Exercise During Pregnancy May Decrease the Risk of Cesarean Birth

Cesarean delivery is a birth method that may be needed if complications make a vaginal birth risky for the mom or baby. It is a surgery that requires a large incision into the abdominal and uterine walls, and therefore carries the risk of complications for mom and baby. The mother and the doctor will weigh the risk and benefits of each type of birth to determine what is best for the individual situation but when possible, vaginal birth is often safer for both the mom and the baby. Certain factors may decrease the chance of needing a cesarean section.

Researchers reviewed previous studies to find if exercise during pregnancy could decrease the need of cesarean birth. The review, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that structured exercise at least once per week was associated with lower risk of cesarean birth.

About the Study

The systematic review included 16 randomized trials that evaluated physical activity in 3,359 pregnant women. All women were pregnant with only one child. When comparing women who did strength or aerobic exercise at least once per week to those with no structured exercise, the review found that women who exercised had:

  • 15% lower risk of cesarean delivery
  • Decreased maternal weight gain (difference of about 2.5 lbs)

There was no blinding in the trials.

How Does this Affect You?

A systematic review is considered a highly reliable form of research because it combines large pools of data. The higher the number of participants the more reliable the results are. However, the review is only as reliable as the studies that make it up. Randomized trials are a reliable form of research but there was no blinding in these trials. People may alter their behavior which may may decrease the affect of the exercise intervention.

Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to have a variety of benefits for both mom and the baby. Each pregnancy is unique. Work with your health care team to find what works best for you for a happy healthy pregnancy. Create a birth plan with your team to help address your preferences during birth.


American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Pregnancy Association


Domenjoz I, Kayser B, Boulvain M. Effect of physical activity during pregnancy on mode of delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Oct;211(4):40.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 12/30/2014

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