I’ve had many women approach me with similar questions regarding the safety of running while pregnant and how to progress through this exciting time. Becoming pregnant is an extremely exciting time. However, it can be stressful to navigate ensuring the health of your baby and the overload of information you often receive.
In this article, we will cover the following:
- Body changes that occur with pregnancy
- Common injuries and hard stop recommendations
- Running while pregnant myths and misconceptions
Importance of Exercise During Pregnancy: The benefits of exercising during pregnancy far outweigh the risks, especially when proceeding from an educated mindset. We know that an active pregnancy detailed with strength and endurance work can lead to the following — shorter labor progress, decreased excess weight gain during pregnancy, healthy birth weights, successful vaginal deliveries, reduced constipation, improved sleep, improved mood, and reduced rates of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. I have created this resource to provide education and confidence in enjoying running for as long as possible during your pregnancy and postpartum journey.
Body Changes That Occur with Pregnancy
After conception, there is a change in your hormonal profile that causes increased laxity in your joints to prepare for birth. This newfound flexibility can have its benefits, however, it can also result in increased recruitment of certain muscle groups like your low back and hips to provide stability to the pelvis. We see a decrease in core strength with progressing fetal and abdominal growth, increased pressure down on the pelvic floor, and a more forward change of the center of gravity. Your lung volume reduces as the fetus grows and pushes up against the contents of the abdominal cavity. All of these postural changes result in altered gait mechanics which can impact your efficiency and comfort with running.
Running While Pregnant: Common Injuries and Hard Stop Recommendations
Based on postural and stride changes, there is a risk of injury as you progress through pregnancy. Some common complaints include:
It is important to understand the difference between discomfort and pain, as these symptoms give us an indication that we should cease activity completely. These include the following: increased shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, dizziness, leaking urine, new bleeding, increased contractions, new pelvic pain, or a sensation of heaviness in the pelvis. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult with your OB and pelvic floor PT. They can provide additional guidance on how to modify an exercise to stay active during pregnancy.
Myths and Misconceptions of Running While Pregnant
“Running will send me into labor and stress the baby.”
Labor begins based on hormone signals. Running will not cause early labor but it is important to listen to your body’s signals if you are overdoing it. Studies have shown that recreational exercise does not cause preterm birth or change in birth weights. As stated previously, exercise, in general, has a multitude of benefits to consider as motivation to stay active!
“My doctor told me to keep my heart rate under 140 beats per minute with exercise.”
There are no new studies that indicate that maternal heart rate should be below 140 bpm in order to maintain the safety of the fetus. New research in mice has shown an increased rate of brain development and faster motor milestones achieved in children whose mothers were active while pregnant.
Questioning if your intensity is too much? Utilize the Talk Test while running to gauge exertion; you should be able to maintain a speed that allows you to comfortably talk/hold a conversation while running. For competitive runners, this may mean running with a partner or singing aloud to ensure accountability.
“Once I’m cleared at 6 weeks, I can return to running.”
Core and pelvic floor strength take much longer than 6 weeks to recover after both vaginal and C section delivery. Joint laxity present during pregnancy continues until breastfeeding is significantly reduced or removed altogether. This leaves your body prone to increased injury. Foundational exercises such as pelvic floor awareness, appropriate breathing mechanics, and diaphragm recruitment allow for appropriate pressure management. Incorporating these exercises can reduce your risk of prolapse, stress incontinence, and hernia if progressed appropriately.
Final Comments on Running While Pregnant
Running can be a completely safe activity for pregnancy as long as you are listening to your body. Consider these final points to ensure success:
- Staying hydrated – shoot for at least half your body weight in ounces per day. (A 140-pound female should drink at least 70 ounces of water and even more when exercising and/or breastfeeding)
- Eating enough calories – Now is not the time to think about trying to lose weight as your nutrition is vital to a strong, healthy baby. Make sure your intake is appropriate for your activity. Precision Nutrition has excellent resources for finding a baseline calorie goal and macros to support health.
- Avoid increasing mileage – if you are an experienced runner, consider keeping a moderate mileage. Experiencing increased stress, reduced sleep and discomfort? Mileage should be less to allow for recovery. Newer runner? Do not attempt to increase mileage during this time.
- Outdoor temperature awareness – avoid exercising vigorously outside when temperatures exceed 75°F to avoid overheating.
Every pregnancy is different and deserves a personalized plan to progress safely to birth. Gone are the days of recommending that pregnant women should only rest, perform gentle yoga and avoid lifting weights heavier than 5 pounds.
At Onward, our goal is to help guide you through this journey while keeping you active throughout the entire process. Still, have questions? Reach out via email or schedule an appointment on our website to get started!