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Get Moving! New Study Finds Exercise During Pregnancy Is Important

Katlyn Joy | 5, August 2014


A new study published in Maternal and Child Health Journal looks at women's exercise levels both prior to and during pregnancy and excessive pregnancy weight gain.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina looked at data from the 2009 South Carolina Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System for the study. The data was obtained by the state by asking pregnant women about exercise and weight gain. The study involved 856 pregnant women from South Carolina.

The researchers divided the weight gain levels into three classifications: inadequate, adequate and excessive. The researchers also developed an exercise index by multiplying the number of months spent exercising by the metabolic rates for specific physical activities.

The study authors concluded, "Exercise during pregnancy is associated with lower odds of gaining excessive weight during pregnancy."

Women were asked if they exercised at least three times a week. Only a third of pregnant women met the criteria.

In looking at the weight gain data, women who exercised infrequently were 51.5 percent more likely to fall into the excessive weight gain category compared to 35.8 percent of frequent exercisers.

Those who were in the inadequate weight gain category saw little difference between infrequent and regular exercisers. More frequent exercisers were two times as likely to meet the adequate weight gain criteria compared to less frequent exercisers.

In regards to the exercise index, those who scored in the highest third were 80 percent less likely to gain surplus pounds than the non-exercisers. Those who were in that category, participated in physical activity such as brisk walking, for five of their pregnant months.

The study authors stated, "Exercise during pregnancy can help women achieve their recommended gestational weight gain, and experience better maternal and fetal outcomes."

Excess weight gain in pregnancy is associated with a host of problems for mother and baby.

  • Hypertension in mothers. Hypertensive disorders associated with too much weight gain in pregnancy include pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia and eclampsia. Preeclampsia and eclampsia are potentially life threatening for both mother and child.
  • Gestational diabetes. This can cause a number of complications in pregnancy and may be associated with later obesity in offspring.
  • Complications during labor and delivery, including a higher likelihood of needing a cesarean section.
  • Women who gain too much during pregnancy are more likely to keep the weight on.
  • Women who gain too much weight are at an increased risk for unsuccessful breastfeeding.

In particular, women who put on too much gestational weight are more likely to have larger babies. That may seem an obvious link, but there are serious problems that can occur when babies are larger. For instance, a larger baby may result in birth complications such as shoulder dystocia, where babies shoulder get stuck during birth, broken collar bones, and an increase in c-sections. Women who give birth to larger babies are more at risk for tearing and bleeding complications.

Women who were normal weight before pregnancy, but put on too many pregnancy pounds, still had an increased risk of their child becoming overweight or obese later in life. For women who put on more than 40 pounds, which is the maximum recommended weight gain, had twice the rate of babies born over 9 pounds. Women who gained within recommended ranges only had a 12 percent chance of having a larger baby.

Babies who were born to mothers who gained too much gestational weight and were born at regular weight themselves, still had an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese later in life.

According to one study, approximately one-fifth of pregnant women exceed the weight guidelines of pregnancy.

The Institutes of Medicine have set the following guidelines for pregnancy weight gain:

  • For normal weight women, 25 to 35 pounds is the range.
  • For women who are overweight, the target is 15 to 25.
  • Obese women need to limit their gain to 11 to 20 pounds.

Related Articles

Minimize Pregnancy Weight Gain By Moving More

Not Gaining Weight During Pregnancy

Gaining Too Much Pregnancy Weight?

When Your Pregnancy Weight is a Big Deal and When it’s Not

Pregnancy Weight Gain - When Should My OB Be Concerned?


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