Those mamas-to-be who already know that working out during pregnancy has tons of benefits can now add one more potential perk to the list: New research published in The British Medical Journal found that exercising during pregnancy actually helps women avoid c-section births.
“For every 40 mothers who follow the healthy diet and moderate exercise, one less woman will end up with a caesarean section,” researcher Shakila Thangaratinam, PhD, from Queen Mary University of London’s Barts Research Centre for Women’s Health, said in a press release about the pregnancy + exercise study. Overall, she said that results in a 10 percent reduction in the odds a woman will require a c-section—although the specific reasons why healthy living was linked to a reduced chance of a c-section wasn’t immediately clear from the study.
How to avoid a c-section: what the science says
The research project—which was the largest to ever look at lifestyle interventions in pregnancy—showed babies were not adversely affected by their mothers’ moderate intensity physical activities, such as aerobic classes, stationary cycling and resistance training.
Meanwhile, there were many advantages for the expectant moms: In addition to reducing the chance of unwanted cesarean births, those who worked out and ate well were less likely to gain excessive weight or develop diabetes.
In light of the findings, Thangaratinam said diet advice and a workout prescription should be part of the pregnancy advice delivered by doctors and midwives—regardless of the mother’s weight.
“Our findings are important because it is often thought that pregnant women shouldn’t exercise because it may harm the baby,” said Thangaratinam.
The researchers hope their work will also reassure pregnant women who are managing their diet and hitting the gym that they are doing the right thing.
And the results of Thangaratinam’s work are already influencing pregnant women: The Chief Medical Officers in the U.K. Department of Health are now recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week during pregnancy because of this study.
Although this was the world’s largest scientific examination of lifestyle interventions in pregnancy, it certainly won’t be the last. A British Medical Journal editorial notes hope for future studies that will tackle the effects of strength and balance training during pregnancy and examine whether healthy pregnancies could lead to beneficial long-term lifestyle changes for women and their families.
In the meantime, expectant mothers can rest assured that their unrest due to physical activity is actually a very good thing.