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Prenatal Exercise and Long-term Benefits for Baby

I’ve learned long ago that exercise makes a huge difference in my energy and mood so it’s become a prioritized, daily habit. Throughout pregnancy, exercise became even more necessary since I found movement helped with the discomfort of my stretching/expanding tissues, was my outlet for stress, helped with calf cramps, and was crucial for maintaining good sleep.

However, some days the motivation just wasn’t there and I fell into ruts along the way. I was bummed about not being able to do some old favourites like HIITs, core exercises, and certain sports. I also felt discouraged at times with my noticeable decrease in strength, muscle recovery and stamina. I felt like a stranger in my body at times, and knowing how to (safely) navigate exercise during pregnancy required extra consideration…which takes effort! And let's not forget the extra challenge of maintaining exercise during Covid times.

With further reading I discovered that exercise can go beyond benefits for mom–to-be: it can impact the future health and birth outcomes of the baby. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, but once knowing this, I was able to push through my low motivation days for baby. It also made me make more of an effort to explore available prenatal resources.

I’m not going to get into the different types of exercise. Personally, I enjoyed a variety and was lucky to be in my second trimester in the summer to enjoy all the outdoor activities. Work-outs included: online prenatal barre workouts, prenatal yoga, prenatal HIITs, long swims, bike rides, modified resistance training, body weight exercises, reformer pilates, and jogging – nothing crazy. Some days I just stuck to walking my dog at a brisk pace. Do what you enjoy!

The recommended guidelines suggest that low risk pregnant women should aim for 30min of moderate-intensity exercise daily or 150min per week. Pregnancy isn’t the time to set fitness records, but daily movement is important.

I’m writing this article to:

1. Encourage those pregnant to incorporate exercise not only for your health and well-being, but your baby’s health too.

2. Try and beak the societal stigma that pregnant woman shouldn’t exert themselves and need to rest* God forbid sweating! (I may be a little bitter still by the comments I received about exercising during pregnancy – there’s clearly still a big knowledge gap out there.)

*Note – there are medical reasons why exercise isn’t safe during pregnancy and this should be discussed with your family doctor, midwife, or OBGYN. Obviously, modifications are important and care needs to be taken on intensity, form and hydration. Over-exercise can be dangerous.

Benefits of Prenatal Exercise FOR BABY:

1. Baby’s Size

a. Maternal prenatal exercise reduces the risk of delivering a newborn of large gestational weight at term. This is likely due to decreasing risk of maternal gestational diabetes and keeping mom in healthy BMI range. Larger babies are at greater risk of medical intervention at birth (like C-sections and instrumental use), increased risk of injury during labour and prolonged labour times.

Moderate prenatal exercise did NOT result in newborns that were born small for their gestational age (old argument and concern for exercise during pregnancy)

Prenatal exercise in women with normal weight and no complications did not have increased rate of pre-term birth (another old argument.)