The Benefits of Exercising in Pregnancy

Many women are scared to exercise during pregnancy, especially early on. However, unless you have been determined to be high risk by your doctor, it is not only safe but beneficial in many ways. In this post we’ll go through the benefits you can gain for yourself and baby by exercising through your pregnancy, based on research done by Dr. James Clapp and sourced from his book “Exercising Though Your Pregnancy”.  

Benefits for Mom: 

-Reduced weight gain in pregnancy and improved self-image 

Pregnant women who exercise from the beginning of their pregnancy tend to have reduced overall weight gain and decreased fat deposition. They also tend to report a better self-image throughout the pregnancy. 

-Reduction in musculoskeletal aches and pains   

The incidence of orthopedic problems during pregnancy and postpartum is decreased in women who exercise throughout their pregnancy, and they find it easier to return to exercise postpartum. 

-More likely to give birth by delivery date 

Women who maintain exercise during pregnancy are more likely to deliver in weeks 38 and 39, while women who did not exercise were more likely to deliver at week 40 or later. Exercising in pregnancy under normal low-risk conditions did not increase risk of premature birth. 

-Improves chance of delivery without complications 

Women who exercise throughout pregnancy are up to 30% more likely to have a spontaneous and uncomplicated delivery, and up to 75% less likely to need forceps delivery or C-section. 

-Reduce length of active labor 

-Women who exercise throughout pregnancy tend to have a about 1/3 shorter labor than women who don’t exercise, and have decreased rates of maternal exhaustion. 

-Improve overall training capacity after baby 

All of the physical adaptations your body makes during pregnancy can actually make you able to perform at a higher level after baby. Your cardiovascular system becomes more efficient during pregnancy, and these changes can last for up to a year postpartum. 

Benefits for Baby: 

-Growth of the placenta is stimulated 

Women who exercised throughout their pregnancy had increased rates of growth for the placenta, which supports the baby with increased function. Exercise stimulates blood flow throughout the body, placenta included. 

-Increases baby’s ability to tolerate physical stress 

Baby’s heart rate learns to adapt to more various situations when the mother exercises, leading to better tolerance of labor and delivery as well as ease of transition out of the womb. 

-Reduces chance of Large for Gestational Age baby 

Exercise decreases fetal fat without decreasing baby’s healthy growth. This decreases the chance of having an overly large baby that is more prone to complications, such as birth injury or hypoglycemia after birth. 

-The stimuli of maternal exercise can help stimulate brain development 

Maternal exercise provides sound and vibratory stimuli that can spur development and stimulate the brain. 

The best way to exercise in pregnancy is actually to start BEFORE you get pregnant! The more fit you are going into pregnancy, the better you will be able to tolerate and maintain your exercise program. In non-complicated or high risk pregnancies, women are typically allowed to continue exercising at the same intensity as they were prior to pregnancy. You can certainly start exercising during pregnancy, but you will have to start slowly and you may not be able to reach the same intensity levels of those who already had an exercise program in place before becoming pregnant. Of course, always defer to the recommendations of your doctor. 

There are some types of exercise that should always be avoided in pregnancy: 

-Any exercise that involves potential impact to the abdomen 

-Exercise in extreme heat conditions 

-Exercise at high altitude conditions 

But what about miscarriage? This is the biggest fear most women have in the first trimester. The reality is that most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities and are not preventable. Dr. Clapp’s research found no increased incidence of miscarriage or birth defects in exercising women. Unless you have been deemed high risk by your doctor, it is highly unlikely that exercise will cause a miscarriage in a healthy embryo. It’s hard to let go of the fear of miscarriage, but it shouldn’t stop you from continuing regular exercise. 

Exercising before, during, and after pregnancy is one of the many good things you can do for yourself and your baby. A balanced exercise program should contain aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching. If you are uncertain of how to begin an exercise program, seek out a Women’s Health physical therapist or qualified trainer to help you set up a manageable exercise routine. 

-Dr. Lindsay Brunner, PT, DPT, OCS

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