Everyone seems to have pregnancy advice, from keeping active to taking it easy for the sake of baby’s health. Although doctors started recommending most women get light to moderate exercise during pregnancy, many pregnant women have still approached exercise with caution. Now researchers have determined that exercise is a healthy choice for pregnancy, with benefits such as avoiding gestational diabetes, hypertension, preterm birth, and C-sections.
The study comes from D. Di Mascio and other researchers who published their results in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The study authors reviewed a host of randomized clinical trials involving 2,059 women in total. In these studies, the pregnant women either performed aerobic exercise or did not, and the researchers noted outcomes such as mom’s and baby’s health during pregnancy and at birth.
Once the researchers combined the results of the various studies, some patterns started to emerge. Gestational diabetes is a risk during pregnancy, with 5.9 percent of women in the control group experiencing this problem. However, in the group of women who exercised regularly, only 2.4 percent of women experienced gestational diabetes. The difference was even more stark for hypertension, with 5.1 percent of the women who avoided exercise feeling their blood pressure rise. However, only 1.9 percent of the women who exercised experienced hypertension in their pregnancy.
It seems that exercise improved the mother’s health during pregnancy, which can also improve the baby’s health, but what about the birth itself? A C-section can be more evasive than a vaginal birth, and as a surgery it poses risk to the mother and may have a longer recovery time, but only 67.5 percent of the inactive mothers had a vaginal birth. The exercising mothers, however, gave birth vaginally 73.6 percent of the time. Other studies had found that with vaginal births, there was lower risk of blood clot and infection for mom, as well as future health benefits for baby such as lower risk of allergies, asthma, obesity, and type 1 diabetes.
In the past, doctors had worried that exercise and other activity during pregnancy could increase the chance of preterm birth. This is because exercise can release the hormone norepinephrine, which they thought might cause early contractions. On the other hand, exercise could increase blood flow to the placenta and decrease oxidative stress, potentially decreasing the chance of preterm birth. However, the current study found no link between exercise and preterm birth, settling the controversy once and for all.
Currently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pregnant women perform at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. The current study seems to support this, highlighting the health benefits of exercise for both mother and child. The researchers recommend 35 to 90 minutes of exercise three or four times a week.
One caveat is that the study looked at average women of normal weight with average pregnancies, one child and no complications. Although the advice to exercise will apply to most women, it may not be true of women carrying twins, women who are obese, and women with other previous health issues such as high blood pressure and anemia. Doctors will continue to give those women individual advice on what activity levels are safe for their pregnancy. Healthy women should also double-check with their doctor or other health adviser before determining their exercise routine.
The ACOG does recommend women take precautions when exercising during pregnancy. The mothers should make sure to wear cool clothing and to avoid exercising in a hot environment to prevent overheating. Plenty of water before, during, and after the workout is essential to avoid dehydration. The ACOG also recommends avoiding standing still for long, which can cause blood to pool in the legs and feet, decreasing blood pressure. Lying flat on the back can also be a problem as the uterus presses on a vein that runs to the heart, also increasing the chance of blood pressure dropping. Yoga, swimming, walking, and using a stationary bicycle are all good choices for pregnancy workouts.