Pregnancy is an amazing time for a woman – but it can also be confusing and scary, with all the advice flying around for expectant mums. If you’re a runner when you become pregnant, the big question is: “Should I stick at it?”
Running in pregnancy is safe for most healthy pregnant women, and regular aerobic exercise can help with both physical fitness and psychological well-being. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) suggests that all pregnant women participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy.
They suggest previously sedentary women should begin with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times a week, gradually increasing the frequency and duration to 30-minute sessions four to seven times per week.
However, due to the normal anatomic and physiologic changes of pregnancy and needs of the foetus, some tweaks to your normal running routine may be needed at different stages of your pregnancy. Here’s three points to consider.
“As an obstetrician, I agree that all adults, including pregnant women, should get at least 30 minutes of exercise on all or most days of the week. However, this will depend on your previous fitness level and obstetric history, as well as your current pregnancy,” says Dr Nitu Bajekal, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, as well as joint founder of Women for Women’s Health UK (womenforwomenshealth.co.uk).
“For most healthy pregnant women, running is best done in moderation at all stages of pregnancy; think of being able to have a normal conversation as you run,” she says.
The benefits are endless: running can stabilise blood pressure and body weight, it can help reduce risks such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and it can reduce the risk of a caesarean delivery. Running can also help you keep a positive body image and fight off antenatal depression.
If you’ve never run before, taking it up for the first time during pregnancy is probably not advisable. But if you are keen, get specialist advice. “Start by exercising slowly and for short periods of time, initially just 10 to 15 minutes, and stop if you feel breathless or have difficulty talking,” suggests Dr Bajekal.
“Fast walking would be a safer alternative,” suggests Julie, “and there is a link between daily vigorous exercise (more than five times per week, and this would include running) and growth restricted babies.” Frequency and intensity should be reduced significantly if you exercise this much.
If you are able to continue running in pregnancy, fantastic! You can look after baby and you by being aware of the changes your body is going through.
However, you will also be more susceptible to injury. Pregnancy hormones (progesterone) make your tendons much more supple to allow for the growing uterus, and the lumbar lordosis (the curve of your spine) is accentuated significantly by term, affecting your posture. With hyper flexible tendons and extra weight, the arches of your feet can become flattened, which can further impact on running gait.
Pregnant women are also prone to anaemia, particularly in the first two trimesters, which can affect the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles. “Coupled with a growing foetus pushing up into the diaphragm, you may find you become much more breathless,” she adds.
“It was my intention to run through both pregnancies,” says running coach Liz Yelling, who is a double Olympian and Commonwealth medalist. “But I soon found out not all pregnancies are ‘normal’. During my first I was diagnosed with placenta previa at 20 weeks, and I was advised not to run, so I continued to put on my running kit and get out the door but for a walk instead.”
During her second pregnancy with twins, Liz found it impossible to run after 24 weeks due to her size and extreme breathlessness, related to increased blood volume and anaemia. “You just have to go with what feels right sometimes and remember that the health of the baby comes first,” she says.
“For me, running when pregnant helped with evening out hormonal fluctuations and morning sickness, it helped me stay mentally sane and got me out in the fresh air.”