Surprise! Exercising in Pregnancy Could Boost Your Odds of a Vaginal Delivery

There are lots of benefits to working out while pregnant—including one we didn't see coming.

By now you probably already know that it's so important to work out throughout your pregnancy. From keeping your strength and energy levels up to keeping your weight gain in check, there are so many incredibly important benefits associated with logging regular gym time—but here's one you might not have predicted: Exercise during pregnancy could up your odds of having a vaginal delivery.

A team of researchers looked at clinical data results to determine whether exercise had any bearing on a different birth-related issue: Preterm birth. The findings indicated no increased risk of preterm birth, which refers to delivering before 37 weeks, for women who worked out while pregnant—and in fact, it showed that they were less likely to deliver via C-section.

The findings, which were published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, challenge an old belief. "The thinking was that exercise releases norepinephrine in the body, which is a chemical that can stimulate contractions of the uterus, and thus lead to preterm birth," the study's senior author Vincenzo Berghella, M.D., said, according to Science Daily. "But numerous studies including this new meta-analysis, have since shown that exercise does not harm the baby, and can have benefits for the mom and baby."

Dr. Berghella and his team looked at the results of nine controlled studies to come to this conclusion. In the studies, pregnant women were divided into two groups—one composed of women who exercised daily, one of women who did not exercise at all. The results indicated that while 67 percent of the women who didn't work out gave birth vaginally, 73 percent of the exercising women had vaginal births. There are additional risks associated with C-section birth, so this link is not something to be taken lightly.

Additionally, the studies found lower instances of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure in the women who exercised. The results refer to groups of healthy, normal weight women who were pregnant with single children. The women surveyed had no health issues that might prevent them from exercising.

"The results of this analysis support current guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which sets the recommendations for our field," Dr. Berghella said. "However, there are many reasons women pull back on exercise during pregnancy—discomfort, an increase in tiredness and feeling winded by low level exertion. This paper reinforces that exercise is good for the mom and the baby and does not hold any increased risk of preterm birth."