When to Start Wearing Maternity Clothes: a Timely Style Guide

Fill your closet with flattering, comfortable picks and skip the gimmicks

Neve Spicer
Written by Neve Spicer Updated on July 23rd, 2021

You’ve shared the good news with family and friends, and maybe even started your baby registry. You’re starting to notice little changes to your body, but you’re not sure when to break out your new maternity clothes — sound familiar?

There is no hard and fast rule addressing when to start wearing maternity clothes. Most women have made the switch by the middle of their second trimester, but it makes the most sense to make the change gradually, on your own timeline.

Wondering if a maternity wardrobe is really important, and which pieces will get the most long-term use?

Let’s jump in. 

Do you really need maternity clothes? (probably!)

Your body will change significantly during your pregnancy, but it’s hard to predict how much it will change until your pregnancy progresses. Most expectant mothers choose a maternity wardrobe with loose-fitting, cozy clothes that flatter their bump in order to stay comfortable and avoid stretching out their existing wardrobe.

You may wish to wait and see how your body changes as your pregnancy progresses before choosing your maternity wardrobe. 

If your body changes are relatively minimal, some of your loose-fitting shirts, hoodies, and jackets may well be able to stay in rotation. However, it’s hard to avoid the need to pick up a few tops, pants, and undergarments that will accommodate your growing belly, even if you don’t gain much weight. 

If you’re keeping a tight budget in preparation for your baby, keep in mind that maternity clothes don’t have to be a massive spend. A few nice pieces to wear out of the house are helpful, but there’s nothing wrong with raiding your partner’s closet for oversized t-shirts and sweats to wear at home.

Another great option is shopping second-hand, which can be especially practical if this is your last pregnancy or you’re only planning on having one child. It’s environmentally conscious as well as economical, and it’s often possible to find great quality pieces from nice brands at low prices.

Related: The few bits of pregnancy gear you actually need

When to start wearing maternity clothes

When is it acceptable to start wearing maternity clothes?

Whenever you need to! There’s no set rule here.

But, really — it comes down to when your body begins to change, which for most women, is around 20 weeks (five months) pregnant.1parents.com Your pregnancy symptoms week by week

This is a time when your baby’s size is changing rapidly, and your body may be changing to match. Some women will begin to show a bit sooner than 20 weeks, while others may show a bit later.

Most mothers have made the switch to their maternity clothes by six months, but again, there’s no pressure. You should start wearing your maternity wardrobe when it becomes the more comfortable option for you. 

Your maternity wardrobe: What to buy and what to skip

You can’t blame companies for trying — they see new parents and dollar signs flash in their eyes, knowing we’re a bit more willing to part with our hard-earned cash to assure our comfort (and style) or our baby’s well being. 

This means it’s up to us to be savvy, investing in great essentials and skipping unnecessary incidentals that will be used once or twice and then forgotten. 

Here’s a quick primer on which pieces are go-tos and which to forego entirely.

Your maternity wardrobe: Buy it

Stretchy tees

Maternity t-shirts are breathable and comfortable, and from a fashion standpoint, they can easily be dressed up or dressed down. Basic colors like black, white, and grey can be the foundation of a cute outfit when topped with a blazer or cardigan and paired with maternity jeans or a skirt.

New bras and underwear

A true maternity essential, new bras and underwear are going to be needed to keep up with your body’s changing shape. 

There are quite a few types of maternity underwear, from sexy to practical. Some come up over your bump, while others are cut like bikinis with a scooped front in order to prevent irritation to your belly button in late pregnancy.

Buying maternity bras can be frustrating in mid pregnancy, as your breasts may change rapidly enough that purchasing a new, costly bra that will need to be replaced in a few weeks is not practical. Most women won’t need to consider replacing their bra until 16-18 weeks of pregnancy.

We’d love to tell you to stick with sports bras, but good support is important to your breast health now. Instead, don’t be afraid to buy a bra that’s a little bigger than you need and grow into it, especially at the end of your pregnancy, when your milk’s post-birth descent is likely to increase your bra size even further.

Tops with nursing features

There are plenty of maternity tops out there to tempt your inner fashionista, but think practicality. Tops with nursing features will pull double duty by staying in your wardrobe rotation after your baby arrives. 

Many t-shirts with a cross-body cut design and maternity tank tops have this feature, so look out for it while making buying decisions.

Leggings

If you were a fan of leggings pre-pregnancy, you’ll love them even more now. A nice, thick pair of stretchy leggings offers full coverage without being constricting, and will stretch with your growing bump.

Like maternity tees, leggings can also easily be dressed up or down. Sneakers and a tank make for a great gym outfit, while a cute blouse and boots are a fun look for a day out..

Maternity jeans or pants

Another comfortable option for your bottom half are maternity jeans, which have a stretchy front panel that accommodates your growing bump. Many of these have a higher waist than typical jeans, and they’re available in a number of colors and fabrics, not just denim.

These can also be a comfortable postpartum option for days when you require something a little dressier than leggings, especially in the first few weeks as your body is returning to normal. 

Maternity swimwear

For the first 4 to 5 months, you may be okay with your usual swimsuit. But if you are keen to get into the pool later in your pregnancy, then it’s a wise idea to grab a purpose-made maternity swimsuit. It will be more comfortable and forgiving in all the right places. Our advice is not to rush out to buy it straight away. Many women have no desire to swim in the latter stages of pregnancy. Hold on until you know it’s something you want to do.

Oversized layerable pieces

During seasonal weather changes, a nice oversized button down, blazer, or caftan can be a quick solution to days that are hot at their peak but cool in the evenings. Leave the house with it on and take it off later, or tote it along to put on once you get chilly.

Opt for something that opens in the front rather than pulling over the head, which can just be left open toward the end of your pregnancy — bonus points for soft, comfortable fabrics with some stretch.

Your maternity wardrobe: Skip it

Very tight clothing

You may have heard anecdotal advice against wearing tight and restrictive clothes during pregnancy, as some believe that very tight clothing can restrict blood flow to your baby bump or cause other issues.

Our take: There aren’t any scientific studies connecting tight clothing with pregnancy issues, but it’s likely to be uncomfortable and fall out of favor quickly as the months progress. Very constrictive clothing can also cause skin irritation, including chafing, regardless of pregnancy. 

Fabrics with no give

While this does hearken back a bit to the issue of tight clothing, some higher-end maternity dresses and tops are made with little to no give — meaning they’ll fit during your current stage of pregnancy, but not beyond or post-partum.

Not only are these clothes less comfortable, they’re also likely to be more expensive and get less use. Unless you absolutely HAVE to buy formalwear during pregnancy, skip it, as it’s not likely to get used again. 

Anything that doesn’t breathe

Dense, thick materials like leather, denim, and wool are great for durability and keeping warm, but they’re not ideal for pregnancy. Not only do they not stretch to accommodate your growth, they don’t breathe, which means hot days and hormonal temperature changes become even more unpleasant.

Uncomfortable shoes

A pair of shoes that cause foot pain are even worse during pregnancy, when your feet and ankles are likely to swell. Even if you really love them, it’s probably best to skip over the strappy high heels and tight calf-high boots till your baby is born.

Related: Top 3 Maternity Belts VS Top 3 Belly Bands of 2021

Our takeaways

While there is no one “right time” to begin wearing maternity clothes, most women choose to make the switch around 20 weeks — or five months — of pregnancy. For many women, this is when significant physical changes begin.

A well-rounded maternity wardrobe should consist of comfortable, loose-fitting clothing which can be dressed up or down. Many maternity tops have nursing features that are helpful postpartum, offering extra value for the buy.

Skipping over formalwear, constrictive clothing and shoes, and any fabrics with limited stretch or breathability can help to ensure comfort in a maternity wardrobe. 

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Neve Spicer
Written by Neve Spicer Updated on July 23rd, 2021
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