Babies Gain Long-Term Benefits from Mom’s Prenatal Exercise

When I was pregnant, I was often told to “take it easy”. I was even encouraged to reduce the exercise in case I overexerted myself and harmed the baby. Times are changing and the research is coming in to support otherwise. In fact, it’s more than just good for mother, it’s also good for baby…

Exercise During Pregnancy Boosts Baby’s Brain Development and Memory Power

Photo Credit: The Bump

We know that exercise is good for our brains. Now new research suggests that mothers who exercise during pregnancy can pass on these brain benefits to their babies…

They found that rats whose mothers had exercised regularly while they were pregnant could reliably remember which of the objects they had seen before. Rats in the other group, however, found it impossible to tell novel objects apart. Maternal exercise during pregnancy had endowed their pups with a vastly superior memory – an effect that lasted well into adulthood.

Adult rats who exercise and the pups of active mothers not only show increased neurogenesis and neuronal growth in the hippocampus, but they also have improved spatial memory, which is a crucial function of the hippocampus. – Medical Xpress

Source: Physical exercise during pregnancy improves object recognition memory in adult offspring – Neuroscience

In a human study, they found that pregnant mothers who exercised for three 20-minute sessions a week helped boost their baby’s brain development in the womb.

Study Details:

  • Women were randomly assigned to an exercise group or a sedentary group in their second trimester.
  • Women in the exercise group performed at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times per week at a moderate intensity leading to at least a slight shortness of breath.
  • Women in the sedentary group did not exercise.
  • Brain activity of the newborns was assessed between the ages of 8 to 12 days, by electroencephalography. A bleeping noise was play repeatedly and occasionally interrupted by a second sound.
  • Brain activity showed that the babies whose mothers had exercised found it easier to tell the two sounds apart.

We used 124 soft electrodes placed on the infant’s head and waited for the child to fall asleep on his or her mother’s lap. We then measured auditory memory by means of the brain’s unconscious response to repeated and novel sounds. Our results show that the babies born from the mothers who were physically active have a more mature cerebral activation, suggesting that their brains developed more rapidly.” – Labonté-LeMoyne, Study Co-Author.

Other benefits to babies of mothers who exercise during pregnancy:

  • improves IQ and vocabulary until at least the age of five
  • boosts the heart health of the children in later life
  • increases the baby’s oxygen supply
  • increases the production of a brain-boosting protein called BDNF

See also: Physical activity during pregnancy and language development in the offspring

The most robust finding was a transient increase in offspring vocabulary score at young ages with maternal leisure activity. Differences in the associations with leisure-time physical activity compared with general physical activity need further exploration.

While it is still early days for the research supporting this, we do know that exercising during pregnancy is good for Mama and baby, so it’s definitely a win-win.

Exercise During Pregnancy Improves Baby’s Health

The results indicate that exercise during pregnancy, far from harming the fetus, can be incredibly beneficial for both mom and baby. And timing matters: exercise during pregnancy, as opposed to pre-pregnancy fitness, seems to be doing something extra-special. – Discover Magazine

Mom’s regular aerobic exercise may be good for a growing fetus’ health and may even help baby get a healthier start in life:

* It’s probably worth noting that if you weren’t exercising before you got pregnant, you should be careful starting an exercise program after getting pregnant. If you do decide to start exercising, be sensible, proceed carefully and let your doctor know what you’re up to. 

Exercise During Pregnancy is Good for Mom

The infographic below from Randolph Ob/Gyn provides a terrific summary of the benefits for Mom:

Image Source: Randolph Ob/Gyn

How Much Exercise and What Kind of Exercise?

  • American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes a day for pregnant women, for as long as they are physically able. – Time
  • According to Linda May, an exercise physiologist who studies pregnant women and their babies, a mix of aerobics and strength training may be even better for the baby. – Discover Magazine
  • Based on the study from Labonté-LeMoyne, you need at least 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise (e.g. brisk walking, running, swimming, or cycling), three times a week.

These are some simple exercises you can start with:

Image Source: Purple Pieces