Here’s the place for tons of practical, body-positive maternity clothes advice

Guest post by Alice

IMG_0146 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!

Basic Concepts

  • 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.

First Trimester

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.


Unionbay Women’s Maternity Eden Crop Jean ($14.77), Three Seasons Maternity Women’s Skinny Jean ($42), Woman Within Plus Size Petite Pants ($26.99, sizes S-5X)

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

Basic High-Low Dress ($15.99), Floral Strapless Tunic ($8.99), Belted Chiffon Tunic ($24.80, XL-2X).

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.

Banana-glams Cardigan ($32.99), Mint Every Word Tunic ($34.99), Girls Just Wanna Have Plum Top ($29.99) — all sizes S-L.

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.

Harvest Season Dress ($44.99), Pam Breeze-ly Tunic in Green ($34.99) — both sizes S-2X.

Second Trimester

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.

Divine Teal Maxi Skirt ($34.99), Chiffon Maxi Skirt ($12.50), Raspberry Latte Jersey Skirt ($34.99)

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.
9/8/12 outfit (36 weeks)

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.

26 weeks 5 days
  • 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.

Third Trimester

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.

Fourth Trimester

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.

In Conclusion

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.

Comments on Here’s the place for tons of practical, body-positive maternity clothes advice

  1. I am in my first pregnancy (at the end of 34 weeks currently), and a few family members & friends have given me maternity tops to wear — most of them I love for sleeping, but for actually wearing, I love the tunics I already had way more. I’d like to stock up on more tunics, because a tunic + yoga pants are my current favorite work outfit.

    I also want to throw out there, that if there is anything I’ve learned from my friends, your first pregnancy body shape/changes may be very different from your second (or third… or…). One of my friends hardly showed at all through her entire first pregnancy — at the end of her third trimester, she had just started to develop a tiny baby bump (she compared it to a beer pooch). Other than finding shirts that were a little longer, and going up a size or two in pants, she really didn’t need to change her wardrobe too much. However!! For her second, she looked as though she was having twins at week 23 (she wasn’t, and her second baby was 8.4 pounds, so it’s not like he was particularly huge either). So: don’t feel bad if you’ve saved up all your old maternity clothes & still find that you need to buy more with the next pregnancy! Sometimes, that’s just how it goes, and for many women it’s totally normal & OK.

  2. My two cents as a person who is 6′ and broad hip/ shouldered and also extremely broke, old navy maternity has been my friend. They have long length maternity jeans. Even jeans that have a stretchy elastic waist for the beginning when you may not need a panel but everything is just uncomfortable. They have awesome clearance prices too, baby shower dress=$9!
    Long tunic or empire waisted tops have been key for me. I love being in dresses and leggings the most at this point (34 weeks). I am still wearing the same coat. It has an empire waist so it buttons across my bust and still has enough overlap on the bottom to be closed
    As for undergarments, my bra size has not changed at all. Bras are very uncomfortable to me except sleep bras. After trying on hundreds, I gave up and have been wearing molded cup sports bras mostly. Also I found that only certain underwear are comfortable as well. No need for maternity undies though if you wear bikinis. I just had to get more of the “comfort fit” band and I went up a size due to weight gain.

    • Definitely agree on the underwear. I just went up a size in my usuals, and that’s worked so much better than the “maternity” underwear I also bought.

  3. about nursing bras: even it you always wear under wire your nursing boobies might be more sensitive to it. I definitely couldn’t wear it at all because i would get clogged ducts and infections.

  4. I wish I’d heard you make the “if you were on vacation for 2 weeks and lost your pants you’d buy new ones” before I stuck out my almost 2 weeks late kiddo with literally no pants to wear. Because that is some seriously convincing logic. 🙂

    My PROTIP: I second the cardigans-over-a-plain-shirt advice. I bought a bunch of solid color (mostly black, brown or grey) maternity shirts from places like Old Navy and wore them under my normal cardigans (unbuttoned or less buttoned towards the end). For me it was psychologically very helpful to have something that felt like my “regular” clothes to wear since I hated my maternity clothes so so so very much.

  5. I don’t know much about maternity bras, but I do know that Victoria’s Secret is notorious for doing a poor job fitting bras – I would strongly recommend going elsewhere!

    • Yes! I don’t get it. I went in there to get fitted once, because I do like their memory foam bras. She tried to tell me I was a 32B, and couldn’t figure out why I was squishing out of the top and bottom of the cups. I’m actually a 32D, but I tried the smaller one on just to humor her… Maybe their formula is flawed, but I think bra sizing is more like an art. You really have to have an eye for it. Nordstrom fitters are a lot better at it.

      • I have loved the Coobie bra so far. I am just starting my 2nd trimester, and I started out as a 32 D. Because I have a less-common size, I always get a bogus measurement. The Coobie bra is under $30, does not have an underwire, but provides a lot of support. It expands with your body. I have had mine since early in the first trimester and have continued to find it comfortable as I have grown three cup sizes.

  6. I had a lot of hand me down shirts that were way too big for me normally, but I was able to belt above my belly later in pregnancy as a flattering option. I purchased most of my maternity clothes at consignment stores, and got pretty lucky…One thing I HATED about maternity tops is that they are often polyester. They had nice stretch, but I had my baby in late summer so I was uncomfortable all summer long in crap that wouldn’t breathe.

  7. I wore those bella style bands for all 3 trimesters and into the fourth. My favorite pair of pants was my pre-pregnancy pants with a bella band to hold them up.

  8. I live in Minnesota and getting a maternity coat coat was a necessity but I’m tall and carrying twins. For me, a wool coat doesn’t cut it in the winter but you could get one of those wool swing coats, they are also cute for after pregnancy.

  9. This the secretest, most sorest of topics with me. I have not shared my frustrations with dressing with anyone but it is my least favorite thing to do being pregnant. I’d love to run around nude all day (especially because I think it looks better) whilst pregnant and hauling this belly but apparently that’s “frowned upon” in public, so I’ll take some of this advice. I wish I’d read this sooner.

    PS: I have that orange dress, and it is so awesome. I just need more shooooeeess.

  10. I found suspenders to be awesome for holding up maternity (or not-all-the-way-fastened) pants. I would then wear my shirt over the suspenders. Peeing was awkward, but I felt much more professional with my pants not falling down.

  11. I’m 14 weeks now and as I see it the one advantage to my timing (that I will be enormously pregnant in June-July-August) is that summer is prime time for flowy dresses and those will be perfectly acceptable to wear. (Today, where I life, it is about 20 degrees F and I am glad I still fit into my regular warm wardrobe.)

    The hard part is being a borderline size to begin with. I wear a 16 and that means the vast majority of places where I ordinarily get clothes don’t *have* a “one size bigger” that I can transition to for the time being. And the 18/20s tend to be cut very, very differently from the 12/14/16 range so it’s not much help there either. Alas. And two local Goodwill stores between them had exactly one pair of maternity jeans, in size 6. I might have to hit up actual maternity clothes much sooner than I would like, which is “never.”

    • I started out at a 14, so I definitely had a lot of these problems later on in my pregnancy. Old Navy/Gap were workable if you’re up for ordering online. Similarly you can find used maternity clothes on ebay, etc. And you’re totally right about the 3rd trimester – flowy maxi dresses are late pregnancy gold.

      I have a size 16 friend who had good luck with maternity clothes from the brand Japanese Weekend. I never tried them, but she seemed very pleased with their stuff.

  12. I’m 20 weeks now with #2 and gave up on regular pants and switched to maternity pants at 9 weeks. My son is 8 and I didn’t save any of the clothes I had when I was pregnant with him so I started from scratch. I found maternity pants so much more comfortable with all the bloating I had and also the weight gain from switching to a lower carb diet to a basically entirely carb diet to manage morning sickness. Tops though, I have only just started wearing some specifically maternity tops and still wear a lot of my regular long stretchy tops. I can’t wait for it to get warmer. I can’t handle dresses when it’s this cold because I’m cold all the time as it is.I lived in dresses during the end of my first pregnancy and plan to do so again this time.

    The only thing I hate is that it seems to be impossible to find maternity style scrubs, so I have resigned myself to just wearing larger sized scrubs than normal. I had a pile given to me but I hate them. I just feel fat wearing them even though I have a definitely pregnant looking belly in regular clothes, it’s hard to see in the giant scrubs.

  13. Just have to put in a plug for Belly Jeans.
    This woman will take you fave pair of regular old jeans and maternity-ize them! She takes out the zipper and sews the fly closed, cuts out the waistband, and replaces it with a thick piece of elastic lined with cotton. I just got a pair of skinny jeans converted, using the demi band in red bandana print, and they are AWESOME under a high-waisted dress or long sweater. I’m in my second trimester and these are way better and way cheaper than any store-bought maternity jeans.

  14. Another handy piece of clothing: a wrap, a kimono-like shirt or dress. You can give it more room while you grow.
    Also… this works really wel as baby clothing too. Those little babies grow so fast, it’s hard to keep up!

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