How Exercising During Pregnancy Could Give Your Kid A Brighter Future
Once upon a time, obstetricians would advise you to take it easy and rest during pregnancy. No more. Nowadays doctors, along with celebrity testimonials from Hilaria Baldwin and others, encourage exercising during pregnancy, whether it takes the form of prenatal yoga, barre-based workouts specially designed for expecting women, or even just an at-home workout DVD. These techniques are not only great for stress relief, a boost in circulation (which reduces swelling), improving posture, alleviating back pain, and strengthening your pelvic floor, but recent studies suggest that a fit mama also means a smarter baby.
According to researchers at the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital, even just twenty minutes of moderate exercise three times a week during pregnancy may boost your infant’s brain development.
"While being sedentary increases the risks of suffering complications during pregnancy, being active can ease post-partum recovery, make pregnancy more comfortable and reduce the risk of obesity in the children," explained Professor Daniel Curnier, one of the scientists behind the study. "Given that exercise has been demonstrated to be beneficial for the adult's brain, we hypothesized that it could also be beneficial for the unborn child through the mother's actions."
To test this assertion, the researchers divided a group of pregnant women in the beginning of their second trimester into two sections. The “sedentary group,” as the name implies, did not workout, while the “exercise group” did at least twenty minutes of cardio three times a week. Nothing too intense, just enough exercise for them to experience a slight shortness of breath. After the women gave birth, the neuroscientists monitored the newborns’ brain activity over the next week and a half via electroencephalography. This involved placing 124 soft electrodes on the infants’ heads, waiting until they fell asleep (in their mother’s arms—aw!) and recording their unconscious response to repeated or novel sounds as a measure of auditory memory.
The results showed that “the babies born from the mothers who were physically active have a more mature cerebral activation, suggesting that their brains developed more rapidly,” according to Élise Labonté-LeMoyne, another member of the research team.
While women generally alter their health habits during pregnancy in the interest of their baby, this usually amounts to giving up wine and coffee, eating more dairy, and other dietary adjustments. However, if it is true that a few minutes of exercise can influence your child’s future, perhaps more expecting moms will be motivated to amp up their prenatal fitness routine, as uncomfortable as trundling to the gym may be. Of course, this study is just a preliminary—the researchers are still evaluating how long these cognitive advantages last. Either way, if your doctor gives you the OK, prenatal exercise can lead to an easier labor (just ask Hilaria Baldwin, who pushed out little Carmen in 45 minutes flat), so why not get in a little cardio here and there?
By Cordelia Tai