You’ve just found out you’re pregnant and you are a regular runner can you continue? Yes! If you are already a runner finding out you are pregnant does not mean you have to stop.
How will keeping fit and healthy during pregnancy help you when it comes to having the baby? Are there any BENEFITS to keeping up with your running whilst pregnant?
The benefits of keeping fit and active during pregnancy are many, improving both your physical and mental health. It is well known that running releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, and evidence shows that women who exercise during pregnancy may be able to cope better with the stress and endurance needed during labour, leading to a shorter and less painful birth. It has also been suggested that foetuses of exercising mothers tolerate labour better than those of non-exercisers.
Exercising can also help to reduce excessive weight gain, and minimise the effects of swollen ankles, insomnia, depression and fatigue as well as reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.
What if you’re pregnant and want to start running. Is it OK to do so if you take it slowly and build up gradually?
Pregnancy is a time to maintain your running rather than increase your training schedule. If you are not already a runner now is not the time to start, your muscles and joints won’t be used to the impact that running requires and this could put you at risk of injury. You can however, maintain your fitness with other forms of cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, cycling or brisk walks.
How will the BODY CHANGES you’ll go through as a pregnant woman affect the way that you run? Will they slow you down or leave you more PREDISPOSED TO INJURY?
The body is amazing at adapting to pregnancy, allowing you to continue to run while maintaining a constant environment for your growing baby. As your pregnancy progresses the nausea felt during the first trimester gives way to a more energetic you in the second, this is also the time that you will start to notice physical changes to your body.
Biomechanical changes occur to accommodate the change in weight and body mass distribution and help to keep your walking pattern as normal as possible minimising the waddle! These changes mainly happen around you lower back and pelvic area and place extra pressure on your muscles and joints especially your knees, gluteal muscles and calves. Runners may feel these changes more than most which can predispose you to hip, knee or foot injuries, or exacerbate previous injuries if you don’t monitor your training.
If you are running at the end of your second and into your third trimester your running will be becoming less efficient. The baby will start to push on your diaphragm and bladder so you will get breathless more easily, and may have to schedule more toilet stops.
At this later stage you may want to cease running or substitute some sessions for low impact exercises such as swimming, cycling or a cross-trainer. Pre-natal Pilates is also a great form of training concentrating on posture, balance, pelvic floor and core strength.
If you are a competitive runner work closely with your trainer, you can still train for events, however do not expect to maintain your peak fitness level.
What things do you need to be more AWARE OF if you decide to continue running when pregnant? Do you need to take on more of certain nutrients, should you take supplements, or should you up your calorie intake?
Here are a few things that you need to think about…
Nutrition: Guidelines state that you need approximately 300 extra calories per day from the second trimester onwards on top of your normal intake as a runner. Consult your GP for guidance.
When to run: Schedule your running around times of the day that you feel less fatigued or nauseous.
Overheating: It is really important not to overheat as you train especially during the first 12 weeks of the baby’s development. Run in loose fitting clothes, outside or in a well ventilated room. Allow your body time to warm up and cool down after a run and don’t run in excessively hot or humid conditions if you are not used to them.
Support: Make sure that your trainers are supportive and correctly fitted. Your foot size may increase due to swelling, and you may have to buy new trainers to ensure that your feet are comfortable. Invest in a good sports bra to minimise discomfort when you run. You may consider wearing a pelvic or back support belt during exercise.
Hydration: Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise.
Know your limits: Schedule sessions for 30-45 mins only. Always work at a comfortable level and never run to the point of exhaustion, try the ‘talk test’ you should be able to maintain a conversation while training.
There is some evidence that intense, prolonged exercise can inhibit the babies growth possibly due to the mothers energy demands exceeding the bodies ability to compensate and provide the baby with constant oxygen and energy.
Heart rate: your heart rate will increase during pregnancy by as much as 10-20 beats per minute and is affected by many things including age and previous level of fitness so it is hard to set a definitive upper limit. Working on a scale of 0 = feeling nothing at all, to 10 = very, very hard maximal effort, your cardio vascular work out should rate somewhere between 5-8 on this scale. Consult your GP if concerned.
Balance: As your baby grows your centre of gravity and balance will be challenged so run on even ground to minimise risk of falling.
Vary your training by substituting some of your regular runs with non-weight bearing cardio vascular exercise such as swimming, static bike or the cross trainer. Add some sessions of strength and conditioning into your weekly routine including pelvic floor exercises, and upper limb strength to prepare you for lifting your baby.
Listen to your body, if you are uncomfortable stop. Don’t ignore pain or fatigue, remember everyone’s bodies will react differently to pregnancy, so don’t compare yourself by other people.
When to stop? If you are experiencing dizziness, headache, excessive breathlessness or fatigue, abdominal or pelvic girdle pain, fewer movements from the baby or bleeding, stop and seek medical attention if your symptoms don’t ease.
When you have had the baby, how soon can you return to running?
Having had time off, you may be desperate to return to your running training after having a baby. Running provides valuable ‘me’ time and post natal exercise has been shown to reduce the incidence of post natal depression and speed your recovery.
It will take your body at least 4-6 weeks or longer to recover after the birth of your baby, and it may take up to a year to fully return to normal.
If you have had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery you can begin light exercise such as walking or swimming after the first few days if you are not experiencing pain or bleeding. More strenuous exercise such as running can commence after your six week check-up if all is well. If you have had a surgical birth such as a caesarean you are advised to wait up to three months to start more strenuous exercise.
Does the fact that running is high impact affect your body in a negative way after having a baby? How much should you reduce your time/distance when you run?
When you start running again you must take into account your pregnancy level of fitness and increase your distance and speed gradually. Your general fitness and strength will have reduced during your pregnancy especially your core and pelvic muscles even if you have trained throughout. This will predispose you to a greater risk of injury if you start too much running too soon.
Do not over train and monitor your weight, you should lose no more than 1-2 lbs per week, and you may need to increase your calorie intake as you increase your training particularly if you are breast feeding.
What other factors do you need to bear in mind?
Breast feed before you go running and invest in a good sports bra to minimise discomfort.
Some women may find that they suffer from a slight leakage of urine when they run after having a baby, this is due to the increased stretch and possible trauma sustained by the pelvic floor muscles during a vaginal delivery. It is vital to continue with your pelvic floor exercises in the post-natal period.
Would you be better off sticking with other sports that are non-impact?
Low impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, a cross-trainer, rowing and Pilates may all be more comfortable and can be used as alternative training if you are finding running too much in the early stages.
- Recreational exercise and pregnancy: Sept 2006 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Guidelines
- ‘Dietary interventions and physical activity interventions for weight management before, during and after pregnancy’ July 2010, NICE guidelines
- The benefits of physical activity during pregnancy, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, March 2002, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 37-45,
- Characterization of the relationship between joint laxity and maternal hormones in pregnancy, Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2003, Feb; 101 (2):331-5, Marnach et al