Love Running? Don’t Let Pregnancy Stop You
Written by Dr. Blair Green
Photography by Photo via Alysia Montano
Pregnancy means big changes in routine all around, but giving up a beloved running routine doesn’t have to be one of them (as recent Mother Essentials star and Olympian Alysia Montano can attest). There are many things that are appealing about running for exercise. For one, it is easy: Lace up your shoes, walk out the door, and you can just take off for as long as you would like. It is a highly efficient form of cardiovascular exercise. It is social: It’s easy to meet up with one or more friends and catch up on life while you pound the pavement. However, running during and after pregnancy is often approached with caution and even fear. Is it safe? Will I hurt the baby? How much is too much? When can I start again after giving birth? Many of the perceptions surrounding the safety of running during pregnancy are, in fact, myths. Running is not only a safe form of exercise, but research now shows that running during pregnancy may be beneficial not only for you as a mom and runner but also for your baby. Here are 10 things to keep in mind as you consider whether to run during pregnancy and how to return after giving birth.
Running is a safe form of exercise during pregnancy. There is NO evidence to support the claim that running is dangerous for women, or that it may harm the baby. In fact, research shows that exercise during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of preterm labor, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and the need for a cesarean delivery. New studies are showing that babies may benefit both physically and mentally if their mothers exercise while pregnant. Keep in mind, if you have never run before, it is not advisable to begin during pregnancy. As a general rule, it is okay to continue any exercise you were during prior to pregnancy as long as it does not cause pain, bleeding, risk of falling, or make you feel uncomfortable.
Do what makes your body feel good. Running is not a time to focus on a personal record. As pregnancy advances, you may need to modify the distances you run and running pace. Slow down if that feels more comfortable. Consider switching to a walk-run program later in pregnancy. Avoid overheating and dehydration by drinking more fluid before, during, and after exercise.
Use the “talk test” to determine intensity. Despite what you may read or hear, there is no optimal heart rate to maintain during pregnancy. Everyone has a different resting heart rate and everyone responds differently to exercise. A big factor is level of cardiovascular fitness prior to pregnancy. A good guide to be sure you are not overworking is called the talk test. You should be able to carry on a conversation without feeling winded or short of breath throughout your run. It is okay to slow down or take breaks so that you can keep your heart rate at a level where this is possible.
Support is KEY. Invest in a good maternity sports bra and running shoes with extra cushioning. The body changes during pregnancy. Weight gain is normal, but will increase what is known as ground reaction force (the amount of force your body absorbs as the foot hits the ground). Proper clothing and gear will help reduce the impact. Your body will thank you.
Stop if something does not feel right. Signs that intensity is too high includes headache, chest pain, loss of breath, lightheaded, bleeding from the vagina, and contractions. If you are experiencing any of these with exercise, stop immediately and call your doctor.
Give yourself time to recover after childbirth. The most recent guidelines recommend between 6 and 12 weeks of recovery before resuming running. Be sure to receive clearance from your OB/GYN before returning to any type of exercise.
Consult with a pelvic health physical therapist. Pregnancy and childbirth places strain on the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. Many women deal with problems such as urinary leakage, pelvic organ prolapse, and pelvic or back pain after pregnancy. A pelvic health physical therapist can perform several tests to determine when it is safe for your body to return to exercise and help you recover through manual therapies and exercise.
Diastasis Recti is common, and there are ways to rehabilitate. One postpartum myth is that Diastasis Recti Abdominus, or a split in the abdominal muscles, always requires surgery. The truth is nearly all women during pregnancy experience at least some abdominal separation and many recover with rest and time. A physical therapist can help prescribe exercises and modifications to manage this condition so that you can continue to stay active as your body heals.
Sleep is underrated. Recovering from childbirth can be mentally as well as physically challenging. Many running injuries, such as stress fractures, occur because women are pushing themselves too hard without getting appropriate rest and nutrition. Sleep is the body’s recovery time. A well-rested mom is a happy mom, who can return to running without pain or injury.
Once postpartum, always postpartum. Motherhood is one of life’s greatest joys. However, women’s bodies change with pregnancy. They are not better or worse, just different. Running is a way to feel like yourself, so enjoy the time on the road, with or without your baby in tow. Appreciate your new body and respect the changes. Take care of it, stay strong, but remember “slow and steady wins the race.”
Blair Green, PT, DPT,OCS, is the co-author of Go Ahead, Stop and Pee: Running During Pregnancy and Postpartum and a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a focus on pre/post-natal health and wellness, the founder/CEO of Catalyst Physical Therapy, and a board-certified orthopedic specialist.
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This is a great start at reframing pregnant and postpartum running! However, there’s a great deal of evidence it doesn’t address including: fetomaternal microchimerism and how it benefits the pregnant and postpartum person in athletic recovery, the fact that the ‘six-week wait’ has no basis in medical fact, and all the other performance enhancements received by pregnant athletes. Once we can shift the dialogue from symptoms to superpowers, we can take back control of our bodies. I’m glad to see Mother taking steps in that direction. PS: Alysia is such an inspiration!