Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of caesarean and diabetes in pregnancy

06 August 2017
Pregnant woman exercising

The largest research project in the world looking at lifestyle interventions in pregnancy has found that exercise and a healthy diet can reduce the risk of caesarean section and diabetes in pregnancy.

The study, published in the BMJ, looked at diet and physical activity for more than 12,000 pregnant women living in 16 countries.

In the research, “dieting” involved the following eating patterns: restriction of sugar sweetened beverages, promoting low-fat dairy products, increase in fruits and vegetables while physical activity included aerobic classes and stationary cycling, and resistance training for muscle groups.

The researchers found that dieting combined with physical activity:

  • Significantly reduced the mother’s weight gain during pregnancy by an average of 0.7 kg compared to the control group
  • Lowered the odds of the mother having a caesarean section by about 10 per cent
  • Reduced the risk of diabetes in pregnancy by 24 per cent.

Professor Shakila Thangaratinam from Queen Mary University of London says the study found that while the mothers’ benefitted, there was no strong evidence that the unborn baby was affected in any negative way.

“Our findings are important because it is often thought that pregnant women shouldn’t exercise because it may harm the baby. But we show that the babies are not affected by physical activity or dieting, and that there are additional benefits including a reduction in maternal weight gain, diabetes in pregnancy, and the risk of requiring a caesarean section.

“This should be part of routine advice in pregnancy, given by practitioners as well as midwives. Now that we’re able to link the advice to why it’s beneficial for mothers-to-be, we hope mothers are more likely to adopt these lifestyle changes.”

Professor Thangaratinam says these interventions also proved to be positive for all women.

“Often with interventions like these, certain groups benefit more than others, but we’ve shown that diet and physical activity has a beneficial effect across all groups, irrespective of your body mass index (BMI), age or ethnicity; so these interventions have the potential to benefit a huge number of people.”

The study is limited in that the researchers were only able to broadly classify the ethnicity of women as Caucasian or non-Caucasian, and the vast majority of the population in the study had a medium-to-high education, a factor favouring compliance with interventions.

You can read the full study looking at the impact of lifestyle changes on pregnant women here.