Running for Two
As a female runner there are many health issues to contend with. One that causes a lot of anxiety is pregnancy. Suddenly it’s not just yourself you have to look after, it’s another human being too who is rapidly growing inside you and sharing your body. It can be wonderful and exciting but also overwhelming, uncomfortable and a little frightening. Is it really ok to run? Will it cause harm to the baby? How fast and hard should your pace be?
Let's look at some of the most frequently asked questions.
I’ve just found out I’m pregnant, is it ok to keep running?
Thankfully the answer to this is YES! If you’ve been happily running before pregnancy, then there’s no reason for you to stop. Being fit and active during pregnancy will bring benefits to both you and your baby. You’ll suffer less of the aches and pains associated with being pregnant as well as having a lower risk of important health conditions like diabetes in pregnancy, high blood pressure and thromboembolism (potentially fatal clot formation in blood vessels). Labour is a bit like a marathon so if you arrive at the start line in good shape then you’ll find it easier and there’s some evidence that labour is shorter and less complicated in women who have exercised during pregnancy. (Please see the last section on when it’s NOT safe to run in pregnancy)
Can I race when I’m pregnant?
Your focus during pregnancy should be to maintain rather than increase your fitness. This means that sessions where you push your pace (and that includes racing) aren’t a good idea. You should be exercising at a 7/10 effort so you feel comfortable; being able to talk while you run is a good guide. Stick with distances you’re confident over and opt for chatty runs with friends of up to an hour in length. Don’t over exert yourself. Warming up and down properly is important too.
I’m pregnant, I’ve never run before but I want to start is that a good idea?
It’s best to stick with exercise that you’re familiar with but if your level of fitness is good and you’re regularly active and really want to start running then make sure you begin with a walk-run routine and keep within your comfortable zone (see above). If you’ve never exercised before then it’s safe and beneficial to start exercising but you should begin with walking for a few minutes at a time several times a day.
Am I more likely to get injured when I’m pregnant?
Yes, you are. Mother Nature cleverly releases a number of hormones to prepare your body for labour. One of these is called relaxin and it softens the ligaments which bind your pelvic joints together – they can then open up and allow baby out. Relaxin however works on other ligaments too so you are more likely to sustain injuries like back strains and ankle sprains. The other thing to bear in mind is that your shape changes and this alters your centre of gravity. As your bump enlarges you might find you lose your balance a bit and prefer not to run. Many women start off running and then progress to walking and swimming as their bump increases in size. It can feel uncomfortable across your abdomen too so it’s worth trying a special support belt to minimise ‘bump bounce’. Sometimes pregnancy hormones make women feel un-coordinated, clumsy and have slower reactions. Keep an eye out if this is happening to you and perhaps stick to smooth ground rather than trails and generally take extra care. Making sure you warm up properly can help avoid injuries.
I don’t usually eat or drink much before I run, is this ok now I’m pregnant?
Make sure you’re well hydrated and fuelled before and during your runs. Don’t run on empty, have a snack around half an hour before you go and stick to runs of less than an hour. Many women find their blood pressure drops quite low when they’re pregnant and this can make them feel a bit dizzy. Keeping well hydrated can minimise this so drink before, during and after exercise. Change position slowly when going from sitting or lying to standing to avoid dizziness. Avoid exercises where you lie flat on your back from 16 weeks of pregnancy as your bump can squash one of the main veins as it runs through your abdomen. Pregnancy is an ideal time to be looking at your diet generally and making sure you have top quality, fresh and varied food. You and your baby need a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to keep healthy. In the UK women are advised to take folic acid supplements (400 micrograms) from when they start trying to get pregnant up until they’re 12 weeks pregnant. 10 micrograms of Vitamin D are also recommended everyday throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. You may also need to take iron if your blood levels are shown to be low, your midwife will guide you.
My breasts are massive now I’m pregnant and they hurt when I run, what can I do?
Breasts enlarge during pregnancy in preparation for milk production, they can get very heavy and tender too. It’s really important to support them as much as you can. Get re-fitted for your sports bra – you may have to do this a couple of times while you’re pregnant. You can try wearing two bras, a moulded fitted cup sports bra with a compression bra or vest over the top.
How will I know if I should stop running?
Make sure you’re working at 7/10 and within your comfortable zone. The most important thing is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you feel at all unwell then slow down and stop. Things to look out for include feeling faint or dizzy, getting palpitations or pains in your chest, being unable to get your breath, pain in your back or low in your pelvis, severe headaches, bleeding or watery fluid from your vagina or painful contractions of your uterus. If any of these happen then seek immediate medical advice. Braxton-Hicks contractions are tightenings of the womb, they aren’t painful but can feel a bit uncomfortable. If Braxton-Hicks happen when you run, then it may be a sign that you’re doing too much. Rest for a few minutes to let them ease and then reduce to a walking pace. If they keep happening, then it’s wise to stick to gentler activities like walking and swimming to maintain your fitness. Be open-minded and flexible and adapt your exercise to how you feel.
When is it NOT safe to run in pregnancy?
Of course there are some women for whom running in pregnancy is not safe. If you’ve had bleeding in pregnancy and have a low lying placenta or you’ve had some early rupture of your membranes then it’s clearly not going to be safe for you to run. Problems in previous pregnancies can also be important so you should get personalised advice from your doctor or midwife if you are unsure.
Have you run whilst pregnant? How did you find it? What advice would you give other pregnant runners? Comment below and share your experiences.
Written by Dr Juliet McGrattan
Don’t forget, this blog is only a guide and shouldn’t replace medical advice from your own doctor.