Exercise During Pregnancy: Obstetricians' Beliefs and Recommendations Compared to American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' 2015 Guidelines

Cureus. 2018 Aug 25;10(8):e3204. doi: 10.7759/cureus.3204.


Purpose Obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy is a growing problem, conferring severe health risks for both mother and fetus. Exercise can help combat this epidemic. However, many pregnant women are not meeting the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' (ACOG's) 2015 guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. The objective of this study was to evaluate obstetricians' beliefs and recommendations regarding exercise during pregnancy compared to ACOG's 2015 recommendations. Method Obstetricians were recruited via three different forums to complete a twenty-question survey: at a regional conference for Alabama and Mississippi ACOG members, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Obstetrics and Gynecology Department's Grand Rounds, and via telephone. Univariate statistical analysis was conducted with RedCap. Results Seventy-one surveys were completed: 33 from the ACOG conference, 27 from Grand Rounds, and 11 from those recruited by telephone. Eighty-eight percent (n=60) of respondents correctly identified ACOG's recommendation of unrestricted exercise for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. One-fourth (24%; n=16) regularly discuss exercise with most (76%-100%) pregnant patients. Most (57%; n=59) do not consistently ("never," "rarely," or "sometimes") recommend sedentary patients begin exercising during pregnancy. Nearly all (97%; n=66) advise first-trimester patients to perform aerobic exercise two to five days per week, but the recommended duration varies. One-fourth (24%; n=16) do not recommend strength-training exercise during the first trimester. Twenty-five percent (n=17) and 32% (n=22) recommend decreased aerobic or strength-training exercise, respectively, in the third trimester. More than half (54%; n=37) recommend pregnant patients limit exercise by heart rate, most commonly 121-140 bpm (25%; n=17) or 141-160 bpm (24%; n=16). Sixty-eight percent (n=46) feel "comfortable" or "very comfortable" providing advice on exercise during pregnancy. Conclusion Despite believing exercise benefits pregnant women, knowing ACOG's 2015 guidelines endorse unrestricted exercise for women with uncomplicated pregnancies, and feeling comfortable discussing this topic with patients, obstetricians are not consistently counseling their pregnant patients on exercise. Notably, physicians are not instructing their sedentary pregnant patients to exercise. While most physicians provide appropriate advice on aerobic exercise, their advice on resistance training, maximum heart rate during exercise and third-trimester exercise are often discordant with ACOG's guidelines.

Keywords: aerobic; exercise; guidelines; pregnancy; recommendations; strength training; survey.