How Exercise in Pregnancy Can Benefit Your Baby’s Heart

How Exercise in Pregnancy Can Benefit Your Baby’s Heart

Many expectant mums avoid exercise during pregnancy for a variety of reasons. In the past exercise during pregnancy was discouraged as it was thought to reduce blood flow to the placenta. These concerns continue in the minds of many people today. In addition, discomfort, fatigue and lack of time also reduce the likelihood of exercise during pregnancy.


However, more recently it has been found that exercise has many benefits for pregnant women including reduced aches and pains, lower rates of depression, shorter labour and delivery and faster recovery from the delivery. With so many benefits for the mother an interesting question is whether exercise has any beneficial effects for the developing baby.


In a recent study, scientists sought to find out what effects maternal exercise had on the heart of the developing fetus. The study included 61 healthy expectant mums, 26 of whom continued to exercise during pregnancy. These women did a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise three times per week throughout the pregnancy. The remaining women did not exercise during pregnancy. When the babies’ heart health was assessed at 36 weeks gestation it was found that the babies of the mothers who exercised had lower heart rates and increased heart rate variability. A lower resting heart rate is associated with increased fitness and cardiovascular health. Heart rate variability is the beat to beat variation in heart rate. A low heart rate variability is associated with distress in the foetus so the changes brought on by exercise are likely to be beneficial.


When the scientists at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences checked the mums and babies a month after birth they found that these changes had persisted. The exercising mums not only helped their babies cardiovascular system during pregnancy but also during the neonatal period. The beneficial effects for these babies are not confined to the cardiovascular system. The babies of mothers who exercise in pregnancy show enhanced sporting and academic performance in later years.


Mothers and their babies enjoy a very special bond. The rhythm of a baby’s heart is intertwined with its’ mother’s.  When an expectant mum increases her rate of breathing, as she would during exercise, the heart beats of both mum and baby become synchronised. As a mother exercises and her heart rate increases the heart rate of her baby adapts. The two hearts interact and a mothers’ special perception of her unborn child is enhanced.

If you would like to know more about what exercise is suitable during pregnancy then we are here to help.

Dr Hugh Coyne