In 2017, Running USA reported that female runners are at an all time high, with 9.3 million female race finishers nationwide and females accounting for 57% of all race finishers. Many women continue to run through their pregnancy, return to running postpartum and begin running postpartum. As they should!!
When I got pregnant, I planned to keep running. For my whole career, I had been helping other women run during pregnancy and postpartum; therefore, I never even considered an alternative.
So when my first OB/GYN told me that it wasn’t safe to run during pregnancy: I fired her.
If I hadn't known better, I may have believed her. Luckily, my next OB/GYN was very supportive and understood where I was coming from. It is shocking that there are healthcare practitioners in this day and age that don’t understand the benefit of continuing exercise when pregnant. If you check out my disclaimer below (*) not everyone can continue to run, but the majority of the population will benefit from running and exercising during pregnancy. A recent study found that “Physical exercise in pregnancy has minimal risk...Regular activity in all phases of life, including pregnancy, promotes health benefits.”
These benefits include but are not limited to:
Systemic: Decreased nausea, fatigue, edema, blood glucose
Psychological (this was the most important thing for me!): Improved mood, decreased depression
Childbirth: Improved ease of childbirth, fewer Cesareans, less medical intervention, shorter active labors
Healthier baby: Babies have lower birth weights without negative effects, decreased risk for preterm babies
Improved recover postpartum
Now that you are aware of the many benefits, what else do you need to know? Your body will be changing every day. Physiologically, you will experience weight gain, increased blood volume and increased resting heart rate. You may experience difficulties with temperature regulation or edema (fluid) in your legs. Be kind to yourself. If you are tired and don’t want to run, then take a day off. I always felt better after I ran, and running helped decrease my nausea, but there were days I, too, stayed home because of fatigue.
Biomechanically, you will experience ligament laxity and changes in your center of mass (you may feel off balance). Your diaphragm will be elevated to make room for the baby so breathing will feel different, your feet may become wider and spread out, you will have increased lumbar lordosis (curve in the lower back) and your pelvis will rotate forward. These changes will inevitably affect your running form and balance, and you will likely have to make more bathroom stops! All of it is okay, but remember you will have to work with your body. You may need to wear more supportive bras or a belt around your belly to help hold it up. I did!
Pregnancy is not the time to get faster, win more races or set new running goals. It is a time to maintain where you already are. If you were already performing at a moderate/high intensity, then you can continue that way, as long as you are listening to your body.
Run 3-4x/week 35-90 minutes.
“Talk test”: if you can’t talk you are probably pushing too hard.
Dress appropriately: you will be hot, so use layers in the winter.
Properly hydrate because hydrating keeps all of your body systems going and your heart rate in check.
Strength training: keep strength training - your body is going to change, but you can still stay as strong as possible to protect yourself from injury.
So, if you are a runner and want to keep running during pregnancy, then go for it, as long as you don’t have any contraindications. You and your baby will benefit. Just make sure after you have your baby you check in with a pelvic health therapist and a running PT to make sure your body is ready and up to the challenge! Good luck out there. * Disclaimer: Talk to your MD first. There are some absolute contraindications that you and your MD might run into: hemodynamically significant heart disease, persistent bleeding, restrictive lung disease, placenta previa after 26 weeks, Incompetent cervix or celage, premature labor during current pregnancy, multiple gestation at risk for premature birth, preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced HTN, severe anemia and relative contraindications that you can speaks with your MD about________________________________________________________________________________
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Di Mascio D, Magro-Malossa ER, Saccone G, Marhefka GD, Berghella V. Exercise during pregnancy in normal-weight women and risk of preterm birth: a systematic review and meta-analysis of RCTs. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 2016; 561-571.
DeMaio M, Magann EF. Exercise and Pregnancy. J Am Acad Orthop Surg, 2009; 17: 504-514.
Mottola MF. Components of Exercise Prescription and Pregnancy. Clin Obstet Gynecol, 2016; 59(3);552-558.