1. MAMA Short-sleeve Top, $32,
  2. Cascade Maternity Sweater, $45,
  3. Zadie Maternity Skinny Jeans, $79,
  4. White Canvas Hi-Top Sneakers, $60,
Photo: Isabella Oliver; Neiman Marcus

Look 3: Simply stylish
One and done? We dig it. This sleek Isabella Oliver little black dress pairs perfectly with over-the-knee boots for an easy work-to-play look.

Get the look

  1. Lissa Maternity Dress, $93,
  2. Stuart Weitzman Suede Boots, $655,

Spring and Summer Maternity Clothes

When spring finally arrives, swap your boots and sweaters for sundresses, sandals and swimwear. Here are things to keep in mind as you shop for spring and summer maternity clothes.

As the weather warms up, keep an eye on your body temperature. “In general, constricting clothing may aggravate pregnancy-related shortness of breath and lead to dizziness,” Pagano says. “Many women who are pregnant in the summer fall victim to hot flashes due to hormonal changes. Avoid materials that hold in heat.” Instead, think light and airy, like cotton and linen, when shopping for warm-weather maternity clothing.

While you may layer up for a fall and winter pregnancy, you’ll want to pare down if you’ll be pregnant over the spring and summer months. “Stock up on dresses and jumpsuits,” Greenstein says. “It’s one-piece dressing, it’s not overly complicated and it keeps you cool.”

For shoes, flat sandals may seem like the obvious and most comfortable choice, but that isn’t necessarily the best bet for pregnant women. “Pregnancy hormones cause the ligaments in your feet to loosen,” Pagano says. “This, plus added weight gain and swelling, leads to flattened, widened feet. While we often turn to flip flops and flat sandals in summer, this can lead to foot and back pain for pregnant women, so you’ll want to wear shoes with a low heel and good arch support.”

Still not completely sure how to mix and match your maternity clothing to create a bump-flattering spring and summer look? Take a look at these smart outfits.

Fresh outfits: Spring maternity clothes

Photo: ASOS; Hatch Collection; Zara

Look 1: Spring stripes
A breezy button-down with a deconstructed take on stripes is an on-trend look for the mama-to-be. A good pair of boyfriend jeans adds to this carefree ensemble.

Get the look

  1. Striped Woven Top, $45,
  2. Boyfriend Maternity Jeans, $258,
  3. Ballerinas, $36,
Photo: ASOS; Madewell; Adidas

Look 2: Perfect pair
Layers are a springtime must. A denim jacket thrown over a sweet, off-the-shoulder gingham dress is cute and comfortable.

Get the look

  1. Gingham Maternity Dress, $32,
  2. Oversize Jean Jacket, $128,
  3. Adidas Red Suede Sneakers, $100,
Photo: Hatch Collection; Topshop

Look 3: Romper room
Babies are to rompers like moms-to-be are to “mompers”—and yes, you can pull it off. This short-sleeve number with slit-seam pockets and a tapered leg will take you from work to afterwork mocktails. Pair with a fun pair of flat booties to complete the look.

Get the look

  1. Walkabout Jumper, $258,
  2. Madness Studded Boots, $40,

Fresh outfits: Summer maternity clothes

Photo: Isabella Oliver; ASOS

Look 1: To the maxi
This maxi may become the dress style you wear all summer. So light and airy, it’ll feel like you’re not wearing anything at all. Pair with a supportive sandal that you can slip on and off without bending down.

Get the look

  1. Carey Dress, $225,
  2. Birkenstock Sandals, $100,
Photo: Hatch Collection; Topshop

Look 2: Easy, breezy
Jumpers all day, every day, may just become your mantra in the summer, especially once you get your bump into this airy cotton gauze number. A pair of comfortable espadrilles will tie right into this resort-wear look.

Get the look

  1. Jojo Jumper, $188,
  2. King Lace-Up Espadrilles, $30,
Photo: Seraphine; Toms

Look 3: Think pink
This millennial pink midi dress can be worn off the shoulder or with attachable straps.

Get the look

  1. Maxi Dress, $99,
  2. Blossom Alpargatas, $75,

Updated May 2018

Photo: Darcy Strobel