Many of my ante natal pilates and fitness class participants in Epping ask me if it's safe to run during pregnancy.
Running During Pregnancy
If you are a non-runner, the chances are that a) you’re skipping this chapter, or b) you are reading it thinking, ‘as if’!
If you are a runner, you have probably jumped straight to this chapter. So let’s get stuck in.
Runners love to run. It makes us feel a little bit invincible. It also makes us feel free.
Pregnancy does not make you feel free. It rather gets in the way of running.
There are some amazing role models out there for running during pregnancy. Athletes like Jo Pavey, Paula Radcliffe MBE and Jess Ennis. These women run - fast - for a living. So during pregnancy their training was tailored to their changing body but they still ran.
If you are a runner, it is possible you even know someone (not so famous) who ran all through their pregnancy and was fine etc… I see lots of well meaning - and some just plain attention grabbing - pieces of social media content sharing pregnant women who run marathons, power lift or do aerial trapeze during pregnancy.
It’s inspiring BUT is it safe for you and for your growing baby?
If you are a runner and you are pregnant, then you probably don’t need me to share with you the many benefits of moderate exercise during pregnancy. Experts agree that moderate exercise can lower your risk of serious complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. It may also ease back pain, constipation and haemorrhoids (oh the joy of pregnancy) AND help increase your chances of an intervention free birth and quicker recovery.
Yes, yes this is fabulous but we sort of already know this. And whilst I love all of this advice it’s just not very specific. What about RUNNING and pregnancy?
Is running moderate exercise?
Is it high impact exercise?
Will my baby forever need to be bounced if that’s all he/she has experienced in utero?
When will I be able to run again?
These concerns (and many others) are all very real for the (am I still a) running mother-to-be.
Change your priorities
As with all things ‘mother-to-be’ your priorities will change from the moment you decide to have a baby. Your running training is no exception. Forget time trials, pace, hill training or marathons, you are going to need to reduce your intensity and probably stop for a while during pregnancy. It is also VITAL that you listen to your body. Runners, like any athlete, can often zone out of or into their pain in order to get an event or training session completed. Pregnancy is not the time to ignore how your body feels.
The intensity you can train at during pregnancy is all dependent on how fit you were before your pregnancy. For what it's worth, the Royal College of Obsetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommends training up to a ‘perceived rate of exertion’ level 6. This is still pretty challenging but not so hard that you can’t or don’t want to continue. As a guide, if you feel any shortness of breath or dizziness, then it’s quite possible that neither you, nor baby are getting enough oxygen in. Slow down sista’!
The impact of running
Aside from the cardio-vascular implications of running on the pregnant body, what about the bouncy action itself? There’s no accurate ‘one-size-fits-all’ measure for the impact of running on a pregnant body. Every woman reacts to hormones differently. Babies come in different shapes and sizes. So when it comes to running during pregnancy you can only be guided by your own body.
During pregnancy your centre of gravity changes, along with your posture. This can increase your risk of falling or injuries during pregnancy. Try to keep your running to steady terrain rather than rough, irregular surfaces or trail running. This will help keep you upright!
Bear in mind that as your body and posture changes and as baby grows, this can have a significant impact on your running gait. If joints start to hurt you may need to consider stopping, walking or changing the length/intensity of your sessions to make it more comfortable on your changing body.
Running and your body after pregnancy
Due to pregnancy hormones, your joints and ligaments can become more lax and stretched. Listen out for tell tale signs in your body, such as joint pain during or after running, or perhaps in the morning after you’ve run. Pain may be a sign you need to modify your running training.
It's also worth considering that there is, as yet, no measure of the impact of running during pregnancy on your body long term. During pregnancy we obviously focus a lot on the health of baby. Is your running safe for your unborn child? There's no reason to think otherwise if you run according to the recommendations, listen to your body and don't ignore contraindicationa. But what of your body, after pregnancy. Public Health England, the body responsible for those handy guides of what's good and what's not, haven't produced any data about the effects of exercise during pregnancy on a woman's body long term. In fact, it would be very difficult data to present.
As much as I love to promote exercise during pregnancy, it does always come with a healthy dose of, 'think about your long term health.' And if your joints are telling you it doesn't feel nice, stop, modify or take a break. Seek expert advice and take off your stubborn pants.
Do make sure you have had your running gait tested recently and consider new trainers for your pregnancy. The impact on your feet is only going to increase as your pregnancy progresses. If you are a pronator (your foot rolls in) then add at least a stone of baby and bump weight along with the impact of running and - you’ve guessed it - those rolling issues aren’t going to get any better. Make sure your footwear is up to the job.
Do get a proper sports bra, or two for your pregnancy (the old trick of one bra for holding and another for squashing can work wonders here). Your boobs will grow and bounce more than ever before. Not only can this be uncomfortable but it can irreparably damage the delicate Coopers Ligaments which keep your breasts pert. And I promise you, you are one lucky lady with amazing bosom genes if growing babies (and giant breasts) doesn’t direct your breasts a little south facing.
Do get compression tights/leggings in a size or two bigger. There are specialists shops for pregnancy ones but going up a few sizes should do it. This is to help support bump whilst you’re running.
A note on ligaments
Whilst most physical adaptations will return to their pre-pregnancy state after birth, it’s worth considering that ligaments in your body aren’t stretchy. Just as your skin can only stretch to a certain level before becoming irrepairably stretched, so your ligaments, the strong fibres which attach bone to bone (so fundamental to joint health especially stability and mobility) can not be unstretched. If the ligaments become stretched during pregnancy due to postural changes or injury, they are stretched for life and could affect future joint health. This is why it’s important NOT to ignore any pains whilst running during pregnancy (or any other activity for that matter). Postural changes + additional baby and baby support system weight + high impact activities + joint instability caused by pregnancy hormones = increased risk of ligament damage.
For more information on exercise, running and pregnancy check out these posts: