Exercise in Pregnancy: It's Good for Baby Too!

posted by Sarah Goodchild and Melissa Horkey on Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Most people know that exercise is beneficial for pregnant women but it was always thought that those benefits were just for the mom. There is now a study that has shown that aerobic exercise during pregnancy improves the baby’s gross motor skills.

The study took 60 healthy pregnant women and divided them into an exercise group and a control group. The exercise group performed 45-50 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 days a week and the control group were asked to perform a 50 minute stretching and breathing program 3 days a week. The infant’s gross motor skills were then evaluated using a standardized assessment called the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales, second edition which is commonly used by pediatric physical therapists.

They found that at 1 month old, infants whose mothers performed the aerobic exercise scored higher in the areas of stationary and locomotion skills. Some of these skills include the baby being able to lift his/her head and rotating it to the opposite side while on his/her tummy, being able to kick their legs and roll from their side to their back.

In the control group, male infants performed better than female infants in most tests. This was an expected finding given what’s known about the role of testosterone in male infant development. However, in the exercise group the female infants tended to close this gap and even outperform males slightly.

The authors aren’t exactly sure what is happening with aerobic exercise in pregnancy but they speculate that it may have to do with the release of growth hormone and intrauterine growth factor-1 which can increase the supply of nutrients to the fetus. They also believe that improved blood flow and oxygenation that comes with aerobic exercise may contribute.

So why does this matter?

Obesity and overweight rates continue to rise in children. There is pressure to promote healthy rates of physical activity. Previous research has shown that better motor skills in infancy lead to higher rates of physical activity through childhood and adulthood. So by exercising during pregnancy you can set your child up for improved gross motor skills and improved physical activity throughout their life.

How we can help:

If you have questions or need guidance for an exercise program while pregnant we can help you establish a safe program that you will be able to continue throughout your pregnancy. Also, if you have concerns about your child’s gross motor skills, talk to your doctor and they can write a referral to PT where we will perform a full assessment to see if they are performing at age appropriate levels.

Melissa Horkey, DPT, ATC

Sarah Goodchild, DPT

About The Author

Sarah Goodchild and Melissa Horkey

Sarah and Melissa are Physical Therapists at the Spencer Hospital, who both joined the hospital team in 2010. Melissa received her bachelor's degree from Buena Vista University and Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at the University of South Dakota. She treats patients of all ages and also sp ... read more