Researched-based reasons why you should be doing exercise throughout pregnancy
by Alina Filipe Nunes, women's health physiotherapist
It is known that most pregnant women do not meet minimal exercise recommendations, however there are a growing number of physically active women who wish to continue training and exercising throughout their pregnancy.
So, are there any benefits in doing exercise during pregnancy?
Here at The Fix Program, our team of physios believe that women should prepare for a pregnancy the same way as an athlete prepares for a marathon. Hence, good nutrition, mindfulness and paced exercise should be part of your preparation to motherhood.
But what are the proved benefits for doing exercise during pregnancy?
Exercise may shorten the duration of labor
There appears in the research and literature to be a strong link between exercise and a shorter labor duration. More precisely, a recent study demonstrated that women who exercised regularly during pregnancy saw their labor duration about 30 minutes shorter.
Improved strength of both abdomen and pelvic floor as well improved endurance may be important factors in this association.
Exercise has been proven to reduce the Cesarean section rates
There is strong evidence to support that women who do regular exercise throughout their pregnancy have a lower percentage of Cesarean section and instrumental vaginal deliveries (forceps and ventouse/ vacuum) compared with sedentary pregnancy women. This would translate into a quicker recovery from childbirth.
Exercise assists in controlling and managing gestational diabetes
Studies have shown that a regular exercise program during pregnancy resulted in lower glucose levels and although physical activity may not prevent gestational diabetes, it is known that it may have an important role in its management. Women diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 24 to 34 weeks of pregnancy, who performed resistance exercise, were less likely to require insulin during the remainder of their pregnancy.
Exercise helps manage maternal weight gain
Maternal weight gain seems to be a worry in many women’s mind. We know that a weight gain between 11 and 15kg is expected during pregnancy.
This weight gain during pregnancy is distributed among the following:
- Amniotic fluid
- Fat storage (important for breastfeeding and protection of both baby and mother)
- Blood supply
It is known that a healthy weight gain is beneficial for mother and baby and exercise helps in modulating maternal weight gain throughout pregnancy.
Exercise helps managing fetal weight gain
Regular exercise during pregnancy has been proven to reduce the risk of macrossomia (large-for–gestational age newborns) which are concerns with gestational diabetes. It is also known that macrossomia is also linked to pelvic floor injuries during vaginal birth. Therefore, regular exercise during pregnancy may also help in the prevention of perineal or pelvic floor muscle and organ complications post childbirth.
OK, I'm sold! But what should I be wary of as I exercise when pregnant?
Before engaging in exercise and physical activity during pregnancy, we strongly advise for all women to be assessed by their doctor in order to assess their risk level.
Healthy women considered to be 'low risk' regardless of their previous activity level, should be able to do exercise. However there are some conditions which are consider as 'high risk', such as
- gestational hypertension
- ruptured membranes
- an incompetent cervix
- bleeding in the second or third trimester
- multiple gestation at risk for premature labor
- placenta previa, and
- premature labor.
- Based on the baby and the pregnancy women’s condition and history, there may be other risks that may need to be assessed by your physician so it is important that that you get cleared to do exercise.
Historically, pregnant women were considered fragile and many health professionals advised against exercise during the pregnancy months. It was common to even encourage reduced level of activity. Although in more recent times, the recommendations by the medical boards and fields have already been changed and updated. This is based on new and strong research.
If your pregnancy is going well and both you and your baby are healthy, ask your health professional team about the benefits and if you can do exercise.