Exercising While Pregnant: Proven Benefits For Both Mother and Baby

 

Author: Lacie Metts

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If you could increase the neurological development and mental capacity of your child before he or she was even born, would you do it? What if I told you that an expecting mother could positively impact oral language and general competency scores of her child just by continuing to exercise during pregnancy? Pregnancy and exercise have always been a sensitive and controversial topic and thanks to the rise of social media, many expecting mothers who continue their exercise regiment have caught a ton of flack for their continued physical activity. However, recent studies have proven the benefits of exercise for both expecting mothers and their babies.

Although pregnancy requires some modifications to your exercise regiment, it is no longer considered a condition for confinement. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women, with uncomplicated pregnancies, perform 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. There are many modes of exercise that have proven beneficial during pregnancy. An expecting mother should engage in activities that use large muscle groups in a continuous motion such as swimming, walking, jogging, stationary bicycling, aerobic dancing, stair climbing, and resistance training. Pretty much any safe physical activity that will bring a mother joy and stress relief can be continued while pregnant!

Here are the potential benefits of exercise during pregnancy:

Maternal Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy:

  • Improved cardiovascular function

  • Lower risk for gestational diabetes

  • Improved strength and lean muscle mass

  • Enhanced sleep

  • Improved psychosocial well-being

  • Improved self-esteem

  • Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression

Fetal/Infant Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy:

  • Increased neurologic development

  • Increased mental capacity

  • Increased ability to self-soothe

  • Improvement in the viability of the placenta

  • Increased amniotic fluid levels

  • Higher general intelligence scores

  • Higher language scores

  • Maintain a leaner body mass index compared with growing children of non-exercising mothers

Bottom Line

Here’s the good news; women who were exercising regularly before pregnancy can continue their exercise program! However, prepare to make the needed modifications to your workout routine as progress is made through each trimester. Pregnant women who were sedentary before pregnancy (meaning they did not exercise regularly) should follow a gradual progression by slowly increasing the duration and intensity of their workout. They should aim to work up to 30 minutes of physical activity per day.

Pregnancy used to be viewed as a confinement. Many women were expected to stop physical activity, take up complete rest, all while “eating for two.”  However, this newly found evidence should be used to encourage women to initiate or continue exercise during a healthy pregnancy. Overall, exercise during pregnancy has proven to have minimal risks and confirmed benefits for most women. I believe if this information was more well-known, it would change people’s opinion of exercise during pregnancy, as well as reduce the rude comments made towards women who are trying to remain healthy to benefit themselves and their growing baby.

*Note: All pregnant women should receive clearance from their physician before engaging in an exercise program and should terminate exercise if any contraindications arise.

References:

Artal, R. (2003). Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. British Journal of Sports Medicine,37(1), 6-12. doi:10.1136/bjsm.37.1.6

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2011). Essentials of exercise physiology (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

Prather, H., Spitznagle, T., & Hunt, D. (2012). Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy. Pm&r,4(11), 845-850. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2012.07.012