Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?

First off we’d like to say: good for you. By clicking on this article, we know you’re considering your ability to exercise during pregnancy. That tells us you are taking a vested interest in your health and that of your unborn child.

It’s not always easy to think about exercise when you’re up against morning sickness and the exhaustion of pregnancy. Whether you’re hoping to exercise during pregnancy to cling to a small bit of normalcy in your life or because you are thinking ahead to the “big day” and hoping to get in shape, you’re already taking a heroic first step by reading up on the subject.

We’ve pulled together conclusions from three of the most prestigious studies surrounding the safety of exercising during pregnancy to give you a definitive answer to the question: is it safe to exercise during pregnancy.

By: Dr. Tara Kelly, MD & Dr. Adam Brown

So is it?

A primary concern about exercise during pregnancy has always been the idea that physical activity deprives a developing fetus of calories and blood flow because it is going to the mother’s muscles instead. Scientists thought there might be an association between preterm birth and the mother’s amount of physical activity and exercise during gestation. And since one of the leading causes of perinatal deaths in the United States is preterm birth, this would be a major concern indeed.

In 2016, however, a study of over 2,000 women showed no association between regular (three to four times per week) aerobic exercise and preterm birth. What’s more, the findings of the study concluded that pregnant women should perform 35 to 90 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week if they are of healthy weight.

Should I exercise during pregnancy?

Research tells us, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, that pregnant women should perform 150 minutes of physical activity (moderate-intensity) a week. But why?

The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy:

1. Healthier Pregnancies

The same study that showed no association between exercise during pregnancy and preterm birth also associated healthy amounts of exercise with a decreased risk of gestational diabetes mellitus and hypertension disorders (Di Mascio et al., 2016). Exercise, of the recommended amount and intensity, can help to decrease gestational weight gain which can then decrease the complications associated with it (Wiebe et al., 2015). According to a similar study also conducted in 2016, exercise helps regulate gestational weight gain, which is the reason for the decreased risk of these disorders–disorders that can have negative effects on newborns (Barakat et al., 2016).

2. Healthier Deliveries

Regular exercise during pregnancy can be seen as preparation for the “big day.” Healthy amounts of exercise lead to a much higher incidence of vaginal deliveries, along with a  much lower incidence of cesarean deliveries (Di Mascio et al., 2016). In other words, regular exercise during pregnancy increases your chance of delivering vaginally as opposed to a C-section. The benefits of vaginal delivery, compared with a C-section, are lower rates of bleeding complications and infection, as well as avoiding all of the risks of major abdominal surgery, such as increased pain during recovery and a longer hospital stay. Having a vaginal delivery can also be safer for future pregnancies because it reduces the risk of having an abnormal placenta (known as a placenta accreta) in subsequent pregnancies.

3. Healthier Babies

Your healthy weight gain means a healthy weight gain for baby as well. A 2015 meta-analysis of prenatal exercise studies showed that regular exercise decreases the odds of delivering a large-at-birth newborn. Large-at-birth newborns have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases later in their life. While exercise helps reduce the odds of delivering a large-at-birth newborn, it does not increase the odds of having a small-at-birth newborn, too  (Wiebe et al., 2015).

Important Note:

The exercise guidelines discussed in this article are generally based on a moderately healthy mother of average weight. Guidelines will be different for an overweight or obese person. This must be taken into consideration before starting or continuing physical activity while pregnant.

Sources

  1. Di Mascio D, Magro-Malosso ER, Saccone G, Marhefka GD, Berghella V, Exercise during pregnancy in normal-weight women and risk of preterm birth: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology(2016), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27319364
  2. Wiebe, H. W., Boulé, N. G., Chari, R., & Davenport, M. H. (2015). The Effect of Supervised Prenatal Exercise on Fetal Growth. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 125(5), 1185–1194.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25932847
  3. Barakat, R., Pelaez, M., Cordero, Y., Perales, M., Lopez, C., Coteron, J., & Mottola, M. F. (2016). Exercise during pregnancy protects against hypertension and macrosomia: randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 214(5), 649.e1–649.e8.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26704894