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Exercise in Pregnancy - Science vs. Myths

Every day we hear more and more about the benefits of exercise in pregnancy for mom and baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends we average 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. But for some reason, there is still old and out-of-date advice floating around. Let’s get to the bottom of this and clear up those myths once and for all.

 

What is considered moderate exercise in pregnancy?

First, let’s define moderate exercise.

Moderate exercise in pregnancy = moving enough to raise your heart rate.

A good rule of thumb is you should be able to talk but not sing.

 
 

Common Pregnancy Exercise Myths, Debunked.

It’s worth repeating: ACOG currently recommends moderate exercise for all pregnant women (except for those with specific pregnancy-related complications.)

 

 

 

But here is some old advice that just keeps popping up for some reason:

  • “Keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute” . This advice was dropped by ACOG in 1994 [1].
  • “Avoid vigorous exercise, or to limit vigorous activities for no more than 15 minutes” . This advice was dropped by ACOG in 1984!
  • “No weight lifting.” Studies find no downsides to reasonable weight training [2].
  • “If you were sedentary before becoming pregnant, you should not start a new exercise program while pregnant.” Not so.
 

Why does this old advice continue to circulate?

Doctors once urged women to restrict activity for fear exercise would redirect oxygen away from their babies or cause them to be born too small. But these concerns never made much sense, from an evolutionary perspective or a practical one. What hunter gatherer women was lounging for nine months? What woman with a toddler in tow isn’t lugging around a 20-lb. child?

Unsurprisingly, numerous studies now refute these concerns. Exercise during pregnancy does NOT cause infants to be born too small or to have lower APGAR scores [3] [4]. In fact, in one small study, babies whose moms exercised regularly were born with more mature brains [5].

 

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Exercise in Pregnancy – What to Avoid

Of course, not all exercises and sports remain on the table. Sadly for mamas-to-be babymooning in an island paradise (lucky you!), scuba diving is off-limits. Our little passengers are at high risk for decompression sickness.

You can also check sports with a high risk of falling, like skiing, snowboarding, and horseback riding, off your activities list. Falling and getting injured or, worse, potentially landing on your belly … it’s just not worth it.

And let’s not forget — your newfound klutziness. During pregnancy, the changing weight distribution — your happily ballooning belly — puts you off-kilter. You’re prone to losing your balance. With pregnancy hormones loosening your joints, sprains and other injuries are a real risk. So you may also want to reconsider a vigorous racquetball match or other rapid pivot and twist sports, especially as your belly grows.

 

Woth all your favorite extreme sports off the table, why exercise?

Benefits!

Exercise is chockful of benefits for moms-to-be and perhaps for their babies to boot!

 

Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Check out this impressive list. Women who work out during pregnancy have a lower risk of…

  • preeclampsia
  • hypertension
  • gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)[6]
  • excessive weight gain
  • miscarriage
  • birth defects
  • And perhaps preterm labor (study findings are mixed) [2].
 

Exercise during pregnancy may also help alleviate other irksome (and sometimes debilitating) symptoms like morning sickness, swelling, and poor circulation [7].

Women who engage in both aerobic training and weightlifting have better cardiovascular function. And — bonus — they are less likely to leak urine during and after pregnancy (Isn’t having babies lovely?) [8] [9].

Many pro’s. Few con’s. So, baby, let’s move!

To read more about exercises that can help prepare you for all the things to come after baby arrives, check out our article on boosting the health of your pelvic floor muscles.

REFERENCES

[1] Bauer et al. 2010.

[2] Moyer C, et al. 2016.

[3] Moyer C et al. 2016

[4] Sanabria-Martínez G et al. 2016

[5] Labonte-Lemoyne E et al. 2017.

[6] Yu Y, et al. 2017.

[7] Haakstad LA et al. 2016

[8]. Perales M et al. 2016

[9] Blyholder L et al. 2016

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About Amy

Amy Kiefer is a researcher by training, and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She currently lives in the Bay Area with her husband and three children where she writes about fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. Check out her blog, expectingscience.com, for more great evidence-based pregnancy and parenting info.

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