Now there’s another good reason to exercise, especially if you’re pregnant. According to a recent study published in The European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, women who exercise just three times a week throughout pregnancy have shorter labor — up to 50 minutes less than women who did not exercise three times a week or more.
“Exercise is an important part of being healthy in general and should be continued during most healthy pregnancies,” says Dr. Amy French, a board-certified OBGYN affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “There are really only a few conditions that would limit a women’s ability to exercise. As long as it’s comfortable and no other health conditions exist, I highly recommend it.”
Studies have long indicated that exercise is beneficial for pregnant women, from reduced risk of labor and delivery complications to improved mood and better sleep. Dr. French says, “We’re not exactly sure why pregnant women who are active have shorter labor, but there are real benefits.”
“With a shorter labor, there’s less risk of chorioamnionitis, which is an inflammation of the fetal membranes that can impact mom and baby, as well as less risk of fetal distress that might lead to a cesarean delivery.”
Low Apgar scores — the test given to babies right after birth to check their heart rate, muscle tone and other vital signs — as well as head compression during delivery are also associated with longer labor.
“Perhaps the best perk of a shorter labor is you’ll meet your baby sooner,” she says.
Study participants exercised three days a week based on recommendations of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The regimen was described as moderate-aerobic activity; examples included a brisk walk or general gardening activities like raking, weeding or digging.
She notes, “There are many options for exercise, and women who exercise regularly prior to pregnancy can often continue their previous workouts.”
“Women who ran regularly can continue to do so, with more frequent rests for hydration. Modified weightlifting and spinning are OK to continue. Swimming also feels great when you’re pregnant.”
Anyone new to exercise should stick with less-intense activities — long walks, an elliptical machine or prenatal yoga classes are a good place to start. “When pregnant, you should be able to talk during a workout; if not, turn down the intensity,” she says.
While everyone experiences pain differently, the study also notes that women who exercised were less likely to choose an epidural. More than half of all women elect to receive an epidural to manage labor pain.
Dr. French says, “It’s not clear why women in this group chose not to have an epidural. It may be that if labor is progressing quickly they know there’s an ‘end in sight’ to the pain, or because fitness improves endurance, they’re more likely to tolerate labor better.”
She advises if you’re pregnant and want to get moving, speak to your doctor. If you already exercise, just check in to make sure you don’t overdo it.
For the news media: To interview Dr. Amy French about pregnancy or women’s health in general for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.