Science says exercising during pregnancy may have lasting benefits for babies, too

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

A new study from the US has discovered that newborns whose mothers exercise during pregnancy may become physically coordinated at an earlier age. 

The study, which was published in the Journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, followed the pregnancies of 71 healthy women. The women were divided into two groups, one group followed their usual routine and the other attended three supervised exercise classes, which consisted of brisk walking, jogging, cycling and aerobics. 

A month after birthing her child each mum brought her baby back to the lab for a range of tests such as reflexes and motor skills, head control and making a fist. The results showed that babies from the exercise group performed better in all of the tests. 

Dr Linda E. May, an associate professor of foundational science and research at East Carolina University, who led the study said that women who exercise could amplify their babies budding aptitude for and interest in movement. 

It's the latest in a pretty convincing body of work that shows exercising during pregnancy is good for the baby. But that's not the only reason to do it. 

Jen Dugard is the founder of Body Beyond Baby, a mum-focused fitness service that is partnered with accredited, experienced women's health experts. She says that there are several reasons why exercise is also good for mums-to-be. 

"Many women are preparing their body for the most physical job they have every done (especially office/desk workers) therefore maintaining movement and exercise during pregnancy may definitely set them up to cope with the physical demands of motherhood and a growing child," she says. 

On top of this Jen notes that exercise during pregnancy can aid sleep and help women to avoid excessive weight gain. It's also a good time to start learning about the pelvic floor. 

"Learning about the pelvic floor in pregnancy can help with delivery," says Jen. "Especially if you are aiming for a vaginal delivery and you learned not only about contracting but also relaxing their pelvic floor." 

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With this in mind, what are the best types of exercise to do while pregnant? Jen says that she advocates strength training. "Babies get bigger and heavier and if a pregnant mum is maintaining or building her strength at this time she will vote better with the physical demands of motherhood later on," she explains. 

"I would also highly recommend learning about your pelvic floor and transverses abdominals - your 'inner unit," says Jen. 
 

Science says exercising during pregnancy may have lasting benefits for babies, toopregnancy, sport, fitness, people and healthy lifestyle concept - group of happy pregnant women with dumbbells exercising on ball in gym

Photo: iStock

This is really important in the postnatal period, but if you can learn it during pregnancy you'll be ahead. "The best place to learn this would be with a trainer highly educated in working with pre and postnatal mums or with a women health physio," suggests Jen. 

Jen notes that it's best to avoid high impact exercise and exercise that creates a lot of intro-abdominal pressure. "Avoid any exercise that causes your abdominals to 'peak' or dome'," she adds. 

So what about women who have severe morning sickness or don't feel up to exercising? Jen says that some fresh air and some time to relax will be a benefit even it's a just gentle walk. "Take each day as it comes, listen to your body, allow yourself space and time to relax and (hopefully) feel well again." 

Crucially though, Jen notes that it's important not to add extra stress to pregnant women. "Women already carry so much motherhood guilt," she says. 

"I think every step of the way we need to ensure we are giving women 'permission' to do what they feel is right for them."