Exercise During Pregnancy

Did you exercise when you were pregnant?  Or were you told to just “take it easy?” Exercise is my drug of choice, but I felt gun shy about exercising while pregnant in 2006.  I always kept my heart rate below 140-150 bpm as instructed, so I never felt like I had an actual “work out.”  For many of us, exercise presents a big, gray question mark during pregnancy.

Ponder this:  our mood and anxiety levels during pregnancy can alter our childrens’ abilities to cope with stress.  A research study at Columbia University found that the acute stress in pregnant women can cause a fetuses’ heart rate to become overreactive and slower to return to normal.  This means that cortisol is interfering with the fetuses ability to regulate stress, which puts the child at higher risk for future psychiatric problems (and learning difficulty).

Stress, anxiety, and depression during pregnancy are also correlated with a higher chance of having a baby that is fussier, harder to soothe, and hyperactive.  One study conducted on rats suggested that babies born to anxious mothers are more edgy and less adventurous.

Besides the fact that depression and anxiety can be harmful for your baby, none of it is good for you, either.  Postpartum depression isn’t exactly a cake walk-you can’t truly enjoy your new baby when your mood goes down the hopper.

Given the fact that exercise is such an effective, natural approach to creating a healthy mood, it makes sense to get clear on the parameters of exercise during pregnancy.

Dr. James Clapp’s book entitled, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, may help us all do that.  After researching exercise in pregnant women for over 20 years, he concluded the following salient points:

  • there is no difference in weight or skull size between babies born to active vs sedentary moms.
  • Exercise helps build the umbilical cord between baby and mother.
  • Newborns of active moms are leaner, but those differences equalize within a year.
  • Newborns of active mothers were more responsive to stimuli and more quickly able to quiet themselves after being startled than newborns of sedentary mothers.  This is exciting-it suggests that these babies are more neurologically developed.  From a psychological perspective, I think it’s even more exciting since these babies are self soothing more quickly.
  • Five years later, children of active mothers score significantly higher in IQ and oral language skills than children of sedentary mothers.  That is amazing.
  • In studies conducted on rats, pups of active mothers have a higher level of BDNF at birth, learn better and faster than pups of sedentary moms, and develop the hippocampus faster as well.  BDNF is sort of like Miracle Gro for the brain, which means that your baby likely has a huge cognitive advantage in life.  This likely means that exercising during pregnancy affects your child’s future ability to learn.

Did you need any further reason to exercise during pregnancy?  Had I known all of this in 2006, I would have been less gun shy about exercise.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology recommended that pregnant women exercise moderately at least 30 minutes daily during pregnancy, but it makes logical sense to listen to your body.  You are the expert on your own threshold, so always do what feels right for you-in every situation in your life.

That’s all for today, ladies.  I’m in Nags Head, NC for a wedding this weekend and ran on the hot beach this morning.  I don’t recommend that one if you’re pregnant…or not.  The dolphins were out, and I wanted to tell them to keep swimming North to get away from the oil spill.  Ciao!