Austin triathlete and obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Bradley Price recently completed a study comparing the safety and efficacy of exercise for pregnant women. Dr. Price’s data demonstrated a dramatic reduction in the rate of primary, or first-time, cesarean sections (c-sections) and a quicker post-partum recovery for women who adopted an active lifestyle during pregnancy.
Six percent of the women who exercised required c-sections while 32 percent in the sedentary group required c-sections. There was only one baby in the active group that required a c-section for fetal intolerance of labor, but four in the other group did. The placentas in the active group were slightly larger, (which may indicate a larger blood supply to the babies). Together, these two findings (reduced c-sections and larger placentas) suggest a positive impact of exercise on fetal well being.
Further, the data suggests that exercising reduced the incidence of both diabetes and hypertension in pregnancy. Although not statistically significant in Price’s study, his findings are consistent with the conclusions of other studies.
None of the people who were in Price’s study were regular exercisers. The exercise program, starting at the end of the first trimester, involved 45 to 60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise four days per week and continued through at least 36 weeks gestation. There were no injuries and no increase in muscular aches or premature labor. Compliance was excellent with the group exercise protocol, which was derived from guidelines published by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). Price concluded that starting regular exercise by 13 weeks of pregnancy provides benefits that far outweigh risks.
Price, who has delivered more than 5,000 babies, mostly at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, is himself an accomplished triathlete who started running track and cross country as a teen at Austin High School. Price began triathlon in 1978, finished Ironman Hawaii in 2001 and 2003. In 2002 he was the World Age Group Champion in Olympic distance triathlon. Currently he runs, bikes or swims daily.