The Study Is Small, But Intriguing
The study, out of East Carolina University (ECU) and published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, suggests babies with moving moms might be more likely to move themselves, leading to less chance of obesity later in life.
Seventy-one healthy, pregnant women between 18-35 were divided into two groups: one group did 50-minute aerobic exercise three times per week, and one (the control group) did no exercise. After the babies were born, they were assessed at one month of age using a neuromotor skill test called the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales.
Researchers concluded moms who participated in the aerobic exercise had infants who scored higher. The babies had better head and extremity control; they were simply stronger. The female infants, in particular, scored the highest.
Still, whether higher neuromotor skills at one month translate into better health for life remains to be seen. This was a small sample (only 71 women), and the study would have to be replicated on a larger scale and the babies tracked for a longer time period to come up with anything approaching causation.
Here’s Hard Evidence for Why You Should Exercise During Pregnancy
There are always risks associated with pregnancy; it’s hardly a simple process. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists offers a laundry list of benefits to exercising during pregnancy.
- Reduces back pain.
- Eases constipation.
- May decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery.
- Promotes healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
- Improves your overall general fitness and strengthens your heart and blood vessels.
- Helps you to lose baby weight after your baby is born.
Some recommended forms of pregnancy sanctioned exercise (both aerobic and non-aerobic) include:
- Walking: Brisk walking gives a total body workout and is easy on the joints and muscles.
- Swimming and water workouts: Water workouts use many of the body’s muscles. The water supports your weight so you avoid injury and muscle strain.
- Stationary bicycling: Because your growing belly can affect your balance and make you more prone to falls, riding a standard bicycle during pregnancy can be risky. Cycling on a stationary bike is a better choice.
- Modified yoga and modified Pilates: Yoga reduces stress, improves flexibility, and encourages stretching and focused breathing. There are prenatal yoga and Pilates classes designed for pregnant women. These classes often teach modified poses that accommodate a pregnant woman’s shifting balance. You also should avoid poses that require you to be still or lie on your back for long periods.
When Should You Avoid Exercise?
While all signs usually point to exercise as a definite benefit to both mother and fetus, there are times when you should put your feet up. For instance, if you have a heart or lung condition, are pregnant with twins or triplets, or have cervical insufficiency, you should take it easy and clear everything with your obstetrician (OB).
Other contraindications for exercise include preterm labor, placenta prevail after 26 weeks, and preeclampsia. And if you suffer from severe anemia, rest up!
In fact, once pregnant, you should always run your exercise routine and plans by your OB.
There’s No Blueprint For a Superior Baby
Genetics still play the biggest role in whether your baby will have off the charts motor skills. Following your OB’s recommendations and not going overboard is advisable. Overdo the exercise, and you will only end up with back, hip pain, or sciatica that might be with you long after your baby is in preschool.
The big takeaway from the study? Babies with better motor skills early on might move more throughout their lives, reducing weight-related problems.
“Because physical activity is a modifiable risk factor of childhood obesity, these findings suggest that exercise during pregnancy may potentially reduce childhood risk of obesity,” the study said.
One option: be an example for your baby after she’s born by exercising with her. Be active as a family unit by walking, hiking, and supporting sports interests. The site The Family Doctor states it plainly: “Children imitate their parents, so it’s important to set a good example.”