The effects of maternal exercise on fetal oxygenation and feto-placental growth

  • James F. Clapp III
    Present address: 3751 Greenfield Way, Byron, CA 94514, USA. Tel.: +1-925-516-1865/1-216-778-7341; fax: +1-216-778-8847.
    Departments of Reproductive Biology, Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Schwartz Center for Metabolism and Nutrition, MetroHealth Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA
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      Sustained bouts of maternal exercise during pregnancy cause an acute reduction in oxygen and nutrient delivery to the placental site. The decreased flow also initiates a slight fall in intervillous and fetal pO2 which initiates a fetal sympathetic response. This, coupled with hemoconcentration and improved placental perfusion balance, maintains fetal tissue perfusion and oxygen uptake.
      Exercise training during pregnancy (regular bouts of sustained exercise) increases resting maternal (and perhaps fetal) plasma volume, intervillous space blood volume, cardiac output and placental function. These changes buffer the acute reductions in oxygen and nutrient delivery during exercise and probably increase 24 h nutrient delivery to the placental site. Thus, the effect of any given exercise regimen on fetal growth and size at birth is dependent on the type, frequency, intensity and duration of the exercise as well as the time point in the pregnancy when the exercise is performed. Maternal carbohydrate intake is yet another modifying factor. Beginning a moderate exercise regimen increases both anatomic markers of placental function and size at birth while maintaining a rigorous exercise regimen throughout pregnancy selectively reduces growth of the fetal fat organ and size at birth. Likewise, decreasing exercise performance in late-pregnancy increases size at birth while increasing exercise performance decreases it. Finally, the infants born of exercising women who eat carbohydrates which elevate 24 h blood glucose levels are large at birth irrespective of exercise performance.


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