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It wasn’t long ago that the sight of a pregnant woman running on the sidewalk alongside the road would have most drivers turning their heads to stare in either astonishment or concern, but the fact of the matter is that many women now run through part—or even all—of their pregnancy. In fact, running during pregnancy can be just as beneficial to maternal health as running any other time, and the developing baby may enjoy benefits as well.
That said, if you are pregnant and hoping to continue running, there are certain considerations to keep in mind and adjustments that should be made to your training to ensure safety for you and your baby. Moreover, some mothers are unable to continue pounding the pavement, trails, or even treadmill during pregnancy due to discomfort or pregnancy complications, so it’s important to remember that your body is unique and your needs and responses to running may differ from other women. With that in mind, keep reading for our guide to running while pregnant and get ready to enjoy this special season in your life as a runner.
Can I Run While Pregnant?
Medical professionals say that the general rule of thumb when it comes to running during pregnancy is that if you were running prior to conceiving, it’s perfectly safe to continue running during your pregnancy. On the other hand, if you are new to the sport, beginning running for the first time—or after a long hiatus—during pregnancy is unadvisable. Instead, it’s best to speak with your doctor about other forms of exercise and continue low-impact exercise or forms of cross-training like swimming, walking or hiking, elliptical trainer, or indoor cycling. It is recommended that pregnant women try to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week as long as they are healthy and the pregnancy is going smoothly.
When to Talk to Your OB
Running during pregnancy has not been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage, nor has exercise in general, so rest assured that it should be safe from a medical standpoint for most women to continue running after conceiving. However, even if you were running regularly prior to becoming pregnant, there are certain cases where running during pregnancy is not safe. Running is contraindicated if you are diagnosed with or experience any of the following conditions:
- Severe anemia
- Placenta previa
- Cervical cerclage
- Certain types of heart and lung disease
Additionally, if you are pregnant with more than one baby or are at a heightened risk for preterm labor, you should definitely talk to your medical provider about running or doing any form of exercise during your pregnancy. Finally, if you experience headaches, vaginal bleeding, calf swelling or pain, amniotic fluid leaking, chest pain, or dizziness, it’s imperative that you speak to your OB or medical professional before continuing to run.
The Benefits of Running During Pregnancy
You’re likely already familiar with some of the many benefits running can provide you at any point in your lifecycle. Running during pregnancy can afford you with additional benefits for you and your baby—a reward for your hard work getting out there as your body changes and the physical demand increases. Some of the benefits of running during pregnancy include the following:
- Easier labor. Running during pregnancy keeps you fit and healthy, which may help ease your delivery and help you recover afterwards so you can enjoy the first few weeks with your new little bundle of joy.
- Reduced risk of complications. Complications like preeclampsia, preterm birth, high birth weight, gestational diabetes, and the need for cesarean section delivery are reduced in women who exercise regularly throughout their pregnancy.
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Weight gain during pregnancy is inevitable and important to support your developing baby, but excess weight gain can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have found that running, in particular, during pregnancy can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Improved mood. Runners are familiar with the feel-good endorphins that flow after a good run. Running during pregnancy can reduce the risk of depression by 67 percent, according to a 2020 study, and elevate your mood and energy levels. It can also help manage anxiety and stress.
- Better bowel regularity. Running during pregnancy can ease constipation and improve digestion.
- Boosting fetal brain development. Research has found that running or exercising during pregnancy seems to increase the rate of fetal brain development, so all those miles you’re putting in may pay off for your baby as well.
Running Hydration and Nutrition During Pregnancy
While proper hydration and nutrition are always important when running, it’s especially critical to nourish your body and keep fluid levels optimal during pregnancy. You’ll want to take in extra water before, during, and after a run, and consider an electrolyte replacement drink if it’s hot out and you’re a heavy sweater. The extra pressure on your bladder may have you running—literally!—to the bathroom more often though, so see if you can plan your routes around available restrooms or stick close to home. One note when it comes to running in the heat, if it’s over 102 degrees, it is not safe to run outside when you’re pregnant. Your body can overheat, which can cause neural tube defects in your developing baby.
In terms of nutrition, it is important to provide your body with the nutrients and calories it needs to support fetal growth, your own health, and repair and recovery from running. Three meals with two or three snacks in between is probably enough, but you’ll want to speak with your doctor or a registered dietician about your specific needs. Pre-run snacks that are high in complex carbohydrates will help fuel your muscles with the energy they need for sustained running. Ideas include fresh or dried fruit, whole grain bread with nut butter, oatmeal or a healthy cereal, or a sweet potato. After a workout, focus on balanced macronutrients with a snack like a protein-packed smoothie with fresh berries, banana and almond butter, or hummus and veggies and crackers.
What to Expect When Running During Pregnancy
We all have days when we feel like our legs are trudging through quicksand on a run and we just don’t have the effortless bounce in our stride we long for, but running during pregnancy will naturally bring about a host of different challenges and feelings on your feet due the changes your body is going through. It is totally normal and expected that your pace will slow and you may feel some new discomforts due to the following:
Changes in weight and balance.
In the second and third trimester, you’ll be putting on weight. This will make running more challenging as your body adjusts to carrying more. Moreover, your center of gravity changes with your growing belly, so it’s very important to be mindful of your balance and footing. It’s advisable to steer clear of uneven trails or terrain and you may even want to consider putting your miles in on a treadmill for safety.
Changes in joints, ligaments, and muscles.
Hormones such as relaxin increase during pregnancy and make your ligaments and connective tissues looser, which can increase the risk of injury. The round ligament is particularly prone to stress, and if you feel pelvic or abdominal pain, speak to your doctor before continuing to run. Added weight and changes in the stress on joints and bones can also increase the risk of injury, so it’s critical to listen to your body and reduce mileage, walk, or cross train if you experience new pains or lingering discomfort.
As your belly and breasts grow during pregnancy, it’s normal to experience more bouncing as you run, which can be quite uncomfortable. Consider investing in some high-quality sports bras and a belly band to support your changing body.
Should You Adjust Your Training Schedule/Intensity During Pregnancy?
It’s almost a given that you’ll need to make some adjustments to your training while pregnant. Though there are certainly examples of women that have run—and even raced—up until hours before giving birth, most women find that somewhere along the nine months leading up to the exciting arrival of the baby that they need to significantly scale back or stop running altogether.
In the first trimester, your body hasn’t physically changed much, but many women experience debilitating nausea, which may make running impossible.
The second trimester is often dubbed “the sweet spot” when it comes to how you feel and your ability to run, and you may be able to carry on with your training as you would normally. That said, it’s usually best to cap runs at an hour and keep an effort intensity at a maximum of 8/10 if you’re running by feel or 75 percent of your max heart rate. If you do experience any pelvic, abdominal, back, or joint pain, however, you may need to cut back or stop running.
By the third trimester, your body shape and size will be quite different, so it becomes more important to be careful with your balance, discomforts, and fatigue.
No matter where you are in your pregnancy, listening to your body is the key to safety as you continue to run. Do your best to enjoy this season of your life for what it is, and anticipate the miles and adventures you’ll enjoy—perhaps with your baby in tow—in the coming years.