Vigorous Exercise, Even a Trek Up Everest, May Be Safe During Pregnancy

New research undercuts widely held beliefs about strenuous physical training and pregnancy.

Comments: 37

  1. Yes! I kept up my CrossFit training right up until I gave birth. No problems throughout pregnancy or post delivery.

  2. Someone should study fitness instructors and regular fitness participants. Many of them continue to not just exercise but teach at high levels right up til birth. This would provide a relatively large group for study. Everyone I know had healthy children and quick recoveries from childbirth.

  3. Is this still being debated? I participated in an exercise training study when I was pregnant with my daughter in 1990. I worked with trainers four times a week and got my heart rate up to about 175. By the time I delivered, I was as fit as a college athlete. My daughter was born fit, and slept from 7-7 from the time she was three days old. I am still very fit and sure to stay that way. Exercise during pregnancy as much as you can!

  4. My first two times I got pregnant I was extremely careful about restricting my activities. Both times I had miscarriages around 3 months. The third time I resumed horseback riding running my horse up and down hills. Had a perfect 8 lb baby girl whose first love was horses.

  5. I was playing tennis when I went into labor. My daughter stood up on her own at 6 months and has been fit and healthy throughout her life. At 72 I am still fit and playing tennis.Life is good when you excercise.

  6. I taught high impact aerobics, ran, cycled, Swam, and lifted weights during my

    mid-1980s pregnancy. A fast labor, swift recovery, back to normal weight immediately, and a healthy son who grew up with a love of physical activity.

  7. This is a complex, individual issue. I have been an athlete my whole life, and I continued moderate to strenuous activity and weightlifting throughout my pregnancy. I ended up with pelvic organ prolapse, multiple tears, and diastasis recti, all of which I am still rehabbing 14 months later. It may have been exacerbated by the exercise I did while I was pregnant, or the exercise had no effect and it was simply genetics and circumstance. However, the literature on POP suggests that I did not do myself any favors by continuing to run and jump, putting unnecessary stress on my pelvic floor. To me, this article (and the comments) is yet another contribution to the messaging and pressure that women receive about “bouncing back” after pregnancy. The truth is, your body is—for hormonal and structural purposes—in an altered state while you are pregnant; there is nothing wrong with respecting these changes and scaling back or modifying your activity during this season. Then, once you deliver, you are forever postpartum. Your body may be similar, but it’s never the same as it was pre-pregnancy. I wish we could change the discourse surrounding pregnancy and postpartum to reflect these realities; it would allow more women to enjoy these unique and special moments of life without the nagging feeling that they should be in the gym. It might also actually prevent birth injuries like mine, and actually lead to faster recovery times.

  8. Intensive exercise? Everest? Scuba diving? Only if before you were pregnant you were already living on high up on Everest or already living under multiple atmospheres of pressure and great shape only goes so far. Otherwise, no way. Not enough oxygen to make short term adjustments and prevent brain damage. Motherhood requires changes short-term pleasures get set aside.

  9. Agree 100%. While I think it’s clear that pregnant women can exercise safely, a Sherpani hiking to Everest Bass Camp at 17,500 feet (when Sherpa women live at 9-15,000 feet in general and have safely had children for millennia) is NOT the same as saying pregnant women can “climb Everest”.

    The health risks from high altitude climbing (well, aside from dying in general) are due to acclimatizing to altitude and not exertion per se. I think it’s very dangerous to take the Sherpani EBC hike (and EBC is a hike, not a climb) as evidence that pregnant women can safely handle summit attempt at high altitude. Just because the fetus has a lower oxygen flow than the mother doesn’t mean the mother can go from full oxygen to 1/3rd normal oxygen without consequences. Altitude sickness has some severe physiological effects - read up on HACE/HAPE and then see if you think pregnancy while climbing at high altitude sounds safe.

  10. I think the article is terrific, but the headline is misleading. The average pregnant woman cannot do what a pregnant Sherpa can do, just like the average person has no business on Everest.

  11. If you were an avid exerciser before, sure you can continue, but average person should stick with its average physical activity

  12. The experiences of elite athletes are definitely relatable to the rest of us.

  13. While I echo the thoughts of others regarding the Sherpa woman not being relevant to the experience of most other women I do think it proper to point out that ours is a societal misconception that pregnancy somehow translates into frailty and fragility for women. This couldn't be more wrong.

    Women have been conceiving, carrying and giving birth since mammals were first created. In trees, in bushes, in caves and hospitals they give birth. I daresay their bodies are designed to take almost whatever is thrown at them; including and most especially pregnancy. Fragile they ain't. Not by a long shot.

    American Net'Zen

  14. I'm not sure where the cited "widely held beliefs" are held, since there are no sources for them in the article. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports women exercising in pregnancy within sensible guidelines, like staying hydrated and avoiding hyperthermia. We've known since the 80s and the work of Dr. Jim Clapp in Vermont that competitive athletes can maintain vigorous training schedules without compromising their fetuses in most situations. In fact, his patients had healthier kids than comparison groups.

    As a specialist in high risk pregnancy myself, I counsel women to avoid high impact sports, where there could be direct trauma to the mom's belly, and scuba diving, where we don't know the effects on the fetus. I also counsel against downhill skiing, both because of trauma risks and because changes in center of gravity and musculoskeletal relaxation from hormonal effects can alter the mechanics of the sport.

    Sherpas in many cases have physiologies adapted to high elevation, like higher hemoglobin levels. That's how they've lived up there for millenia.

    Absent certain pregnancy complications like preterm labor, significant hypertension, or bleeding, there is little reason NOT to exercise sensibly. Of course, if you're a sedentary before the pregnancy, it's not the time to start intensive, competitive training. But for those who are exercising a lot beforehand, if all is going well, we obstetricians shouldn't discourage exercise.

  15. @Joshua Copel, MD

    Where? From the cultural mythology about the weak female. The Patriarchy!

    Are you not aware that "widely held beliefs" are typically not scientific ones, most esp. revolving around females?

    Not aware that doctors of both genders misdiagnose their females patients, mostly due to those "widely held beliefs"...? That there is huge prejudice towards female patients, again by doctors of both genders, to dismiss their female patients complaints as female griping, and melodrama...? (see the recent case of Serena Williams post childbirth)

    Are you an MD., a man of science, not aware of this phenomenon, that has been getting a fair amount of press the last few years?

    Well its real, its pervasive and its dangerous! And it stems from the entrenched Patriarchy that recent non-medical news events have shone yet another light upon.

  16. I exercised up until 36 weeks with my first child, a daughter. I boxed, did barre, and plenty of yoga. I was constantly physically exhausted, and in near constant pain in my back, hips and rib cage. I thought this was normal because pregnancy is, as any woman who has gone through it knows, physically taxing. I ended up with a 9 pound baby and a c-section likely because of genetics.

    My second pregnancy, I stopped exercising at 20 weeks. Up until that point I was also so exhausted I could barely walk a block in the afternoons — granted i was taking care of a toddler, and doing HIT classes three times a week. Now, at 34 weeks, my body is in much better shape. I feel aches and pains, but they are manageable. I am tired, but I can get through the day. I really think this is because I stopped pushing myself physically with exercise.

    Our society puts enormous pressure on women to stay thin, healthy and strong at all times, even during pregnancy. I think there are probably some women who will thrive doing intense exercise during pregnancy, but for most, the pregnancy is taxing enough. Along with messaging that it’s ok to exercise, there should be mention that it’s also ok to let yourself rest and listen to your body. You will not be less strong. You will not be too weak to go through childbirth, or to carry your child.

    Unspecific studies like this allow a new industry of pregnancy fitness experts to advertise and scare a vulnerable population — first time pregnant women.

  17. I played drums (hard) in a heavy metal band up until a week before my boy was born. I also continued to roadie all my own equipment. It felt great. Baby healthy. The looks and comments of audience members and club owners about my judgment were both unwanted and unwarranted. I for one am glad for this article, though it shouldn’t be necessary. Women’s bodies and minds are incredibly strong. Just consider the slaves who gave birth in the cotton fields.

  18. I've experienced three pregnancies in which I ran pretty much for the entirety of the pregnancy and had good outcomes. At the time, my doctors advised against this, but I had been running routinely for some time and wanted to continue. I just listened to my body. All the babies were at least 8 lbs and full term and I stayed in very good shape. It took a long time for doctors to catch up with what some women figured out for themselves.

  19. @Kathryn Aguilar Same for my 5 pregnancies. Running all 9 months was fantastic. Made labor and delivery much easier. And continuing to run postpartum kept the baby-blues away.
    To this day my children are lean and strong, effortlessly, as it seemed to change them too, in-utero.

  20. That's no excuse for endangering your unborn child. Suppose you do go mountain climbing and go into labor. What then? It is sickening, the pressure against valuing pregnancy and taking ALL precautions to ensure a safe childbirth.

  21. @Grittenhouse I suppose you could minimize some of those looming dangers by spending your pregnancy in bed—but then you could get tangled in the bedclothes and break your leg when getting up to make a trip to the ladies.

    Pregnant women should do what's normal for them. If they run marathons, why not keep running? If they don't, this is not the time to begin.

  22. This article is down right dangerous. The study group very small. The article pushes a lot conjecture as fact. Pop science at its worst.

  23. "But there has been surprisingly little research into the actual effects of vigorous activity on pregnancy and delivery." How about near zero? Surprised? Hardly. Not when we know that most medical studies over the decades have focused on the male form - then making huge illogical assumptions towards the female bodily functions.

    All of the alleged risks to the pregnant exercising, and/or vigorously working woman, are pure patriarchal propagandist claptrap! Meant to do nothing but convince (western) women and men that females are weak - even when it comes to doing what ONLY females evolved to do! Bear children, and do so in fair weather and foul! Under stress and bliss, and all the shades between.

    "Oh the weak female, they cant even bear the weight of being pregnant. They must rest, be pampered." The myth of the hyper fragile woman. Patriarchy writ large upon the culture.

    All while humans have lived and thrived in the most dire of conditions, all while the women managed to do most of the chores and care-taking of their families and clans, while being pregnant. Yet (western) women are delicate little-flowers, that cant handle what they are built to do.

    When are we, the culture gonna wake from this somnambulism? When are we gonna shed these myths of the fragile female? About how they easily get confused, disremember easily, cant climb X, or conquer Y, or simply do whatever males can do, and more times better, and with less of their egos attached, or so easily wounded?

  24. @Boregard

    Self-righteousness can give you a stroke.

    All over the world, in Western societies, in Asian societies, in Africa and in Polynesia, there are women with autoimmune diseases, undiagnosed thyroid conditions, undiagnosed kidney conditions: any one of which can lead to complications during pregnancy, birth & post-partum recovery.

    The sad truth is that since the dawn of modern medicine, let's say with Pasteur, for argument's sake, only a small investment has been made in understanding diseases of the female reproductive system. There are many.

    Many girls have painless menses. Plenty don't. Your strident attitude that women must "get on fulfilling their biological destiny" without anyone even having bothered to check if their thyroid levels are normal, or if their cervix does not have a congenital malformation that might prevent its dilation, or if their endometrium is not packed with cysts & polyps making normal processes impossible actually represents the exact opposite of what you claim to be advocating.

    Strength comes from knowledge. Ignorance only leads to bad outcomes. Women with impaired thyroids give birth to children with serious cognitive deficits & other problems. It's not all as straightforward as you think.

    Pregnancy is not a romp for most women. It never has been. Study the infant & maternal mortality charts from the historical eras you are so nostalgic for.

    My husband's grandmother had 18 children. Nine died. You think there's glory in that past?

  25. I’d be interested in follow up a few years down the road, especially with regard to pelvic floor integrity and prolapse in women who did high impact actitivites during pregnancy.

  26. This article specifically fails to mention that the Sherpa people are genetically predisposed to draw oxygen more efficiently from air.

    “The researchers found that even at baseline, the Sherpas’ mitochondria were more efficient at using oxygen to produce ATP, the energy that powers our bodies.”

    Perhaps this impacts the findings of one lone pregnant Sherpa elite athlete whose results are cited in this article to be an example for all pregnant women.

  27. Every pregnancy is different.

    Do you want to accept the responsibility for having been deadly wrong in the event that your case does not go to plan?

    The stakes are simply too high.

  28. How in the world does a study of elite athletes,including Nepalese, who have genetic adaptations to low-oxygen environments, have any relation to a "normal" women (who in Western society is most likely moderately overweight?)

  29. A pregnant sherpa ultra-marathoner? Why not just take pregnant bigfoot anecdotes and extrapolate from that? Anyone contemplating hanging out in a low oxygen environment while pregnant maybe needs to rethink parenthood.

  30. The title is misleading; making to Everest Base Camp, though an accomplishment in itself, is not the same as an attempt on the summit. It should be noted that men and women who were not pregnant have suffered serious health issues and/or died at or near Everest Base Camp due to exposure and altitude.

  31. So glad the word is getting out. Staying in shape during pregnancy makes it so much easier in labor and dealing with postpartum depression.

    I ran 8+ miles daily all nine months for my five children. It was the greatest gift to both of us. The children were born lean and strong, and are still that way, effortlessly, as adults - despite obesity running in my family.

    More support and encouragement needs to be heard, for exercise during pregnancy!

  32. "The children were born lean and strong," as opposed to fat and weak? While I agree physical exercise in pregnancy plays an important role, 8 miles a day seems absurd to me. Actually running 8 miles a day even outside of pregnancy seems insane, everything in moderation. I'll take daily brisk walks and a healthy lifestyle over the insanity of black toe and shin splints.

  33. I wonder about the effects of vigorous exercise on early pregnancy. It seems likely that hard exercise, especially exercise that involves pounding, might make it difficult for an early pregnancy to take hold.

  34. @Hopepol - That early pregnancy is so tiny, just a few cells, that it doesn't need much a bond to stick to the uterine lining that is all prepped to welcome it.

  35. This should be obvious to anyone who accepts evolution as the origin of humanity. If running away or fighting predators would be impossible during pregnancy, there probably wouldn't have been many humans today, especially since childbirth already is so complicated and dangerous for our species.

    And what perverse world have we created where physical strength is depicted as bad for your health? Loss of strength is the no 1 cause for deterioration of quality of life. Everybody loses strength while aging, but it's so much better if you start from a higher level and fight the decline.

    It's almost like the patriarchy wants us to be weak, and uses any pseudo-science and nonsense explanation to try and convince us to stay that way. No more! In more ways than one, it's time for women to become strong.

  36. You mean I wasn’t allowed to hike in Norway during the week I delivered? I’m pleased no one in that healthcare system thought to tell me beforehand.

  37. Physical activity is good.....exercise to prevent adequate weight gain is not. Women who do not gain adequately because they fear being "fat" risk having a premature baby.