Published in the December 2009 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the study tracked delivery outcomes among 80 women who had taken part in supervised toning and resistance exercises for shoulders, arms, pelvis, and legs—and compared these to outcomes from 80 non-exercising women. (From the second trimester through delivery, the exercise group participated in three weekly sessions of less than an hour each.)
Despite previous reports showing higher vaginal delivery rates among women who regularly engaged in prenatal exercise, researchers found the vaginal delivery rate to be the same—approximately 50 percent—for both exercisers and non-exercisers. The Cesarean rate (11 percent) and forceps-assisted delivery rate (between 9 and 10 percent) were also identical when exercising and non-exercising women were compared.
And the good news for couch potato moms-to-be doesn't stop there. Among exercisers and non-exercisers, the study noted no difference in the number of moms requesting epidurals during labor or the average time women took to reach full dilation. Likewise, their newborns were similarly healthy.
But before you hang up your sneakers for the next nine months, researchers remind women that regular workouts during pregnancy offer many health benefits. Other larger studies have shown that exercise may help to reduce weight gain during pregnancy and make it easier to lose weight after the birth. Plus, exercise improves a woman's emotional and physical well-being and increases energy levels.
Despite the lack of clear advantage in childbirth, researchers still found that women in the training group were pleased with the results of taking part in a fitness program; most expressed the desire to be physically active in future pregnancies.