Irish women are not doing enough exercise during pregnancy, research has found.
Three-quarters of expectant mothers are failing to keep fit and 12% are not doing even a basic workout or walking.
Researchers at University College Dublin and the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, say that some mums-to-be, and even healthcare professionals, wrongly believe that exercise during pregnancy can harm the child’s development.
Fionnuala McAuliffe, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at both UCD and the hospital, said this mistaken belief is a likely reason for the fitness shortfalls, although she added that moderation is key.
She said: “There are significant benefits to mild and moderate exercise while pregnant. However, strenuous exercise during pregnancy should be avoided as it has been linked to pre-term birth and low birth-weight.
“Regular exercise during pregnancy helps better prepare women for labour and delivery, and may also offer long-term benefits for the baby.
“Moderate exercise during pregnancy helps reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, less gestational weight gain and less somatic complaints including insomnia and low mood.”
Women are advised to walk or swim during pregnancy to keep themselves relatively fit.
Prof. McAuliffe said women need consistent advice, adding that some women can take nine months to a year to lose the weight they put on while pregnant.
She went on: “I think it is a modern phenomenon. The main problem is that women are on average 10kg heavier starting pregnancy than they should be and put on more weight.”
Weight gain increases the risk of expectant mothers developing diabetes or of the baby not developing properly.
Researchers examined 358 women in early pregnancy and found 76% of them failed to do even brisk or easy walking for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. It also found 8% of the women were doing too much exercise.
Prof. McAuliffe said: “The message here is that it’s good to exercise. There are so many things for a pregnant woman to discuss with a GP, midwife and obstetrician it often does not come up – but it’s not one of the things we talk about; we are focusing on other things.
“But (exercise is) free. It’s effective.”
Study co-author Dr Jennifer Walsh, clinical research fellow at both UCD and the hospital, said: “Obstetricians, GPs and all healthcare professionals should be educated regarding the benefits of physical activity in pregnancy and be encouraged to educate patients about the benefits to them and their baby.”
The latest Central Statistics Office figures show that 73,996 children were born in Ireland in 2008, the highest fertility rate of the 27 European Union countries.
The findings of the study, titled Prevalence Of Physical Activity Among Healthy Pregnant Women In Ireland, appear in the International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.