Tips for running while pregnant
The benefits of an active pregnancy have been proven, with the exception of certain high-risk pregnancies of course. Active mamas-to-be can lower their risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and could even have a shorter and “easier” labor.
There are also potential benefits for their babies, such as stronger, healthier hearts and reduced risk of obesity later in life.
If you have been cleared by your doctor for physical activity and you were a runner before getting pregnant, you may enjoy logging miles throughout your pregnancy.
I talked to Celeste Goodson, an ACE certified pre/post-natal trainer with a bachelor’s in fitness and wellness management. You may know Goodson from her work with Olympian Alysia Montaño, a mother of two, or her work helping professional marathoner Stephanie Bruce recover from severe diastasis recti.
Goodson’s goal is to help women maintain fitness during pregnancy and come back strong and balanced after pregnancy. She also a runner and mother of three.
Her main advice to pregnant runners: listen to your body and constantly adjust. You may think running is off the table one week, only to have your pelvic pain dissolve the next. It’s all about the “way the baby is carrying, the level of laxity in the ligaments or alignment issues,” she says. These can change trimester to trimester and even day to day.
Also, Goodson reminds pregnant women that “while it is perfectly okay to run while pregnant, it is not a requirement for a healthy pregnancy.”
Do what’s right for you — there is no pressure.
OK, so listen to your body. But what are you listening for?
Goodson shared the top five things to look for:
- Pain: As a general rule, don’t run through pain, especially if you have pain in the back or pelvic area during pregnancy. Sometimes pain may only last a week or two and may go away with inner core and strength work or by using a belly support. If pain goes away, feel free to resume running.
- Overexertion: Pay attention to rate of difficulty instead of heart rate. The 140 beats per minute (bpm) rule is outdated advice. Heart rates can fluctuate based on fitness level, hydration, medicine and so on. If on a scale of 1-10, 10 being very difficult exercise, stay around a 4-7.
- Dehydration: Stay hydrated so the heart does not have to work harder than it needs to. Your body needs extra water for healthy development of your baby. Note that in general, your heart rate will be a little higher during pregnancy.
- Incontinence: Pregnantrunners may also experience some occasional urine leakage, but if it becomes a regular occurrence, it may be a sign that you should stop running and do a low-impact exercise for cardio. Doing inner core strength and relaxation exercises are important during pregnancy and can help offset pelvic issues as well.
- Anemia: Mild anemia is common during pregnancy, but it shouldn’t go untreated, even if it’s just mild. Blood volume increases 20-30 percent during pregnancy, and our bodies will need more iron. Runners tend to feel the effects of mild anemia more than those not running, and severe anemia can affect the baby. Doctors typically look at iron, hemoglobin and ferritin levels during pregnancy and may prescribe iron supplements if needed.
Gayle Matthews, MD, an OB/GYN with MultiCare Women’s Center – Tacoma, ran through both her pregnancies. She says you need to be on alert for bleeding, cramping and contractions. If any of those occur, or you have pain you’re unsure about, book an appointment.
Dr. Matthews encourages her running patients to keep running as long as their body is giving them the green light, and reminds them that not every pregnancy is the same.
“Every pregnancy feels different (just like our kids all look and act different, right?) and that’s OK,” she says. “Trust that your body will come back from this. It will.”
Both Goodson and Dr. Matthews recommend using a support band as your bump gets bigger. It will take pressure off your pelvis and support the weight of your baby.
Pregnancy can be hard physically and emotionally, especially for endurance runners who are used to logging high miles and fueling on daily endorphin hits. The biggest lesson I’ve learned through both pregnancies is to be flexible. The goal of an active pregnancy remains, but what it looks like might be different day to day.
If you’re a runner who finds pregnant running to be painful or unmanageable, find something else you enjoy. Goodson recommends the following to get your cardio while not risking injury:
- Aquatic exercise: If you have never tried it, get in the water when you are pregnant. It’s an amazing feeling when you step into the water and you don’t feel pregnant anymore! The water naturally lowers your heart rate and buoyancy helps take the stress and weight off your joints. Working out in the water (deep water, shallow water, hydrobiking, pool jogging) are all excellent ways to keep your cardio up.
- Stair climbing: While this may challenge the heart rate more, just take it a little slower and stay in your 4-7 rate of difficulty.
- Biking: Recumbent biking would be the easiest on the belly, since posture and center of gravity change during pregnancy. You can still get your heart rate up and work the cardiovascular system well.
On a personal note, I ran until around 30 weeks with my first pregnancy but was officially a walker by week 18 with my second.
Every woman and pregnancy is different — don’t make yourself frustrated trying to live up to your pre-pregnancy expectations of what kind of pregnant woman you thought you’d be.
Keep doing what you can: walk, swim, aquajog, dance, use the elliptical or whatever else feels right. Active pregnancy in the majority of these studies refer to 30 minutes of cardio a day, including walking. Don’t stress (or sit on the couch slamming ice cream) if running doesn’t feel good. Adjust and keep going! You’re doing great.
About The Author
Sarah Robinson is a runner, mom, brand storyteller and writer living and training in Tacoma. She has been running and racing for over 20 years and was a 2016 Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon with a PR of 2:42:36. She has raced and won Sound to Narrows once, and remembers it as one of the toughest (and most fun) courses she’s raced.More stories by this author