Big Change: Running & pregnancy

You don’t have to stop running when you become pregnant, but you do need to take things easier.



by RW

When you become pregnant, you’re likely to have loads of questions about your exercise regimen. The first is probably going to be, “Can I continue to run during my pregnancy?” The answer is: definitely. Research shows that exercise – including running – can be extremely beneficial for both mum and baby.

But pregnancy changes everything: you’re probably going to have to slow down and you might have to decrease your mileage. Eventually, you will have to stop, at least for a while.

The benefits

Studies show there are many benefits associated with moderate exercise during pregnancy. It will lower your risk of serious complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and may ease back pain, constipation and haemorrhoids. If you continue to run, you’re also more likely to have a positive body image during your pregnancy, feel upbeat, thanks to the positive energy you generate when you run, sleep better, experience an easier delivery and recover quicker after the birth.

In a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Danish researchers studied the sports and leisure-time activities of 5,749 healthy pregnant women in the first and early second trimesters of their pregnancies. They discovered that physical activity during early pregnancy is linked to lower risk of preterm delivery.

The women were divided into four groups based on their level of leisure-time physical activity: mostly sitting; more than three hours a week of light physical activity; more than three hours a week of sports or heavy gardening; and doing competitive sports several times a week. Moderate-to-heavy leisure-time activity was associated with a 66 per cent reduction in the risk of preterm delivery. And if you combine your running with another sport, there’s even better news: women who trained in one or more sports had a 91 per cent lower risk of preterm delivery.

However, you are an experiment of one when it comes to running and pregnancy, so it’s vital that you pay attention to your body and learn to listen for warning signals. 

Dr James Clapp III, author of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, says fit women can safely exercise for an hour at a time when they’re pregnant. Women who run beyond that are blazing their own trails. Researchers have no evidence that a woman accustomed to taking two-hour runs can’t safely continue during pregnancy; but they also have no proof that it has no detrimental effect.

Change your priorities

Your running goals should change when you become pregnant. Instead of chasing fast times or running for weight loss, now is the time to focus on your health and wellbeing. Put your training diary away, and focus on getting out there. Be aware of your changing body. Joints become looser when you’re pregnant (thanks to a rise in the hormone relaxin, which prepares your pelvis for the delivery).

One study concluded that women who run during pregnancy are not at any greater risk of injury but, all the same, you should be cautious, especially when running on uneven ground. And be aware of changes in your balance and centre of gravity as your body develops.

Find your level

How intensely you train during pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy fitness levels. The most important precaution is to avoid becoming overheated (a core body temperature above 38C could increase the risk of birth defects). Obstetricians have long recommended pregnant women keep their heart rate under 140 beats per minutes; however, they now realise that a better measure is simply how hard a workout feels. You should be able to carry out a conversation, which equates to a perceived rate of exertion of around six, according to guidelines published by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (rcog.org.uk). A good clue: if you feel lightheaded or can’t catch your breath, your brain and body aren’t receiving enough oxygen – a sure signal that your baby isn’t either. You should also avoid running at altitudes of more than 2,500m. 


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