How Exercising During Pregnancy Can Boost Your Baby’s Development

Plus, six of the best exercises for runners during pregancy.


Jordan Smith |

  • A new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that running while pregnant can benefit both mother and baby.
  • Babies born to women who performed 50 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times per week during pregnancy scored higher on one-month motor tests than those born to mothers who didn’t.
  • Scoring higher on these proper development and maturation tests at one month typically means the child will continue developing at an advanced rate.

It’s no secret that exercising while pregnant is beneficial to your health—it’s known to reduce the risk of many health issues, like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preterm labour. But ever wonder how it could affect the health of your baby, too?

According to a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, staying active during pregnancy doesn’t just help the mom: Babies whose mothers exercise during pregnancy experience a number of developmental boosts, which may play a part in them being healthier and more physically active later in life.

Researchers looked at a group of 60 healthy pregnant women between age 18 and 35 with low-risk pregnancies. They were split into an exercise group—33 women who exercised for three times a week under supervised training at moderate intensity—and a control group of 27 women who did not receive any exercise intervention, but were asked to engage in a 50-minute supervised stretching and breathing routine three times per week. They wore heart-rate monitors to ensure their heart rate did not exceed light intensity.

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One month after the mothers gave birth, researchers followed up with the infants, performing testing similar to the motor milestone tests that a pediatrician does to assess proper motor development.

They found that the infants of mothers who performed the supervised exercise during pregnancy scored higher on stationary and locomotion skills and on overall Gross Motor Quotient (tests that determine motor tone and muscle reflexes) than the infants of mothers who did not exercise during pregnancy, Linda May, Ph.D., associate professor of foundational sciences and research at East Carolina University told Runner’s World. They also scored higher on tests of neuromotor development.

These scores are indicators of a baby’s proper development and maturation, May explained. And this is important because these differences should persist as the child grows, so they may hit “motor milestones” such as sitting and crawling earlier, according to May. (Researchers will be following up as the children grow to measure their progress.)

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What’s more, previous research has found that higher neuromotor skills in infants are linked with being more physically active later in life. And because physical activity is a modifiable risk factor of childhood obesity, these findings suggest that exercise during pregnancy may potentially reduce the risk of it for kids.

Though researchers are not exactly sure why exercise during pregnancy helped infants score higher on these tests, the study hypothesises that infants exposed to exercise while in utero could benefit from the release of certain maternal growth hormones associated with exercise. Still, May emphasises that more research needs to be done to know for sure.

Regardless of how exercise helps, research seems to back up its benefits, making physical activity part of a healthy pregnancy.

“We want to make sure all women know that they should be doing moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes each week,” May said. “The 150 minutes should be divided between three to seven days of the week.”

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Bottom line: There’s typically no harm in continuing your exercise routine through pregnancy. Just be sure to talk to your doctor about your exercise habits first, and clear anything new with your doctor.

Even if you don’t keep up your pre-pregnancy mileage or find yourself needing to take it slow—don’t freak out. Just by getting active, both you and baby will benefit. If running causes too much discomfort, getting in those 150 minutes per week could come from low-impact exercises like swimming or taking a brisk walk.

Watch: The best workout moves for runners during pregnancy:

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