When Do Most Women Start Wearing Maternity Clothes?

Vilma Ruddock
Pregnant Woman

Most women 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 the time comes. There are no guiding rules, but there are some things to consider to help you prepare ahead to acquire new clothes.

Factors to Consider

Maternity clothes are not usually of main concern early in pregnancy. Some time soon after the first trimester most women 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.

  • By 12 weeks, at the end of the first trimester, the uterus just reaches the top of your pubic bone.
  • At 14 weeks it is about 2 inches above the bone.
  • At 16 weeks it is halfway between your pubic bone and your belly button.
  • At 20 weeks it is at your belly button.
  • After 20 weeks your upper belly will progressively get bigger which will determine clothing style.

As your uterus grows consider the following:

  • 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.
  • At 14 weeks you may begin to be aware of you uterus in your lower abdomen, though not evident to others yet. Your clothes may start to get tighter around your waist at this point, if hasn't already.
  • Some women don't begin to "show" until about 16 weeks as the belly protrudes more from the growing uterus and extra fat deposit. Many women will switch to maternity or larger clothes then.
  • Certainly by 20 weeks most women will be wearing maternity or looser style clothes.

Differences in Weight and Body Shape

Because of differences in body shapes, pre-pregnancy weight, and pre-pregnancy clothes styles, some women 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 women tend to gain more weight than thinner women during pregnancy because of eating habits.

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 woman to woman. Some women distribute more fat on their belly than others during pregnancy and this may be a determining factor in your need for maternity clothes.
  • Weight gain from water retention may cause you to feel uncomfortable in regular clothes from the first trimester, because you can't tolerate anything around your waist.
  • During pregnancy, progesterone hormone slows down the bowels and women can get constipated and feel bloated from gas. This could also lead to a need to wear maternity clothes from the first trimester.

Breast Growth

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, and larger tops from the first trimester. Thankfully, maternity bras have multiple rows of hooks for extending the width as your chest circumference grows.

Number of Babies on Board

If you have more than one baby on board 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 first time pregnancy tends to "show" later than your next pregnancies, be prepared that your need for maternity clothes may come sooner or later than your first.

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 and Sizes

Maternity sizes allow for a growing abdomen. The sizes generally follow non-pregnant sizes. So 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

Some women are not ready to wear maternity clothes in the first trimester for one reason or another. Some women throughout their pregnancy choose to wear larger or looser regular clothes, 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
  • 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 waist can be worn around, below or above the waist as the need arises
  • Go up a size or more in your non-maternity clothes in the late second and in the third trimester
  • Oversized shirts in the first trimester will accommodate increased breast size and are also good options to accommodate as you get into the second and particularly the third trimester.
  • Flared, billowy shirts will be comfortable to both your growing breasts and abdomen in the late second trimester, and particularly in the third.

Make Your Own Decision

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.

When Do Most Women Start Wearing Maternity Clothes?