Pregnant women who follow a healthy diet and indulge in regular moderate exercises are less likely to have a Cesarean section or gain weight as well as develop diabetes in pregnancy, scientists, including one of Indian- origin, have found.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in the UK found that dieting combined with physical activity significantly reduced the mother’s weight gain during pregnancy by an average of 0.7 kilogramme.
It also lowered the odds of the mother having a Cesarean section by about 10 per cent, researchers said.
“For every 40 mothers who follow the healthy diet and moderate exercise, one less woman will end up with a Cesarean section,” said Shakila Thangaratinam, professor at QMUL.
Cesarean section can carry risks such as infections for the mother and breathing difficulties for the baby, researchers said.
Changes in lifestyle reduced the risk of diabetes in pregnancy by 24 per cent, which normally affects over 1 in 10 mothers in pregnancy, and increases risks of complications in mother and baby, researchers said.
“Often with interventions like these, certain groups benefit more than others, but we have shown that diet and physical activity has a beneficial effect across all groups, irrespective of your body mass index, age or ethnicity,” Thangaratinam added.
The research looked at the individual participant data for 12,526 pregnant women across 36 previous trials in 16 countries.
It compared the effects of dieting (including restriction of sugar sweetened beverages, promoting low-fat dairy products, increase in fruits and vegetables) and physical activity (moderate intensity including aerobic classes and stationary cycling, and resistance training for muscle groups).
Researchers found no strong evidence that the interventions affected offspring outcomes such as stillbirth, underweight or overweight births, or admission to a neonatal intensive care unit.
The lack of adverse effects should reassure mothers who have traditionally been advised not to undertake structured exercise or manage their diet in pregnancy.
“Our findings are important because it is often thought that pregnant women shouldn’t exercise because it may harm the baby,” Thangaratinam said.
“Babies are not affected by physical activity or dieting, and there are additional benefits including a reduction in maternal weight gain, diabetes in pregnancy, and the risk of requiring a Cesarean section,” she added.
The study was published in the British Medical Journal.