Maternity clothes starter guide: how much do you really need?

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Clothes shopping is exciting at any time, but doubly so when you’re buying new threads to dress your bump. Maternity jeans, wrap dresses, sweatpants… There’s loads of maternity clothes to choose from, and they’ve come a long way from the tents our mums had to grin and bear! Before you drop a wad of cash on maternity gear, though, how much of this stuff do you actually need?

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There will be items in your wardrobe that will work throughout your entire pregnancy - oversized tees and sweaters accommodate growing bumps, as do wraps and kimono blouses - but you will hit a point where you need to invest in maternity clothes, and there are definitely some essentials you’ll need to see you through the later stages of pregnancy.

So, ready for some retail therapy? Great! Then let’s look at the different types of maternity clothes and accessories most mamas-to-be will need... 

Nursing camisole

Comfy camis are perfect year-round. They can be worn under waterfall cardigans, kimonos and baggy shirts, and most feature nifty, one-handed fastenings (or hidden openings) so that you can quickly unclasp them for breastfeeding. Maternity camisoles are soft and snug, wrapping beautifully around your bump for lightweight layering. 

They come in a rainbow of colours, though you may want to consider buying them in black and white as those classic palettes will play nicely with the rest of your wardrobe. The iLoveSIA Women’s Seamless Breastfeeding Nursing Bra Tank and Ingrid and Isabel Seamless Drop Cup Nursing Cami are popular choices thanks to their comfy wire-free designs and drop cup nursing features. 

UK customers may also like the NINGMI Maternity Vest Nursing Bra Top Breastfeeding Clothing Pregnancy Tank, with the Hofish Womens Seamless Nursing Bra Bralette offering a great-value alternative for US shoppers 

Maternity leggings

Ultra versatile maternity wear
Something for every budget
Easy to wash and iron
Might 'bag' at the knees

Stretchy, shape retaining leggings are a godsend for all women, especially those with baby bumps. Thankfully, maternity leggings are cheap enough for you to stock up on if you have the budget to buy a few different pairs. There are sporty maternity leggings, skinny jean style jeggings, and leggings that double as smart dinner or work pants.

The NHS recommends you start with at least 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week during pregnancy. If you plan on staying active, take a look at Ingrid and Isabel’s Active Maternity Leggings. They have a BellyFit Panel to keep your bump supported during those pelvic tilts, and moisture wicking fabric to draw sweat away from your skin. Happy Mama’s Women's Maternity Leggings, meanwhile, are suitable for gentle yoga and stretching.

Want something dressier to pair with a cute tunic on a night out? Go for Esprit Women’s Maternity Female Jegging if you’re shopping in the UK, or the pants-esque Liz Lange Maternity Over the Belly Legging Pants if you’re in the US.

Tunic or wrap top

Like leggings, tunics that skim over your bump, and wrap tops that can be tied to one side of your belly, are refreshingly simple to wear during pregnancy. Buy the right style and colour and you’ll be able to team them with maternity jeans, skirts, leggings or pants; dressing them up with jewellery and heels for evening glam, or flats and a lightweight scarf for daytime chic.

So, where to start with all the tunic and wrap top goodness? Happy Mama’s Women's Nursing Crossover Layered Top looks great with chunky jewellery and fine knits, as does the Krisp Pleated A-line Tunic. The Purpless Maternity Marvellous Pregnancy Tunic, available in 11 colours, is a sweet choice for throwing on over leggings and coupling with bright flats.

Have a shade more budget to spare? Splash out on the plush Envie de Fraises Nursing Wrap Top (UK), which looks fantastic with skinny jeans and heels, or A Pea In The Pod’s Fiona Wrap Nursing Top (US) that works with everything.

Wrap dress

Pregnancy figure-flattering
Works with your bump
Good breastfeeding access
Can be dressed up or down

You’ll need at least one dress that has the power to make you feel fabulous and comfortable during pregnancy, and the ultra-versatile wrap dress is a popular choice among many mamas-to-be because of those reasons. Wrap dresses, whether short-sleeved for summer or long-sleeved for winter, can be dressed up or down (depending on the neckline and fabric) and layered beneath chunky cardigans or flowing coats. Just like wrap tops they fasten to the side of your bump and will flatter your growing pregnancy body. 

Isabella Oliver is known for its stunning maternity clothes, especially its now-iconic Maternity THE Wrap Dress. We love the Pink Rose version for date night or a luxe brunch with the girls, and the Wine colour dress for formal occasions. 

Budget won't stretch that far? No matter, as Ripe Maternity has a gorgeous Beetroot colour wrap dress, the Women’s Ballet Wrap Nursing Dress. It also comes in bewitching Sea Green. If you’re pregnant through the summer months, the Zeta Ville Maternity Wrap V-Neck Dress will no doubt become your go-to for simple yet feminine summer maternity dressing.

A Belly Belt and BellaBand

When you’re in that in-between stage where your normal skinnies are getting tight but you’re not quite ready for maternity jeans, try a Belly Belt Combo Kit. This handy pack contains various elastic fasteners that fit to the inside of your jeans, essentially stretching them out at the front so that you can fit your growing bump inside. 

This leads us neatly onto another essential maternity accessory: the BellaBand. Haven’t heard of these beauties? A BellaBand holds up unbuttoned waistbands, loose pants and other maternity wear that might slip down under your bump. These clever strips of fabric also act as tummy smoothers once baby has arrived.

Nursing sleep bra

Soft enough to sleep in
Fast access for nursing
Some have bra conversion kits
Clips might dig into your skin

Chances are you’ll go through a few different bra sizes throughout your pregnancy, so we understand why you may not want to spend too much on maternity bras. That said, a quality nursing and sleep bra could make all the difference to your shut-eye and general breast comfort during pregnancy.  Just be sure to choose one that won't cut into or chaffe your skin.

Many mamas enjoy wearing gently supportive bras during maternity because they feel soft against your breasts and give baby fast access to your girls whenever a feed is due. Bravado has some pretty maternity bras, including the Seamless Nursing Bra with supportive four-way stretch fabric and a bra conversion kit so that you can turn it into a regular bra once your breastfeeding is over. 

The Bella Materna Women's Maternity Plunge Nursing Bra has a similar look to the Bravado and comes in Black or Rose with a plunge neckline – great for wearing beneath wrap dresses. The Lamaze Maternity Two-Pack Soft Sleep Maternity Nursing Bra is popular with mums who want something for sleep and nursing, while the vibrant Cake Lingerie High-Impact Maternity Nursing Sports Bra will see you through breastfeeding and postpartum aerobics. 

Pregnancy cardigan

Pregnancy cardigans come in a range of fabrics and ‘weights’ of knit to keep you warm in winter or covered up yet cool in the summer. If you plan on wearing your maternity cardigan when nursing, try to avoid cardigans with too many buttons as they’ll soon become tiresome for you and a hangry babe! 

Happy Mama is a global name in maternity clothes, so it’s no wonder the Happy Mama Maternity Waterfall Cardigan is a prime choice for mums around the world. This longline drape cardigan comes in several colours and creates a flowing silhouette that will sit around your bump.

Another stylish option is the Purpless Maternity Pregnancy Cardigan with simple two-button fastening - don’t worry, those buttons are too high up to interfere with nursing! - and dual-length sleeves. Want to inject some colour into your maternity clothes wardrobe? Try the Zeta Ville Pregnancy Knit Cocoon Dolman Cardigan, a snug batwing cardigan in Rust or Powder Pink.

Maternity shapewear

Provides lift and support
Creates a smooth shape
Uncomfortable over long periods!
Choose your sizing carefully

There may come a time during pregnancy when you’re heading out to a special occasion and might need a little help creating a smoother silhouette under your dress. If so, pregnancy shapewear is for you as it lifts, tones and smoothes in one go.

Spanx has long been a big name in women’s shapewear and it's here for mamas-to-be, too, with the Spanx Pregnancy Power Mama Maternity Shaping Shorts. These body-shaping booties lift and smooth in all the right places, and come in either black or nude, as do the similarly designed Franato Women’s Maternity Shapewear Mid-Thigh Shorts

Maternity jeans

As much as you love your favourite jeans there will come a point in your pregnancy when even a Belly Belt Combo Kit won’t help you squeeze into them. When that day comes it’s time to snap up some maternity jeans. And don’t worry, the look and shape of these threads have come a long way over the years – no unsightly bum sagging for you! 

Noppies regularly features in best maternity clothes features, especially the brand’s OTB Lexi Slim Maternity Jeans. These jeans feature an elasticated belly band that expands as your bump grows, and are loved for their distressed, vintage-style look. They look ace when worn with Converse. 

While maternity jeans are an investment, you still may wish to spend a smaller amount, spreading your budget to accommodate more maternity clothes essentials. If that’s true for you, take a look at the dark denim Esprit Maternity Otb Straight Maternity Jeans (UK) or Rinse Wash Motherhood Secret Fit Belly Super Stretch Skinny Maternity Jeans (US), both designed with elasticated belly bands and smart enough to take you from work to dinner. 

If you do have maternity budget to burn, PAIGE is getting rave reviews for its slinky Maternity Verdugo Jeans. They're fitted with a nylon flap that covers your entire stomach and sits beneath your chest for supreme comfort, and look incredible with both heels and flats.