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How to Build a Maternity Wardrobe
Updated on
November 17, 2023

How to Build a Maternity Wardrobe

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How to Build a Maternity Wardrobe.
How to Build a Maternity Wardrobe

Congratulations, you’re pregnant! But now the zipper on your jeans won’t go all the way up. Eek!

Before you dive headfirst into online shopping, take a few minutes to breathe (it might be easier if you unbutton your pants) and spend some time learning about how to build a maternity wardrobe.

These five tips will walk you through the basics of shopping for maternity clothes—from how to know exactly what you need and what’s best to buy for those first few months all the way through the most popular maternity clothing brands for all budgets and what staples you won’t be able to live without by the end of your nine months.

1. Think Through Your Lifestyle

First up: before you plunge into buying allll the maternity clothes, spend a little time thinking about your lifestyle and how your clothing needs fit into it.

Do you work in an office with a strict corporate dress code, or at a start-up where anything goes? Can you work from home in leggings and a fleece? How often do you work out, and what types of exercise do you usually do? (Sidenote: spending the day in workout clothes but not actually working out totally counts, so no worries there.)

Doing a quick edit of your lifestyle and your current wardrobe is a good place to start when you’re thinking ahead to what types of maternity clothes you’ll want to focus on buying. Figure out what you wear now and how that’s going to translate over the next nine months so you’ll know what to target when you start shopping. And if you want lots of options but don’t want to hang on to it all, you can also consider a maternity clothing rental or subscription service.

2. Slow Your Roll

It’s tempting to look around your closet and quickly feel overwhelmed by building a completely new wardrobe now that you’re pregnant. Work clothes, weekend clothes, workout clothes…it’s a lot. But before you get too caught up in all the stress, take a step back and remember that you don’t need to do it all overnight—and even if you could, you shouldn’t.

You’ve got 40 weeks of pregnancy ahead of you, and your body is going to change a lot over those nine months. Every pregnant person carries differently, and until you’re in the trenches yourself, you’re can’t know if you’re the type of person to pop early, someone who’ll have a long, tall belly or one that sticks farther out or if you’ll be able to wear your non-maternity clothes well into the second trimester.

Instead of immediately filling your cart with maternity clothes the minute your body starts to change, start with these items instead:

  • Support Belt. A support belt is the best, most affordable accessory to get you through that awkward time in early pregnancy when you’ve outgrown your “regular” clothes but you’re still too small to fit in most maternity styles. This stay-put, seamless band sits over unbuttoned pants to help hold them up and smooth you out. You can wear it folded down for extra hold or pulled up for more coverage. The Bellaband from Ingrid and Isabel, available at Target, is our favorite.
  • Waistband Extender. For something a bit smaller and more discreet than a belly band, try a waistband expander. This tiny, stretchy piece of elastic goes either through your belt loops (like this one) or over your button (like this one) to extend the waistline of your pants. Extenders are an affordable way to stretch the life of your pants before you need to make the switch to maternity styles.
  • Leggings. As if you needed another reason to adore this wardrobe staple, you’re about to fall in love all over again. A good pair of supportive, stretchy maternity leggings is great for your first trimester (and beyond). Any type will do, maternity or otherwise—just make sure they’re stretchy enough to cover a growing belly and preferably seamless for added comfort.

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3. Set Your Budget

Unless you’re lucky enough to have an unlimited clothing budget (oh how we wish!), you’re going to want to spend a little time thinking through how much money you want to spend on your maternity wardrobe. A few things to consider:

  • Do you plan on having more than one baby, or will this be your only pregnancy? This may determine whether you want to invest in some higher-end maternity wardrobe staples that will last you through several pregnancies or if you’d rather go for trendier, more affordable pieces that won’t need to last you past nine months.
  • What’s the climate like where you live? If you’re somewhere that’s colder, or you know you’ll be pregnant over the winter, you’ll need to set aside some of your budget for more expensive winter items like a maternity coat, sweaters and some extra layers (heads up, there are plenty of cold-weather maternity clothes and holiday maternity clothes on Amazon). If you’re in a warmer climate, though, you’ll be able to skip these items.
  • Do you plan on doing any travel or attending any special events like a wedding or other type of celebration during your pregnancy? You may want to earmark some cash for a few special occasion or travel-specific maternity items (things like a formal dress or a few bathing suits) if you know you’ll need them.

Another thing to keep in mind: there are a lot of price points to choose from when you’re shopping for maternity clothes. And there are also a ton of retailers that now carry maternity lines. Unlike maternity shopping in years past, there’s now a huge range of both brands and budget options for maternity wear that cover everything from trendier items to more classic pieces. It’s easy to go high-end, lower-end or anywhere in between. Here are a few of our favorite brands and stores across all budgets:

And don’t forget about Amazon! The online retailer carries a huge selection of maternity clothes at all different price points. And you just can’t beat that Prime shipping.

4. Shop Strategically

You’ve evaluated, you’ve budgeted, used our brilliant pregnancy clothing hacks and now it’s time to shop. Depending on your style, your wardrobe needs and how much you want to spend, there are lots of different ways to go about building your maternity wardrobe. Keeping all of that in mind, here’s our favorite—and a fairly universal—approach.

Start with the Staples

There are a few pieces that belong in every maternity wardrobe. We recommend starting here when you begin your shopping.

  • Layering tanks. A fitted layering tank top is a maternity must-have. These tops can be worn alone or under another shirt to help smooth out your bump from the early days right through to the end of your pregnancy. Layering tanks are great for postpartum, too.
  • Leggings. As mentioned above, our love for leggings knows no bounds. Invest in a pair or two that you can wear alone or under a dress. If you plan on working out throughout your pregnancy, you may want to snag a pair for exercise as well.
  • A pair of jeans (or two). Look for a pair of well-fitting jeans that you can dress up or dress down. (We love a straight or skinny fit in a dark wash denim for maximum versatility.) Depending on what you find more comfortable, you can opt for jeans with full panel coverage (where the stretchy fabric band covers your entire stomach) or an under-the-belly fit.
  • A pair of black pants. Black pants work for almost any occasion and can easily be dressed up for work or dressed down for a more casual day. They also provide a good neutral base for almost any top.
  • Optional: a jumpsuit and a basic black dress. These items will depend on your lifestyle and where you live, but we think you can’t go wrong with a one-piece jumpsuit and a basic black dress. Both pieces can work in about a zillion different ways and will get a ton of wear.

Go Beyond Basics

Once you have the basics covered, you can start moving on to other items like tops, a few other pairs of pants, some dresses or skirts (if you need them) and some loungewear. Keep these tips in mind when choosing what and how much to buy:

  • Think along the lines of a capsule wardrobe when you’re strategizing what to buy (and what to skip) for your maternity clothes. A capsule wardrobe—a curated selection of a few timeless, essential items that can all be mixed and matched—will help you keep your maternity wardrobe focused and interchangeable. It can also help you not overbuy. Think about flexible pieces that work together and range from casual to more formal.
  • Along those same lines: stick mostly with neutrals, then work in color and pattern either through accessories or through your shirts. This will give you more flexibility to mix and match and is a great way to make a limited wardrobe look bigger than it actually is.
  • Depending on your style and how you carry, you may be able to stick with a lot of the clothing you wore pre-pregnancy. There are tons of loose and flowy shirts, A-line dresses and even pants and joggers that work just as well when you’re pregnant as when you’re not. Work with what you have as much as possible or look for things that will work regardless of your belly status.
  • Don’t overbuy! Pregnancy may feel like it lasts forever, but in reality it’s a pretty short window of time—especially considering lots of pregnant people don’t move into maternity clothing until the second trimester. Try your best not to shop impulsively and instead spend a little time thinking through your purchases and how they’ll work together to create a maternity wardrobe. You might also want to consider a maternity clothes subscription box or rental if that sounds like something that could work for you.

Extras and Accessories

A few other things to consider as you shop:

  • You’re going to need to size up on bras pretty soon into pregnancy—and maybe even a few times throughout. Both your band and cup sizes are going to change as you go, so keep that in mind as you think through what you’ll need and when. And if you plan to breastfeed, don’t worry about nursing bras until either right before delivery or right after; it’s tough to estimate what size your breasts will be until you’re in the moment.
  • Some pregnant people can stick with their pre-pregnancy undies while others opt to go up a size or choose a style with more coverage. It’s just a matter of personal preference, and you’ll figure it out as you go.
  • While you’ll likely need a new sports bra if you continue to work out through your pregnancy, you may be able to stick with your usual exercise gear for quite a while. (Lots of workout leggings offer plenty of stretch for a growing belly.) You also might be able to just shop one size up instead of looking for maternity-specific workout clothing.

5. Don’t Forget About Postpartum

There’s a lot of talk around maternity wardrobes, but here’s something that’s not talked about nearly as much: postpartum clothing.

Your body will be going through a lot of changes postpartum. (Understatement of the year.) While some of your maternity clothes will still work, at some point you’ll reach a stage that’s somewhere in between your pregnancy weight and your pre-baby size, and you’ll likely have to do a little more shopping.

Be gentle with yourself. Cut yourself some slack and remember that there’s no extra points given out for “bouncing back” from pregnancy. Every person recovers differently, heals differently and experiences a body that changes in different ways after giving birth. You just grew and carried a whole person for nine months; go easy on yourself and wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident.

Babylist Staff

Babylist editors and writers are parents themselves and have years of experience writing and researching, coming from media outlets like Motherly, the SF Chronicle, the New York Times and the Daily Beast, and the fields of early childhood education and publishing. We research and test hundreds of products, survey real Babylist parents and consult reviews in order to recommend the best products and gear for your growing family.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.