Prenatal Exercise Affects Baby’s Brain

Moms-to-be who did light exercise had babies with better developed brains
May 5, 2018 Updated: May 5, 2018

We all know how important it is to exercise regularly for overall health, and that includes when you are pregnant as well. But did you know that prenatal exercise not only helps the moms-to-be, but also improves their babies’ brain development?

In a new study from the University of Montreal and CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital, a team of researchers conducted the first ever randomized controlled trial in pregnant women that measured the effect of prenatal exercise on the brains of babies in utero.

In this study, pregnant women at the beginning of their second trimester were assigned to one of two groups. Those in Group 1 performed cardiovascular exercise at a moderate pace (until they were slightly short of breath) for at least 20 minutes, three times a week. Women in Group 2 did not exercise.

After the women gave birth, the brain activity of their newborns was evaluated between the ages of 8 to 12 days. Researchers used electroencephalography to get their data, using 124 soft electrodes that were placed on the newborn’s head. Readings were taken after the babies fell asleep.

The investigators found newborns whose moms practiced prenatal exercise had “a more mature cerebral activation, suggesting that their brains developed more rapidly,” according to Elise Labonte-LeMoyne, a doctoral candidate and one of the study’s authors.

When the babies in the study reach one year of age, the researchers plan to evaluate all of them for their motor, language, and cognitive functioning to determine if the differences seen soon after birth carried forward.

Women have other good reasons to stay physically active during their pregnancy, with their doctor’s permission, of course. Pregnant women should always check with their physician before exercising to make sure there are no special conditions or complications that could limit their activities.

Otherwise, exercise during pregnancy can

  • Help maintain a healthy weight
  • Relieve stress
  • Improve posture and relieve back pain
  • Reduce constipation
  • Improve sleep
  • Prepare your body for childbirth and make labor and delivery easier
  • Make it easier to regain your pre-pregnancy figure after delivery

Deborah Mitchell is a freelance health writer who has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles. This article was originally published on