Objective: To determine the fetal response to and safety of maximal maternal exercise in the third trimester.
Methods: Twenty-three active women with uncomplicated pregnancies (singleton gestations) underwent maximal exercise testing in late gestation using a progressive maximal cycle ergometer protocol. Fetal heart rate (FHR) responses were monitored and classified using National Institute of Child Health and Human Development guidelines. Statistical analyses involved use of the Student t test, repeated measures analysis of variance with Tukey-Kramer multiple comparisons posttest, and the chi(2) test.
Results: There was an increase in baseline FHR in the 20-minute posttest period compared with the 20-minute pretest period. There were significantly fewer accelerations in the second posttest 10-minute segment compared with the second pretest 10-minute segment. Variability was reduced in both posttest periods compared with the first 10-minute pretest period. Time to reactivity increased after testing. Mild tachycardia was noted in two tracings and bradycardia occurred in a fetus with previously undiagnosed growth restriction. There were no abnormal neonatal outcomes.
Conclusion: Maximal exercise testing in late gestation led to minimal changes in FHR. Fetal bradycardiac responses were not seen in appropriate for gestational age fetuses, suggesting that brief maximal maternal exertion for research or diagnostic purposes is safe in this group.