Since I’m now the resident pregnancy expert (ah-ha!) in my social circle, I get questions about pregnancy. Lots of ’em. While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the medical stuff, I feel pretty confident offering opinions about clothes. So here goes!
- Your body keeps changing. No one article of clothing is going to fit the same way all through your pregnancy. You’ll need different clothes at different times, and you’re not going to get the same level of fit you would when your body’s not changing shape. At least not for long.
- Maternity clothes are (mostly) bullshit. While maternity pants and leggings are great, for most other items you’ll have way more (and cheaper) selection if you stick to particular styles of regular clothes. Maternity shirts have their place, but mostly in the 3rd trimester.
- Making stuff can make life easier. You don’t have to be a master seamstress, but a little modification can go a long way. If you can’t do it yourself, you can always pay someone else to do it. Sometimes it still winds up being cheaper.
- Don’t force it. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Pack away clothes once you’re too big for them. Try to keep your dresser and/or closet full of ONLY things you can wear right now. It makes getting dressed easier, and it’s less frustrating/depressing than looking at a ton of clothes you’re not sure you can ever wear again.
During the first trimester most people won’t really look pregnant, and you won’t need actual “maternity” clothes. But you might feel terrible, and you will change shape. So the goal is clothes that are comfortable and fit reasonably well that you don’t need to think about too much. Even if you’re not trying to keep the pregnancy a secret, you may want to err on the side of wearing looser, more forgiving clothes at the beginning. The tight-fitted “OMG baby bump” look works a lot better once you actually HAVE a baby bump.
Thrift stores are great for letting you try out styles you might not otherwise have worn relatively cheaply. I found that I had to do some experimentation outside of my previous comfort zone, and not spending a lot of money on the clothes made me more adventurous.
One of the first things you will probably notice is that you need new bras. Sometimes this manifests as back pain because the bra you’re wearing is way to small. Just go get new ones. They’re more comfortable, and they make everything else look and feel better. Don’t wait in the name of economy, and try to actually get the right size. Get measured if you can (stores like Victoria’s Secret and Nordstrom’s will do this for free).
I needed new bras about every six weeks until the end of the second trimester. Sports bras can get you through in a pinch, but in general I suggest just getting 2-3 bras in your current size in whatever style you’d normally wear. Bear in mind that BOTH cup size and band size can change, so finding the right size might involve some trial and error.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who can wear regular clothes for the first three months. Go you. If not, there are several options.
- Bigger pants: You can size up in whatever you usually wear. Depending on how you’re shaped and how you gain weight, this can be a really good option.
- The elastic trick: Loop a hair elastic around the button-hole and button of your pants to give you an extra inch or so in the waist. This works for a little while.
- Bella bands: Basically just a big stretchy tube of fabric. This can be folded over to cover the waistband of your pants or skirt and cover and jury-wrigging (elastic, safety pins, whatever) you might be doing. Under the right shirt it just looks like you’re wearing a long tank top.
- Just wear loose and/or stretchy stuff. If your circumstances permit it, there are always yoga pants. Dresses that aren’t fitted through the waist can be really nice, as can elastic-waist skirts. And leggings are great for under dresses and so on.
- Actual maternity pants. If you need them, just get them. They’re basically just glorified elastic-waist pants. There’s no set time when you’re “supposed” to start wearing them. Try the different kinds (full panel, demi panel, etc.) and figure out what works for you. I could never get the damn things to stay up, but they are useful. You can also make them – more on that later.
Tops and dresses
Think long and looser than you’d normally wear. Even if you think you’re showing, you probably aren’t yet, so super fitted stuff probably won’t be flattering. Long tank tops can be layered under other stuff to keep you from having an awkward gap between your shirt and your pants.
If you can rock the flowy look, drapey hippie-style tops and dresses with empire waists can be useful here. Or just wear oversized t-shirts with webcomic references. Whatever your thing is.
Over all that: Long, drapey cardigans are great, and pretty forgiving. Oversized hoodies work well too. Things that end at or below your hips rather than at your waist will hide whatever weirdness is going on with your pants that are being held together by hair elastics and your weird first trimester front muffin top. This can be a good thing. Oversized men’s sweaters are easily thrifted, and can work if you don’t want to look too femme.
A few weeks into the second trimester is when most people actually start to look really pregnant. You will probably need “real” maternity clothes sometime before week 28, but not necessarily as soon as you think.
- A Belt: Get a stretchy belt that you can fasten right under your breasts, at the empire waistline. Mine was black elastic, but they come in all shapes and sizes. Probably you want it to be a couple of inches wide. This allows you to turn all sorts of top and dresses from unfitted to actually somewhat shaped like you.
- Boobs: Just keep buying bras as needed. No nursing bras yet.
- Bottoms: Your regular pants will probably stop fitting at some point, and you will need maternity pants. Unless you’re willing to just not wear pants (totally recommended, see below). Since, as stated above, maternity clothes are bullshit, this will be a pain in the ass.
My big problem with maternity pants is that they typically fit very poorly, and there aren’t a lot of styles available. You’ll get a much better fit if you’re willing to DIY. Megan Nielsen has a great tutorial on how to modify pants you already have. It’s pretty easy and worth looking into. But if you have to buy them, just go try a bunch of them on and see what works — two or three pairs is usually plenty.
Also, skirts! I got a TON of milage out to two long skirts that were basically just tubes of knit fabric with some elastic at one end. They could be layered, or pulled up over the bust and belted to act as dresses. For some reason full-length skirts just looked less silly to me than shorter ones. Any longish skirt with an elastic waist would work. You can also wear them right below the breast and cover the impending baby in skirt fullness.
- Tops and dresses: Once you actually look pregnant, you unlock the “OMG I’m pregnant!” wardrobe option. While it may be exciting now, this will become non-optional very soon, so use with caution. Mostly this means wearing tight things that will stretch across your belly and show off whatever’s going on there. If you were a somewhat squishier person to start with, this might take longer to actually look flattering. Just wear what works for you.
Dresses are a good option, and most of what got me through the second and third trimesters. I made a lot of my own dresses, which is a great option if you sew. Wear leggings underneath if you feel they’re starting to get alarmingly short in front. You may need to switch to empire waist (gathered under the boobs) styles. In my experience “maternity” dresses weren’t worthwhile, and I was better off just finding stretchy things that I would actually wear normally. I also wore a fair number of skirts-as-dresses, putting the waist up above my boobs and a belt underneath. If you wear a sweater over that, you can hide bra straps and it looks more or less intentional.
The maternity t-shirts with the gathered sides might start to be relevant towards the end of this trimester, but don’t rush into anything. I didn’t find them truly valuable until the third trimester. My favorite maternity tops were just regular shirts that happened to be very long and very stretchy. You can also wear some dresses that would otherwise be too short as tops.
- Warm things: I mentioned drapey cardigans and men’s hoodies/sweaters above. They’re great. But also bear in mind that just because you can’t zip or button a jacket doesn’t mean you can’t wear it. Your back and arms don’t change shape too much, so a lot of stuff you already owned is still serviceable for keeping your arms warm. Just reconcile yourself to your stomach sticking out front and you’re good to go.
- Shoes: Shoes are a problem when your feet are swollen and you can’t bend over. Do what you need to do, and don’t feel obligated to do daily battle to get them on your feet. Feel free to buy a pair of easy-to-get-on shoes in your swollen size if you need to. I recommend things with arch support. I lived in purple Birkenstock slip-ons for a few months. Dansko clogs can also be a lifesaver.
My tips for the third trimester are more philosophical than anything else. This is sort of when things go to hell, clothes-wise. You get really, really big and nothing fits, but there’s so little time left that it doesn’t seem worth getting anything new. The practicalities are the same as the second trimester, only more so.
You’ll probably have to get some actual maternity tops by the end, and they still won’t quite be long enough. You will be accustomed to a two inch wide strip of the bottom of your belly (it has an underside now!) being permanently exposed to the world. Some things to keep you sane:
- Anything goes: You are fully entitled to wear a skirt as a dress or yoga pants to work. Really. People do understand that you are ALL OF THE PREGNANT and will not hold you to high sartorial standards. As long as you’re okay with how you look, it’s fine.
- Do buy new clothes at the end. Somehow everyone winds up with only one pair of maternity pants for the last few weeks. It’s completely fine to buy a new pair at 35 weeks, even though you’re “almost done.” If your baby is late you could be pregnant for seven more weeks, which is almost two months. If you were on vacation for two months and lost your pants, you’d replace them. Don’t feel too guilty. You can get them used and/or sell them afterwards, or use them for your next kid. Just be comfortable.
- Have fun with it. Wear things that make you happy. Waddling super pregnant women look kind of silly anyway, so don’t worry about your clothes making you look weird. If you like it, it’s fine.
Yeah, that’s a thing. A few days after birth you’ll be much smaller, but your uterus is still the size it was when you were 20 weeks pregnant. It’s going to take a while for things to get back to normal.
You can basically wear your maternity clothes in reverse, starting from the middle of the second trimester. Though if you’re still in maternity jeans at 12 weeks, you might want to just go buy some regular pants in whatever your current size is. Or you can just wear pajamas because HOLY SHIT TAKING CARE OF NEW BABY. You’ll drop a lot of water weight pretty quickly and start being a more normal shape within a few weeks (like 6 or 8). Don’t stress out about it. You’ll probably still have some extra weight. This is normal, and might be part of breastfeeding.
(Another approach is just burn the damn maternity clothes because you never want to see them again. That’s okay too. But you could consider giving them to charity or a newly pregnant friend.)
The important part of the post-partum period for clothes (if you’re breastfeeding) is OMG ENORMOUS TATAs. Your boobs will get huge. Huge is relative, but still. HUGE. Personally, I went from a 34D pre-pregnancy to a 36G post-pregnancy. Nursing tank tops (I liked the Glamourmom ones because they’re super long) are pretty awesome. Pick up a couple of those before you have the baby. I’d also recommend getting a couple of nursing bras, but waiting until a few weeks after the birth to find out exactly what size you are.
Dressing during pregnancy is a bitch, but you’ll figure it out. And possibly even be happy with how you look. (At least in hindsight!) Take it one week at a time, and figure out what works for you before buying a lot of new clothes. And remember, you won’t actually be pregnant forever. I promise.