Early in my pregnancy, I set a goal to stay as active as I could for as long as possible. But as I started to outgrow all my prepregnancy shorts and pants, it became clear that a new wardrobe would be essential to meeting this goal.
Luckily, more and more companies have realized there’s a big market of women striving for fit pregnancies. Maternity-specific brands like Ingrid & Isabel and Motherhood Maternity have their own active lines, and mainstream brands like Old Navy have spun off special maternity versions of their regular workout gear. But so much maternity clothing is sold only online, and it can be tough to judge what will stand up to changing workouts (and changing bodies) without personally trying it on.
So, we got our hands on some pants and put them to work.
What maternity workout gear do you need?
The specific wardrobe you’ll want depends on the types of activities you like to do and the way you like your clothes to perform while doing them — as is the case even when you’re not pregnant! But there are a few handy tips I’ve picked up over the past seven months to figure out what’s best for you:
- Tops are more flexible than bottoms. If you’ve got long, stretchy workout tanks from your nonpregnant life, they may last for many months, if not your whole pregnancy. As a shorter-waisted woman, I’ve gotten away with wearing a few forgiving tanks from Gap and lululemon and some “extra long” tops from Athleta — the first time I’ve ever bought something in a “long!” I did buy one official maternity tank, but it’s just a longer version of that company’s normal workout top, and I wish I’d saved my money.
- Discover your waistband preferences. Maternity pants (workout and nonworkout) generally have either a full panel — meaning there’s a piece of fabric that pulls up over the belly — or a low-belly/under-belly panel, which scoops underneath. Some pants also try to be a hybrid with a rolldown or folddown top. You may find one style more comfortable than the other, so it’s worth trying on both to see what feels right on your body. Any existing workout pants you own with a foldover waist may also carry you through.
- Consider how your workouts may change. What used to be an easy day is now a full workout for me, and a former easy stroll can feel like a challenging power walk, so I have different needs for my workout wardrobe and am willing to sacrifice a bit of performance for a little more comfort. That said, pregnancy is also a sweaty time for many women, so even though I’m pushing less during workouts, breathable fabrics are definitely my friend.
We picked out five pairs of maternity-specific workout pants from popular brands, narrowing down our choices by looking at sizing options and online reviews. Then, we recruited students from the prenatal yoga classes at Bend Yoga Studio in San Francisco to put these pants through their paces, from yoga and gym workouts to walking and running errands.
- Ingrid & Isabel Active Capri Legging with Crossover Panel ($78)
- Old Navy Maternity Compression Capris ($33)
- Athleta Maternity Low Belly Chaturanga Tight ($69)
- BeMaternity by Ingrid and Isabel Active Black Capri with Crossover Panel ($30)
- Motherhood Maternity Secret Fit Belly Cropped Maternity Active Pants ($40)
The only pants that really disappointed were the Motherhood Maternity ones, which just didn’t seem made for real workouts. The biggest difference between the rest of the pants was fabric: pricier pants tended to use thicker fabric, which felt amazing while walking and lounging but could get a little hot and stuffy during workouts. The best value? The capris from BeMaternity, Ingrid & Isabel’s diffusion line for Target, that keep the best features of the full-priced pants at less than 50 percent of the cost.
Not pictured: Elizabeth, 5’4″, 33 weeks pregnant.
The bottom line: These pants feel great with a thick, smooth fabric — but they’re a little hot and perhaps too expensive for limited-time use.
Fit: 4.5 out of 5
Comfort and feel: 4.5 out of 5
Worth the price: Maybe
Best for: Yoga, walking, lounging
Michelle tested Ingrid & Isabel size M for yoga, lounging, and driving. She says: These were my favorite of the pants I tried. The fabric is more substantial than a lot of yoga pants, so I felt comfortable wearing them out in public. I liked the lower back panel of the waistband, which comes to a V rather than stretching all the way up the back like many maternity pants. I’d be more likely to buy the longer length for myself.
Elizabeth tested Ingrid & Isabel size S for yoga, gym workouts, errands, and lounging. She says: These pants fit very well with the band up over the belly, but I didn’t think the fit was great for me with the band folded down. They kind of bunched in the back and felt a little too tight when folded down. The fabric feels great on, and it is a good amount of stretchy yet supportive. The belly panel feels super supportive, but at the cost of also feeling a little too hot; the fabric feels a little heavy. This was fine for most activities, but it can feel too hot during a cardio workout or if the weather is warm. It helps that the back is the lower cut, but it’s still not enough for me during a cardio workout.
Kimra tested Ingrid & Isabel size M for walking. She says: These pants use a nice, thick fabric; it felt buttery. I think I’d get overheated during a VERY sweaty workout, but most pregnancy workouts aren’t that intense for me. However, I felt like my underwear was peeking out, despite my husband’s reassurances to the contrary, and I was scared to wear them for yoga. I loved the way they hugged my body, but that is a lot of money to shell out for pants that make me worry about exposing my butt. That said, maybe I’m just too conservative with my squat test, because Michelle wore these right in front of me in yoga and I didn’t notice a thing!
The bottom line: These are a solid pick if the underbelly waistband works for you. Beware thick fabric in a warmer climate and consider sizing down if between sizes.
Fit: 3.5 out of 5
Comfort and feel: 3.5 out of 5
Worth the price: Yes
Best for: Walking and gym workouts, or anything for those who prefer an under-belly fit
Jessie tested Athleta size M for shopping, errands, and a day at work. She says: The first day, the pants were great. They held their shape and didn’t slide down too much. But on the second wear, they started sliding down. The fabric also didn’t really breathe well — I felt hot and sticky and couldn’t wait to take these off after work. It’s great for cold weather, but not great for a hot day, especially during pregnancy when my body temperature tends to be higher and my legs get swollen in the afternoon. I like the low waistband design just because I don’t like anything on my belly during pregnancy.
Elizabeth tested Athleta size S for gym workouts and errands. She says: Typically I haven’t liked under-belly pants as much because the waist cuts in to me and creates a bit of muffin top. But that did not happen with these, possibly because the waist band appeared to be cut more generously. The band wasn’t too tight, but it also provided better support than I expected — and it wasn’t as hot as over-belly bands. I’d say these are great pants for all activities, a little pricey but worth it depending on how you’ll be using the pants.
Kimra tested Athleta size M for yoga. She says: I don’t think I’m the right shape to make an under-belly panel work. The top of the waistband rolled down a little during my yoga class, and I was worried that if it slipped even a little bit more, I’d be totally exposed. I felt pretty self-conscious the whole time. I’d consider trying Athleta’s over-belly styles, but the reviews on those are less positive. For someone less short waisted, though, these might be great, because the fabric feels nice and moves well.
The bottom line: These pants keep the best features of the main Ingrid & Isabel pants at a more palatable price.
Fit: 4 out of 5
Comfort and feel: 3 out of 5
Worth the price: Yes
Best for: Yoga, lounging, indoor workouts near a fan!
Kimra tried BeMaternity size M for a Pilates/weights/cardio class. She says: After my experience with the main-line Ingrid & Isabel pants, I really needed my Spright coworkers to convince me my underwear wasn’t showing before I’d work out in these! Many of the upsides of the Ingrid & Isabel design (V-back panel and attractive seams) are still present here, and the downsides are more acceptable at $30 than at $78. I actually preferred the silkier fabric on the belly panel of these compared with the main I&I pants, but the leg fabric didn’t feel as nice and got hot during an indoor workout. If they had wicked a little better, I’d have lounged in them all night.
Elizabeth tried BeMaternity size M for gym workouts and errands. She says: The fabric was lighter weight than a lot of other pants, but also didn’t feel as breathable. The fabric also felt kind of low quality and somewhat less stretchy than other pants, so it may not fit a range of body types as well. I might prefer to spend a little bit more on pants that feel a little better on. But there’s also an argument for spending less on these pants since maternity pants are only needed for about six months, especially since these are definitely functional.
The pants: Old Navy Maternity Compression Capris ($33)
The bottom line: They’re not the nicest fabric or the best design, but they stand up well to a variety of workouts, especially at their price.
Fit: 3.5 out of 5
Comfort and feel: 3.5 out of 5
Worth the price: Yes
Best for: (Relatively) higher-impact workouts
Kimra tried Old Navy size M for yoga, Pilates, walks, and general lounging. She says: These pants stay in place during even my highest-impact pregnancy workouts (e.g. anything with jumping and jogging involved). I got my first pair when I was about 15 weeks pregnant, and now at almost 30 weeks pregnant, they are still fitting well and feeling just as good. That said, I bought both prints available, a black one and this pink one, and the fabric is annoyingly different. The pink is stiffer and not as flattering. Old Navy also makes another style that’s nearly identical but with softer, matte fabric, which I prefer, but it was sold out when we were doing this test.
Elizabeth tried Old Navy size M for walking and running errands. She says: These felt like I got exactly what I was paying for. The material wasn’t as nice as some of the more expensive pants, and the top elastic just felt like standard workout pants elastic, not something that really felt good on my stomach. That said, there wasn’t anything especially bad about them. They’re reasonably comfortable, and I had no issues with see-through fabric. For that price point, they’re pretty good.
The bottom line: Despite a comfortable fit, these pants feel like pantyhose and don’t breathe well, and the details make them feel dated.
Fit: 4 out of 5
Comfort and feel: 2.5 out of 5
Worth the price: No
Best for: Less-sweaty workouts
Kimra tried Motherhood Maternity size M for walking and yoga. She says: From the size chart I thought I’d need a large, but the medium was actually a little big. (Plus: Not constricting. Minus: Not compressive and even saggy.) The “secret fit belly” panel feels a lot like pantyhose, right down to the cling factor, and there’s some ruching on the back of the calf that feels very ’80s. These got a little sticky even during a not-very-sweaty yoga class — I could feel the spots behind my knees sweating! — so I don’t have a lot of trust in their wicking powers.
Michelle tried Motherhood Maternity size S for walking and cleaning the house. She says: The material was not very soft. It felt like it would become more stiff quickly with wear, like old elastic. Overall, they felt cheap and not comfortable to wear. I wouldn’t buy them. I also didn’t like the color. (Note: Motherhood Maternity does make a solid black version, but they were sold out at the time of our test.)
Best splurge: Depending on whether you like the under-belly fit or an over-belly panel, the Ingrid & Isabel Active Capris and the Athleta Low Belly Chaturanga Tight are comfortable pants that both move well during workouts and feel great for lazy days on the couch. Unfortunately, Athleta’s full-panel pants don’t get great reviews and were sold out for a month leading up to this test, so we’d only recommend their low-belly option for now.
Best value: The BeMaternity by Ingrid & Isabel Active Black Capri manages to keep the best details of Ingrid & Isabel’s design at a much lower price. The fabric isn’t quite as nice as the pricier pants, but it’s softer than Old Navy’s.