Attitudes and beliefs about prenatal exercise have drastically changed over the past twenty years. No longer is pregnancy seen as a delicate stage, but a stage in life when active women can actually maintain their fitness levels, and previously sedentary women can begin an exercise program (Anthony, 2002, 1). Exercising during pregnancy delivers numerous benefits, decreased excess weight gain, more energy and stamina, and an overall increased sense of well-being. One highly debated benefit is whether or not exercise leads to an easier labor. For example, studies done by Beckmann and Beckmann (1990) and Clapp et al (1992, 1995 and 1998) reported that pregnant women who exercised before and during their pregnancy had easier labors when compared to their sedentary control group. Research conducted by Artal et al 1992, Hatch et al 1993, and Lokey et al 1991, studied pregnant women who began exercising during their pregnancy. Of the three studies, only Artal et al 1992 stated that beginning an exercise program during pregnancy lead to an easier labor. To date, not a single study has been conducted on how exercise affects labor and delivery outcome in both pregnant women who continue to exercise and pregnant women who begin to exercise during pregnancy. The discrepancy in results of published studies on exercise and pregnancy demands more research to prove or disprove whether or not exercise during pregnancy allow for an easier labor.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women exercise on “most” days of the week at a moderate intensity (using the Borg’s RPE “rate of perceived exertion” scale – Appendix A and 120-140 Heart Rate Beats per Minute) (ACOG, 2002). Following these guidelines, an extensive report was published on the benefits of prenatal exercise, here is a list of some of them.
- Reduces the unpleasant effects of the biomechanical changes in your body
- Eliminates or reduces pregnancy-related discomforts
- Prevents and treats pregnancy induced diabetes
- Improves calcium absorption, preventing hypertension, preeclampsia, and future osteoporosis
- Relieves tension, stress, and possible depression
- Increases your general strength, improving you ability to carry your larger belly
- Reduces the strain on your upper back
- Reduces the strain and pressure on your sciatic nerve
- Prevents “rounded shoulders”
- Increases energy, particularly in the last trimester
- Improves your immunity
- Less excess weight gain
- A better looking pregnant body
- Increases your self esteem and self image