Now is the Time to Move
There are five key times in life that a woman benefits most from exercise: (1) adolescence, (2) pregnancy, (3) postpartum, (4) menopause, and (5) senescence. Helen Varney, Jan Kriebs, and Carolyn Gegor write, in Varney’s Midwifery textbook, “These are the key phases during which women undergo dramatic physical and psychological changes—transition points at which a woman can redefine herself. Meaningful activities that enhance prowess and self-image at each critical stage profoundly affect a woman’s physical and mental health.”
Here are scientific data and motivating stories proving that exercise enhances every aspect of pregnancy, labor, and nurturing a healthier, happier, fitter baby.
Most pregnant women have no idea that exercise is so vital to the development of their child. Research has proven the following benefits that exercising moms can give their unborn children:
- Increased physical health scores, immediately upon birth and lasting into adulthood
- Increased intelligence scores for life
- Increased confidence & ability to self-soothe
- Fewer fetal interventions
- Fewer complications
Beneficial maternal side effects of exercising during pregnancy:
- Less maternal weight gain
- Less maternal labor pain
- Less maternal pregnancy discomfort
Unfortunately, though exercise has never been linked with any pregnancy complications, it is often first to be dropped if any concerns arise. Varney’s midwifery discusses the irony of the recommendation to stop exercising when pregnant. The text reports that women told to bed rest for three weeks or more suffered high levels of physical, emotional, and familial hardship. In these cases, lack of movement caused problems.
Varney, who is a Professor in the Yale School of Nursing Nurse-Midwifery Specialty, says that research supports that regular moderate exercise improves function without risk to baby, provided there is no life-threatening disorder. The text writes, “There is no documentation of detrimental fetal outcomes in women who participate in regular moderate- to high-intensity exercise.”
Exercise Improves Babies Physically and Mentally
The way a pregnant mom moves her body now can improve her baby’s health for years to come. Dr. James F. Clapp is the worlds leading authority on the effects of exercise during pregnancy. He writes, “The newborns of women who exercise tend to be alert, are easier to care for, and do not have trouble with transition of life outside the uterus.” He goes on to say these healthier babies respond more eagerly to things in their environment, they more readily self-quiet when they are disturbed, and they need much less consolation from others.
Ten years of Dr. Clapp’s research is detailed in his book, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, which reveals that mental performance and physical attributes are often significantly better in babies of women who exercised during pregnancy.
- Infants of exercising women do significantly better on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID) which are used to diagnose infants for cognitive, motor, and behavioral development.
- Studies show babies born of exercising women do better on standardized intelligence, general intelligence, and oral language tests at one year of age and after.
- Even five years after birth, children of women who exercised were in better shape than children of mothers who did not exercise.
Compared to sedentary women, the baby of the exercising mother is better prepared to deal with potential complications, points Dr. Clapp’s research. Why does exercise work so well? Exercise is a form of good stress that shapes the infant’s development in utero. Participating in exercise trains the body to handle stress more effectively. In turn, a pregnant woman who exercises actually trains her baby to handle stressors effectively.
In fact, proper infant development may require that a mom exercises. Exercise may shape development on a fundamental level. Dr. Clapp asks, “Like a developing eye needs light impressions on the retina in order for the optical area of the brain to develop properly, exercise may be a necessity for your baby to improve the developmental capacity of his heart, thermoregulatory system, and who knows what else?”
These are incredible studies that have so many long term implications. Not only are babies healthier and more mature at birth, says Clapp, “The babies who are lean at birth, grew normally throughout infancy and childhood, but stayed lean. This has the long term benefits of reduced risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.” A pregnant mom can cut her child’s chances for heart disease and diabetes just by exercising for these nine months.
Exercise Increases Baby’s Nutrients and Removes Baby’s Toxins
Babies of exercising moms receive more nutrients, feel less stress, are given more oxygen, and have a less toxic environment. Clapp’s studies show that placentas of moms who exercise regularly through early and mid pregnancy grow faster and function better than the placentas of mothers who don’t exercise.
Birth Story: Small Placenta
Erika from Miami
After laboring until only 3 centimeters, Erika’s doctor noted that her baby’s heart rate had dropped into the 60’s, saying “the baby is in too much stress.” He then performed a C-section. While lying with her newborn daughter, Erika’s doctor informed her “your placenta was too small and allowed your baby to fall into stress.”
The placenta’s of exercising mom’s functioned 15% better, including 15% more blood vessels and surface area. Varney’s Midwifery says the changes caused by exercise help baby directly, “This is a considerable benefit…in delivering oxygen and nutrients to the fetus.”
Of course, it’s a two way street. A smaller, weaker placenta means toxins are not pumped out efficiently. Sherry Rogers, MD, author of Detoxify or Die, writes, “There is now no question that these accumulated toxins are behind nearly every disease, symptom, injury, and malfunction of the body.”
Exercise means Stronger Healthier Development for Baby
Dr. Clapp says babies of moms who exercise show a “better growth and development pattern in utero.” Varney agrees, “Overall, the babies of exercising moms show an increase in prenatal function.” She teaches her students that babies of women who exercise have higher Apgar scores of physical health immediately upon birth.
The Apgar score was devised as a method to quickly assess the health of a newborn immediately upon childbirth. It is a health assessment that includes skin color, pulse rate, reflexes, muscle tone, and respiration at the first and fifth minute of life. The score determines if the baby needs immediate medical care. A higher Apgar score means the baby is healthier. Exercise = higher score of health.
In addition, evidence suggests that babies are in better condition at the start of labor and tolerate the stresses of labor better if their mothers exercised during pregnancy. Blood samples indicate that the babies of the moms who exercised had been stress-free for some time, says Clapp. The samples are taken from the umbilical cord during birth and measure the percentage of red cells and acid accumulation.
Whatever the reasons, Varney and Clapp agree that exercise is a powerful way to directly help your baby grow stronger, suffer less stress, and develop happily in your tummy.
Genetics: Do Environmental Toxins Affect My Baby’s Genes?
OZ: Besides nature and nurture, “Is there a third path where we could maybe program our genes?” “It is exactly right,” chimes the co-author of their new book You: Having a Baby. Michael Roizen, MD, says, “We influence how our genes function…we know [this] for some very important things such as your waist size and your intelligence. What you do changes whether those genes are on or not.”