Exercise and Pregnancy in Recreational and Elite Athletes Reviewed

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Prof. Kari Bø PhD Norwegian School of Sport Sciences Oslo, Norway

Prof. Kari Bø

Prof. Kari Bø PhD
Norwegian School of Sport Sciences
Oslo, Norway

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The background is that more and more female elite athletes continue to exercise into their 30s and beyond and more want to become pregnant and some to continue to compete at the same level after giving birth.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: To date there is little scientific knowledge on elite athletes and others who perform strenuous exercise (eg women in the military) during pregnancy and after childbirth and we therefore have to be cautious when recommending intensity levels of both endurance and strength training exercise. However, given the knowledge we have now.

  • Elite athletes planning pregnancy may consider reducing high impact training routines in the week after ovulation and refraining from repetitive heavy lifting regimens during the first trimester as some evidence suggests increased miscarriage risk.
  • There is little risk of abnormal fetal heart rate response when elite athletes exercise at <90% of their maximal heart rates in the second and third trimesters.
  • Baby birthweights of exercising women are less likely to be excessively large (>4000g) and not at increased risk of being excessively small (<2500g).
  • Exercise does not increase the risk of preterm birth.
  • Exercise during pregnancy does not increase the risk of induction of labour, epidural anesthesia, episiotomy or perineal tears, forceps or vacuum deliveries.
  • There is some encouraging evidence that the first stage of labour (before full dilatation) is shorter in exercising women.
  • There is also some encouraging evidence that exercise throughout pregnancy may reduce the need for caesarean section.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We will come back with an overview of important research questions, but the IOC for sure has identified the need for more research around these issues, specifically in elite athletes. It will be very difficult to perform randomized controlled trials in elite athletes and we need to start with both retrospective studies (asking and assess those who have already been pregnant and continued to compete) and prospective cohort studies (following elite athletes before or soon after they have become pregnant) 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: My main research area being the pelvic floor, there is an urgent need to investigate impact of strenuous exercise on these muscles after childbirth. In addition, we have almost no knowledge on how the abdominal muscles should be effectively trained both during pregnancy and after childbirth. 

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


Bø K, Artal R, Barakat R, et al

Exercise and pregnancy in recreational and elite athletes: 2016 evidence summary from the IOC expert group meeting, Lausanne. Part 1—exercise in women planning pregnancy and those who are pregnant

Br J Sports Med 2016;50:571-589.

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on October 12, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD