It's no surprise that maintaining an active lifestyle while you’re pregnant is important. There are tremendous benefits to working out during pregnancy, from reducing your risk of complications to improving long-term heart health.
Now there’s one more positive to add to the list: New research shows exercising while pregnant can shave off close to an hour from time spent in labor.
That’s right: Close to an hour.
A recently published Spanish study found that pregnant women who did regular pelvic floor exercises, jogging and weight training were able to cut down their labor time by around 50 minutes.
Specifically, researchers from the Technical University of Madrid monitored more than 500 moms-to-be, half of whom worked out three times a week, for an hour at a time. Participants who stayed active while pregnant gave birth in seven hours and 30 minutes, on average, while the pregnant women who didn’t exercise spent an average eight hours and 30 minutes in labor, according to the research findings.
So why does staying active during pregnancy lead to smoother and shorter deliveries?
Kara Whitaker, an exercise scientist at the University of Iowa, tells the New Scientist, “Labor and delivery is a very physically taxing event. If you are physically stronger, you may have more muscle for the pushing stage.”
“We’re no longer promoting the idea of resting and putting your feet up,” Whitaker says.
It’s not surprising that working out while pregnant would lead to better labor outcomes. After all, past studies have documented the benefits of regular prenatal exercise extensively. In fact, researchers at the Technical University of Maryland have spent years tracking the positive effects of maintaining an active lifestyle during pregnancy.
In 2012, the Spanish researchers published a study in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine that found exercise during pregnancy can cut down on C-section and instrumental delivery rates. The year before, they published the results of a clinical trial in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG) that showed prenatal exercise can improve maternal health perception.
And in 2016, they published another study in AJOG that showed that moderate-intensity prenatal exercise can prevent gestational hypertension, and reduce the probability of giving birth to a large baby. "These results confirm the huge potential of physical exercise as an exceptional preventive element of anomalies and diseases that can establish the health of future populations in the case of pregnancy processes,” says lead researcher Ruben Barakat, a professor at the Technical University of Maryland.
Of course, not every mama-to-be is able to stay active during pregnancy. Women with high-risk pregnancies are often urged by their doctors to refrain from working out. Otherwise, moderate exercise is healthy and beneficial for mama and baby.
Need some help getting started? Find a prenatal fitness class.
Prenatal fitness classes are a great way to stay motivated, as well as to connect with other mamas-to-be who know exactly what you’re going through. Prenatal workout groups also cater to your specific needs as a pregnant person, offering a modified version of routines that are safe for you to practice in pregnancy.
Remember: You don’t have to go hard with working out while pregnant. Even light exercise can go a long way in terms of benefits for you and baby. But you should first speak with your doctor or midwife about your workout plans, keep them up-to-date on your routines and discuss any concerns that come up. They may even be able to recommend a prenatal fitness class in your area.