Safest Workout Gear for Expectant Moms
Updated: May 21, 2021
All you need for a rewarding fitness experience is a great attitude about exercise, but if you want to kick it up a notch, here are Expect’s prime picks for prenatal fitness gear, that are safe and effective for mom and baby:
Eco Wise Premium Fitness Ball...and a note about PVC
Why it's an Expect pick:
Variety: 4 sizes, 4 colors
If there’s one staple of prenatal workout gear, the stability ball is it. Several of our Expect workouts utilize a stability or birthing ball to help reduce lower back pain, and they are so important in the birthing process that many hospital maternity wards have them too. (Check out this Care.com article that breaks down all the benefits).
Stability balls are for more than working out; many expectant moms prefer to sit on them instead of regular chairs. And they can help prep your body for the big day, opening your hips to ease the delivery process and help cervical dilation. After the baby is born, many moms find that lightly bouncing with the baby on the ball can help soothe the newborn to sleep. Plus, mom's partner can use the ball for a variety of core exercises.
Many of us already have stability balls at our homes, gyms or even offices, as they are super effective for core. But beware, many of the most popular stability balls, like Wirecutter's top exercise ball pick, are not prenatal approved, and almost all of them are made from PVC, aka "poison plastic."
PVC: Toxic for Mothers and Mother Earth
Almost all stability balls are made of PVC--you know, that vinyl material with off-gasing so strong that it stinks up your house for days. PVC smells bad because it is bad--Greenpeace calls it the "plastic poison" because it can cause cancer, asthma, allergies, reproductive problems and is linked to autism. Expectant moms can expose their babies to PVC in the womb so at Expect we are sticklers about recommending PVC-free products.
What's more, PVC is terrible for mother earth and is "the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics." It's a large contributor to toxins in our globe, and we want to fight for our environment now so our children will inherit a safer world.
Some brands will say their products are made of "non-toxic PVC." That's an oxymoron if we ever heard one. Don't fall for it. (If you want to go down a rabbit hole of scary stats on PVC, read this).
After much searching, we finally found one birthing stability ball that is both prenatal approved and PVC-free: The Eco Wise Premium Fitness Ball. It's made of TPR or Thermo Plastic Rubber--which is still plastic, but not nearly as damaging as PVC--and unlike PVC balls, it's 100% recyclable.
Stability balls come in four sizes: 45, 55, 65, and 75 cm. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a size that allows you to sit on it upright, with your hips and knees at 90 degrees.
Here are some general guidelines based on your height, and most of us will opt for the 45 or 55 cm ball:
• 45 cm for 4’8” - 5’5” (140-165 cm)
• 55 cm for 5’6 - 6’0” (165-185 cm)
• 65 cm for 6’0” - 6’5” (185-195 cm)
• 75 cm for those over 6’5” (>195 cm)
All sizes come in four bright colors: sunflowers, honeydew, cherry, and ocean blue.
Expect tip: It’s important to use the ball correctly to maintain your balance: always seated on the ball with both feet on the floor.
Speaking of floor…
Manduka Equa® Eko® Round Yoga Mat 3mm
Why it's an Expect pick:
Challenging the reign of the rectangular mat, the Manduka round yoga mat is a more functional foundation for your workout (plus we believe circles are way more soothing!). A round mat keeps you covered in more positions: if you switch from say, back lunges, to side lunges you can keep yourself grounded without changing your orientation.
You can get more mileage out of a circular mat vs the regular rectangle. The Manduka circle mat can double as an embracing meditation base for mom, or triple as a play mat for baby. This mat comes in two patterned colors: a Linen Stripe with light purple, tan, and blue hues that will mesh well in a room with neutral tones, and the more intense Luna Sunrise with a deeper pink to purple gradient adorned with crescent moons for a bolder statement. These options are pretty enough to look more like circular rugs than an exercise mat, so you just might want to leave your mat on the floor all the time.
Mats may appear simple enough, but they can be fraught with health and environmental issues that won't pass Expect's exacting standards for expectant and new moms. It is tough to find a great round mat, let alone one that isn't made of super toxic PVC, but this Manduka mat fits the bill. Yogis swear by the premium Manduka brand, and all of the mats in their Eko® mat line are made from "biodegradable, 100% natural tree rubber with non-toxic foaming agents and non-azo dyes" and no PVC. That means it's safe enough for baby and all your mommy and me action. This mat also has Manduka's Equa® microfiber surface, which means it's soft, and quickly dries sweat so you won't slide around as you do your yoga poses. (Manduka recommends you lightly mist the surface of the mat for even better traction).
The 3mm thickness can support poses that need the extra love--like anything on your knees--and if baby's playing on it, it can cushion toys from falling on a hardwood or tiled floor. For portability, you can just roll it up like any rectangular mat.
Expect tip: This mat is the perfect social distancer! Bring this 59 inch mat to yoga class and the wider berth cocoons you within 5 feet of your own space.
Nike (M) Swoosh Bra
Why it's an Expect pick:
Moisture masking fabric
Color options: bright mango, gray, black
We're feeling the new Nike (M) line of maternity clothes, and this Nike (M) Swoosh Bra is layered so new moms can feed and pump through the easy-open front. It's soft and supportive--sans snaps, clips and underwire--and you can adjust the expandable sliding band in the back as your body evolves. The center mesh, coupled with Nike's famed Dri-FIT technology, helps mask moisture and keeps any leaks discreet. Unlike most nursing bras, this one manages to remain sleek despite its layers, so if you choose to wear a tank or tee over the (M) Swoosh, it won't add bulk under your clothes. Many moms find this Nike bra comfortable enough to wear all day so you can squeeze in a workout whenever you get a free window. This bra is medium support, so it's best for your low to mid impact exercise like Pilates, yoga, walking and light jogging. We love the three colors and the softness of the material (a polyester/spandex blend).
Expect tip: This bra comes in sizes XS through 2XL and we recommend you size up for your best fit.
Buy It (you’ve gotta sign up for a free Nike membership to buy)
Price tip: Some colors may be discounted.
All Birds Women's Tree Dashers
Why it's an Expect pick:
Dual density for high impact support
Many color combos
You probably know our stance on toxic materials for expectant moms, and the All Birds brand checks our boxes for sneaker materials that are safe for mom, baby, and the environment.
The sneaker itself is made of biodegradable eucalyptus tree knit (hence the Tree Dasher name), sugarcane midsole, Merino wool heel lining, and castor bean insole. Based on its sustainable production, this sneaker is carbon-neutral.
These All Birds perform for you as well as they do the environment. Tree Dashers are running sneakers so they can grow with you from low impact workouts all the way up to to sprints.
Expect tip: The Tree Dashers color choices can be dizzying. We like the all-white, white-sole Blizzard pictured here because it matches everything. (If they get dirty, you can put them in a delicates bag, throw them in the washing machine, and air dry them).
Expect blog tip: The Expect Fitness blog is supported by expectant and new moms. If you buy from any links on our site, Expect may earn an affiliate commission.