Water Aerobics in Pregnancy Lessens Labor Pain

This post was originally published on this site
INSERT DESCRIPTIONExercising away labor pain? (Lars Christensen/iStock)

Moderate exercise during pregnancy appears to markedly lower a woman’s need for epidural pain relief when she delivers her baby, a new study suggests.

Many women hope to have natural childbirth without pain drugs but find labor so difficult they end up requesting an epidural, which provides pain relief through injection of a painkiller into the epidural space at the base of the spine. Ideally, the epidural only dulls the pain, and women remain alert and can still play an active role in labor.

However, there is a downside. Epidural pain relief may also slow labor and may make the pushing stage longer and more difficult because women lose sensation in their lower body. Even when very little drug is administered, some hospitals won’t let women walk around once they’ve had an epidural.

A small study published in the medical journal Reproductive Health suggests that women can influence their risk for needing pain relief long before labor starts. Researchers from Brazil recruited 71 expectant mothers prior to their 20th week of pregnancy. The women weren’t regular exercisers at the time of the study.

The investigators randomly assigned 34 women to a regular water aerobics course which lasted 50 minutes three days a week. The remaining 37 women in the control group didn’t exercise.

The light aerobic exercise didn’t have any effect on the duration or type of delivery the women experienced. But there were dramatic differences in terms of requests for pain relief. Among women who didn’t exercise, two out of three women requested epidural pain relief during labor. But among the water aerobics group, only 27 percent of women asked for pain drugs.

Although the study size was small, the researchers noted that the water aerobics course may have helped better prepare women both emotionally and physically for the rigors of labor. The biggest problem was that about one-third of the women in the exercise group had to give up the classes at some point in the study because of time constraints, child-care conflicts and other issues that made it difficult to attend the class.