Running for health and wellbeing when pregnant
When your fitness routine is established and you’re happy that you are reaping the health benefits of a regular running schedule, discovering that you are pregnant immediately poses more questions than answers. Is it safe to run when I am expecting? Should I start to run shorter distances? How long will I be able to continue to run for? Will running harm my unborn child?
Fortunately running in pregnancy offers the same health benefits to which you are already accustomed: improved circulation, a stronger heart, lower blood pressure and a greater sense of personal well-being. As you are more likely to feel tired more often, a gentle running schedule can help to alleviate these symptoms and, as you already know, running is easy to fit into your daily life.
How safe is running during early pregnancy?
As an established runner, continuing your schedule in the early stages of pregnancy shouldn’t cause too many issues, so long as you accept that pushing your body to breaking point isn’t wise; you’ll feel tired more quickly, especially in the first trimester, and because your baby’s organs are forming in the early weeks of pregnancy, preparing for the London marathon or a triathlon certainly won’t be possible. Therefore you should aim to run shorter distances at a more gentle pace. Most importantly, listen to your body and accept the signals it is sending you and, of course, consult your GP or midwife at your booking-in appointment.
If running is new to you then early pregnancy is definitely not the time to start a fitness regime; bear in mind, however, that once you have delivered your baby you will want to get your body back into shape, and running is a fantastic way to shed the weight and strengthen your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.
Remember your baby is cushioned in amniotic fluid so is protected from sudden movements; if anything, she is more likely to enjoy the regular motion when you exercise!
How long can I continue to run for?
As the pregnancy continues and your body changes, you will need to make some alterations to your training schedule. Due to the increased flexibility in your joints caused by higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone, you should significantly reduce the impact on your knees caused by intensive training. Running shorter distances at a very gentle pace is advisable; try alternating light jogging with extended stretches of brisk walking instead, on a flat surface that is less taxing on your upper leg muscles and provides more stability to help to prevent falls.
Remember that you should drink more than usual throughout pregnancy and exercise will dehydrate you more quickly.
Realistically even the most experienced runners cease running by a certain point in pregnancy – the most important thing is to be aware of the limitations of your body and don’t push yourself beyond your decreasing physical boundaries. There are plenty of alternative light exercises that you can focus on for the last few months, many of which are particularly suited to strengthening your abdominal muscles for the marathon effort which awaits you.
What danger signs should I be on the look-out for?
There are certain warning signs that you should always be aware of but you should aim to avoid these by enjoying a moderate, relaxing running schedule rather than pushing yourself to your limit and then worrying about the consequences later.
When running, avoid becoming breathless as this will only reduce the supply of oxygen to you and your baby; your heart is already working far harder than usual (pumping 50% more blood per minute from week 6) and, while a training programme before conception will help to keep your heart in excellent condition, you don’t want to subject it to strenuous activity during the pregnancy.
Running must be ceased immediately if you have difficulty breathing, bleeding or other fluid leakage, swelling in the legs (oedema), severe headaches, dizziness, decreased foetal movements or contractions (especially preterm). If any of these symptoms occur, consult your GP or midwife immediately.
Fit for life, fit for birth
Running is an excellent way to keep your body in tiptop shape before and during pregnancy and will help to prepare it for the strenuous demands of labour. However, proceed with sensible caution, focus on gentle, light running and expect less of yourself, and you and your baby will be sure to benefit.