When Do Most Women Start Wearing Maternity Clothes?

Updated July 28, 2022
Pregnant woman bursting out of jeans

Maternity clothes can be a comfortable and fun way to express your personal style during pregnancy. But when most people start wearing maternity clothes varies depending on a number of factors. You'll almost definitely be wearing them by 20 weeks, but it could also be well before that time.

Most pregnant people start wearing maternity clothes when they begin to feel uncomfortable in their own tighter-fitting clothes. What stage in the pregnancy this will be is based on your individual needs and clothing style preferences. You get to decide when to buy maternity clothes. There are no guiding rules, but there are some things to consider to help you prepare ahead to acquire new clothes.

How to Know When to Start Wearing Maternity Clothes

If you are wondering, when you'll need a whole new wardrobe, know that maternity clothes are not usually of main concern early in pregnancy. Some time soon after the first trimester, most people will begin to think about maternity or larger size clothes. There are a few factors that will influence your specific timing to start wearing maternity clothes.

Size of the Growing Uterus

Understanding the normal increase in the size of your uterus is a good place to start in preparing for maternity clothes.

  • 12 weeks - By 12 weeks, at the end of the first trimester, the uterus just reaches the top of your pubic bone. As your uterus grows, your belly may start to round and protrude a little and your clothes become uncomfortable in the first trimester, as there is a natural tendency for fat deposition on your abdomen that starts early in pregnancy.
  • 14 weeks - At 14 weeks, it is about 2 inches above the bone. At 14 weeks, you may begin to be aware of you uterus in your lower abdomen, though it may not be evident to others yet. Your clothes may start to get tighter around your waist at this point, if they haven't already. This is a common time for people to start wearing maternity pants, as they tend to be more comfortable and provide a better fit so you look pregnant, rather than you just looking like you are gaining weight.
  • 16 weeks - At 16 weeks, your uterus is halfway between your pubic bone and your belly button. Some people don't begin to "show" until about 16 weeks as the belly protrudes more from the growing uterus and extra fat deposit. Many people will switch to maternity or larger clothes then.
  • 20 weeks - At 20 weeks, it is at your belly button. Certainly by 20 weeks, most people will be wearing maternity or looser style clothes. After 20 weeks, your upper belly will progressively get bigger which will determine clothing style.

Differences in Weight and Body Shape

pregnant person wearing sweater

Because of differences in body shapes, pre-pregnancy weight, and pre-pregnancy clothes styles, some people may not begin to feel uncomfortable in their clothes until after 16 weeks. Bellies come in all sizes and shapes in pregnancy as they do before. If you are short, you may find that your abdomen protrudes earlier because of your shorter belly.

If you are overweight or obese before pregnancy or you tend to carry more weight around your belly, you may not "show" as early as someone with a thinner torso. However, overweight people tend to gain more weight than thinner people during pregnancy.

Weight Gain and Bloating

Whether your pre-pregnancy weight is normal or overweight, if you gain a lot of weight early in pregnancy, expect that your clothes might get tighter before the second trimester. In this case, your pregnancy weight gain may become the deciding factor in how soon to get new clothes, not the size of your uterus.

  • Distribution of the weight gain also various from person to person. Some people distribute more fat on their belly than others during pregnancy, and this may be a determining factor in their need for maternity clothes.
  • Weight gain from water retention may cause you to feel uncomfortable in regular clothes from the first trimester on, because you can't tolerate anything around your waist. This is another reason many woman start wearing maternity pants.
  • During pregnancy, progesterone can slow down the bowels, and pregnant people can get constipated and feel bloated from gas. This could also lead to a need to wear maternity clothes from the first trimester onward.

Breast Growth

pregnant person holding belly

While your uterus is growing your breasts are growing as well. Under the influence of your increased estrogen and progesterone hormones, your breasts will get heavier and larger.

Depending on the rate of growth, you may start needing increasingly larger cup and bras sizes. After the first trimester, you may also need larger tops. Thankfully, maternity bras have multiple rows of hooks for extending the width as your chest circumference grows.

Number of Babies

If you have more than one baby on board, you will gain more weight and your uterus will be larger each week than if you have a single baby. It is likely that your clothes will get tighter earlier and you will begin to show earlier.

Primigravida vs Multigravida

Every pregnancy is unique. You may gain more or less weight in a subsequent pregnancy (multigravida) than you did in your first (primigravida). Though a later pregnancy may "show" before your first time pregnancy did, this isn't always the case.

Morning Sickness

Morning sickness, or her crueler sister hyperemesis gravidarum, can lead to weight loss early in the first trimester. The belly might be flatter because of less fat deposit, so the need for maternity clothes may come later in the second trimester.

Maternity Clothes Sizes and Alternatives

Maternity sizes allow for a growing abdomen. The sizes generally follow non-pregnant sizes. If you wear size 8 clothes, expect to wear the same sizes in pregnancy, unless you gain a lot of weight during pregnancy.

After 20 weeks, when your uterus rises above your navel, you may find that you may have to go up a size or two depending on your weight gain. There are plenty of maternity styles to choose from, including professional clothes and clothes for evening and formal occasions.

Alternatives to Maternity Clothes

shopping for maternity clothes

Some people are not ready to wear maternity clothes in the first trimester for one reason or another. Other prefer to wear larger and looser regular clothes throughout their pregnancy, rather than maternity clothes. Certain styles can accommodate changing size needs from the first trimester to term, such as:

  • A-lines dresses that flare from the top
  • Empire waist dresses that are not fitted around the waist
  • Flared, billowy shirts or tunics that are comfortable to both your growing breasts and abdomen
  • Oversized shirts in the first trimester that accommodate increased breast size
  • Pleated dresses that flare at the waist
  • Sheath style dresses with stretchy fabrics that gives around the waist
  • Stretchy pants or skirts, particularly those with elasticized waists that can be worn around, below, or above the waist as the need arises

In general, you may want to go up a size or more in your non-maternity clothes in the late second and in the third trimester.

When to Start Buying Maternity Clothes

Your pre-pregnancy weight, your body shape, your growing uterus and breasts, and your pregnancy weight gain are some of the main factors that influence when you might choose to start wearing maternity clothes (or not). Being comfortable in your clothes throughout your pregnancy will be a good guide in making your own decision about when to start and what to wear.

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When Do Most Women Start Wearing Maternity Clothes?