Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The positive impact of prenatal exercise

The following is a re-post of my August 2008 post Wanna Improve Your Odds?:

I mentioned back in April that I had been skimming the book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, by James F. Clapp M.D. I was really impressed at that time with the amazing benefits of exercising through pregnancy. But I didn't read the book in-depth. I decided earlier this week that I wanted to take a closer look. Now that I've read several of the chapters and examined the data thoroughly, I am telling you... it absolutely blows me away.

There are risks inherent in pregnancy and childbirth, but we can do things to minimize those risks. We all know that good nutrition is essential for pregnant women. Poor nutrition often leads to pre-term and low-birthweight infants as well as pre-eclampsia in mothers. Eating well is one of the absolute best things you can do for your unborn child's physical and neurological growth. But now I'm convinced that exercise may be just as important.

I won't go into all the benefits of prenatal exercise here. I'd just like to focus on one set of benefits in particular--the effects of exercise on the course of labor. You might remember my very early post about the benefits of doulas. Having a doula assist your labor and delivery reduces many chidbirth risks significantly. Prenatal exercise has even more pronounced benefits.

Women who continue exercising regularly through the end of their pregnancies (three times a week for at least 20 minutes at a moderately hard to hard level of exertion) demonstrated the following reduced risks during the birth process...
* 35% decrease in the need for pain relief
* 75% decrease in the incidence of maternal exhaustion
* 50% decrease in the need to artificially rupture membranes
* 50% decrease in the need to induce or augment labor with pitocin
* 50% decrease in the need to intervene because of abnormalities in the fetal heart rate
* 55% decrease in the need for episiotomy
* 75% decrease in the need for operative intervention (forceps or cesarean section)
In addition, check these out...
* More than 65% of the exercising women delivered in less than four hours.
* 72% delivered before their due date (but fewer of them delivered before 37 weeks--preterm--than the control group). The exercising women delivered, on average, 5-7 days earlier than active women who did not exercise regularly.
* Significant reduction in the incidence of umbilical cord entanglement.
* Much lower incidence of fetus passing meconium from distress.
* Umbilical cord blood samples indicated that babies of exercising moms remained relatively stress-free with plenty of oxygen. They seemed to tolerate the stresses of labor and delivery better than the control group.
* The exercising mothers' infants were, on average, 14 oz lighter but overall growth was not compromised.
* Placentas of exercising mothers are larger, more efficient, and healthier-looking.
* Infants born to exercising mothers were more alert postpartum and needed less consolation from others.
(All of these results are taken from Dr. Clapp's studies as reported in Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. See this fabulous book for even more amazing benefits.)

It blows my mind.

Imagine how huge the risk reductions would be if you exercised through pregnancy AND had a doula. Whoah. We can do so much to avoid the pitfalls of pregnancy and birth. It gives me so much joy and hope to know that I am not at the mercy of chance. I have a great deal of power over my circumstances when it comes to pregnancy and birth. It is a wonderful thing to be able to choose to pro-actively reduce risks and bring so much benefit to myself and my babies. I love it!


Rixa said...

Really interesting! I found that it was really hard to exercise after the 6th month in my second pregnancy. Even moderate walking would send my belly into a crazy spasm and I could hardly breathe. (Not from being out of shape, but just from all the pressure, etc). I have a feeling that it will only get worse with next pregnancies. I didn't feel at all slowed down with my first, so it took me by surprise the second time around. Anyway, I think the only thing I'll be able to do when I'm in my third trimester is swim--which is nice, but really hard to fit in logistically with when the pool is open.

Erin said...

Over the past six months, Ive read that book through twice and highly recommend it to all the pregnant women I know. The info is just amazing and also motivating. Whenever I feel too lazy, I try to remind myself that moving around is going to be way worth it when December gets here and Baby comes. :)

Quinn said...

Thanks for posting this- My husband misplaced my exercise ball before I was expecting our most recent addition and found it 4 days before my due date. I hardly exercised for that pregnancy & I usually do. Our daughter was born with 4 nuchal cords, a stretched thin cord and was 5 lbs. 6oz. at 42 1/2 weeks. I'm so going to blame him for not finding the ball when I insisted that one of the kids didn't pop it ;D

(Love your blog)

Jennifer West said...

There are a lot of exercises out there that can help you prepare for the stresses of pregnancy. Did the book mention something about Kegel exercises? I've read in Wikipedia that these exercises can help women prepare for the stress they will go through in the late stages of pregnancy.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I think the research in this book is questionable. With my first I exercised every other day 3 miles on the treadmill, and towards the end 3 miles on the eliptical. I think I may have done some weights too. Prior to that I was a runner. Anyway, went to 41 weeks with my pregnancy, labored for 29 hours (only 15 with an epidural), and wound up with an emergency C-section, a child who had to be aspirated, and who then had to spend 3 days in the NICU. He was only 7 lbs 6 ounces.
The next pregnancy, I wasn't really active, almost at all. 48 hours of labor, then supposedly "elective" c-section since they wouldn't give me any pain medication at that point or admit me as I was only 2cm. This child was 7 lbs 4 ounces - a great feeder, APGAR 8, didn't have any problems for his first year of life. Also went to 41 weeks.
With this current pregnancy, I was very fit going into it - exercising nearly every day prior to conception, at my lowest body weight and fat percentage. But had really terrible morning sickness. I have no idea how this birth will go - trying for a VBA2C - but, I'm very skeptical of these findings.
An OB I knew said babies generally are larger if the Mom exercises, because they get better oxygenation and can grow more. I really find the 4 hours of labor thing suspect - and the going before due dates. MOST first time Moms wind up around 41 weeks. I know active people, and I don't know anyone whose labor was as short as 4 hours. I suppose most first time Moms and all the people I know must not be the triathletes described here?
One thing I've learned about pregnancy is...there's precious little you can do to control labor. You can have all your ducks lined up in a row, and still wind up laboring for hours, with a C-section at the end. I think Moms who claim otherwise suffer from hubris, and are especially lucky without realizing it at all.
Just my 2 cents.