Baby Benefits with Exercise Participation during Pregnancy

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By: Dr. Jennifer Bunn, PHD


For healthy pregnancies, there is growing evidence indicating that exercise participation is beneficial to the baby’s development and response during labor, and these benefits may continue even after the baby is born. The research consensus suggests exercise participation of low, moderate, and/or high intensities may actually improve fetal development and lower the risk of premature birth. This data counters previous thoughts that exercise increases the risk of miscarriage and early labor.

Speaking of labor, many women have reported that exercise during pregnancy made labor a little easier and/or shorter. The research indicates a shorter labor duration by up to 32 minutes. While just half an hour doesn’t seem like a long time, if you have been through labor, then you know it is! Labor is an event one usually wants to finish as soon as possible.

The baby will also likely benefit from your exercise participation during labor. Exercising at a pretty high intensity (e.g. repeat bouts of short sprints, circuit training, or Tabata training) through 40 weeks of pregnancy has resulted in fewer problems with fetal heart rate during labor and cord entanglement at birth. Essentially, the protection that mothers want to provide for their child should begin before birth, and exercising while pregnant can help.

While all of these benefits are great, to me, the best benefit of exercising while pregnant is how it can potentially affect your child well into their life. The current data suggests that the positive effects of exercising while pregnant may continue to play a role in neonatal outcomes, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. First, shortly after your child is born, doctors perform an Apgar test. This assessment addresses the baby’s appearance, pulse, reflex irritability grimace, activity, and respiratory effort. Babies of sedentary mothers have a higher risk of having a lower Apgar score, poor suckling, and failure to thrive as newborns. Further, research indicates that sedentary behavior of the mother during pregnancy could delay neural development during childhood, resulting in poor growth, a short attention span, and poor academic performance. Lastly, the mother’s level of physical activity could also influence the child’s risk for obesity and development of chronic diseases like hypertension and insulin resistance.

The bottom line is that exercise and physical activity during pregnancy helps with the development of the baby both in utero and after the child is born. Most parents truly want what is best for their child and exercising during pregnancy creates a foundation for growth and development that can’t be replicated after birth. If you are concerned about how much exercise you should preform, or if it is safe for you to exercise while pregnant, then be sure to speak with your obstetrician.

If you like what you have read here, then please follow @jenbunn_phd on Twitter for more exercise tips and motivation. Jennifer Bunn holds a doctorate in exercise physiology and is a professor at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC.


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