My experience running during pregnancy has been a rollercoaster, but I am so grateful I’m still able to run at 32 weeks!
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Today’s post focuses specifically on the benefits of running while pregnant and for this topic, I brought in a running coach who specializes in working with pregnant and postpartum women. Montana and I got to know each other over Instagram (you can follow Montana here and here’s my IG if you don’t follow me) and I’m so excited to work with her once I deliver! I’ll hand it over to her now to share more about pregnancy running as a coach who specializes in that!
Hi! I’m Montana DePasquale. I’m a certified running coach who works with everyone from sub-3:00 marathoners and Boston qualifiers to newbie runners and run-walkers. If you have big running goals and want to get there with a smart, safe, evidence-based approach, I’m your girl! Most recently, I’ve started specializing in working with pregnant and postpartum women. I provide accountability, support, and education on how to safely run while pregnant – as well as how to return to running postpartum. I’m educated in all the latest research on pre- and post-partum running to give you peace of mind – and also to help you free up some mental space, which is often much-needed for mamas and mamas-to-be! I am a runner of 13+ years myself, and a new mom to baby Brady, born in March 2020. You can find more info on me and my coaching services here!
When I thought about getting pregnant and having kids, I always envisioned effortlessly (ha!) running through pregnancy, being a super fit pregnant woman, and going on to instill a love of movement and exercise in each of my kids. As someone who was a Division 1 athlete used to logging upwards of 60-70 miles per week and hadn’t had a major running injury in seven years, I assumed and hoped my body would handle running while pregnant gracefully and resiliently.
Turns out – pregnancy is the ultimate equalizer!
First, like Teri, I got pregnant shortly after a layoff from running (our wedding and honeymoon), so I didn’t have a great running base going in. Then, I was so sick in my first trimester – throwing up anywhere from 1-5 times a day every day – and it just became about survival for a few months. I picked running back up in the second trimester, but at around 20 weeks had to switch to cross training due to bad pelvic pain. I share my story not to scare anyone – but simply to share that whatever your experience running while pregnant… it’s OK!
Although I ultimately wasn’t able to run near as much as I envisioned, the miles I did get to run while pregnant are some of the most special and well-remembered parts of my pregnancy to this day! Plus, the cross training I did throughout the second half of my pregnancy helped me to have a smooth, easy labor and delivery, and a great recovery afterwards. I’m now back to running, and much stronger – I believe – than if I had simply not trained through pregnancy.
Running while pregnant can bring a lot of challenges, as well as a wide variety of experiences, but if you’re healthy, feeling well, and if it’s something YOU want to do – there are a lot of benefits for both mom and baby!
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Before doing any running while pregnant, please make sure to consult your OB-GYN. If you’re unsure about how to progress or safely continue running while pregnant and want guidance on this, consider hiring a running coach who’s experienced working with pre- and postpartum women!
5 Benefits Of Running While Pregnant
Many of us who run while pregnant do so because we simply can’t imagine parting with something we love so dearly for 9+ months!
As recently as a few decades ago, doctors discouraged women from any kind of vigorous aerobic exercise while pregnant. But now, staying fit is now not only permitted, but encouraged! For women with healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies, pregnancy shouldn’t be a state of confinement. Research is finding that pregnant women can safely tolerate much more vigorous activity than previously thought. See here and here for more info on the research! Here’s what we do know about the benefits of running while pregnant (from research):
May help you have a shorter, easier labor, and lower risk of C-section
The truth is: you can do all of the “right things” and still have a long and/or arduous labor, or C-section. It’s also important to know that first-time labors tend to be longer than subsequent labors. However, promising research shows that exercise may improve your odds of having a shorter, easier labor and lower risk of needing a C-section. And anecdotally, all of the women I know who did workout while pregnant say they felt so much stronger, more well-conditioned, and physically prepared for labor and delivery. Labor is an athletic feat worth training for all on its own!
May reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia
Exercising while pregnant may decrease risk of some of the main health problems that plague pregnant women. Just as we know that exercising (while nonpregnant) helps to maintain healthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels – those same benefits extend to pregnant women, when it may be even more critical. For gestational diabetes, in particular, if you are diagnosed, exercise has been shown as a really great way to manage that condition.
May help prevent perinatal depression
There has been a lot of education done on postpartum depression in recent years (which is SO important and well-needed!). However, less talked about is perinatal depression. Perinatal depression probably affects many more women than we think, as women might dismiss their symptoms or not feel comfortable mentioning them to their doctor. Women who do have intrusive, negative thoughts should know that you’re not alone, help is available, and exercise can be a great tool to help manage your symptoms!
Help your baby to have healthier, stronger heart, better motor skills, and lower risk of chronic disease
Really interesting new research has studied not only the effects of exercise on baby in utero – but also postnatally, and even long-term. Your habits and behaviors while pregnant can help set your baby up for a happy, healthy, and fit life outside the womb. Babies born to moms who exercised while pregnant had stronger, healthier hearts, better motor skills, and a lower risk of metabolic diseases, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Can help with healthy weight gain
I am listing this benefit last because, depending on your relationship with your body and weight, seeing the number on the scale go up during pregnancy can be emotionally difficult as it is. And in general I think we give pregnant women far too much to worry about – weight should not be at the forefront of our focus! I always encourage women to focus more on the physical and mental health benefits of exercising while pregnant. Take note of how it can alleviate stress, give you more energy, improve your mood, etc. However, for those for whom excess weight gain is a concern, exercise can be a great tool for extra calorie burn. While most women will need anywhere from 300-500 additional calories per day while pregnant, it can be easy to well exceed that.
Even with all benefits of running while pregnant, there are still outdated myths about exercise during pregnancy. Some you may have heard:
- Running/exercising during pregnancy increases your risk of miscarriage
- Running/exercising during pregnancy can cause low birth weight or pre-term birth
- When exercising while pregnant, you should never let your heart rate get above 140-160 bpm
Now, remember every pregnancy is different so in your situation, these may apply. Ask your doctor about these topics, but in general, research doesn’t support these claims.
When pregnant, there are times when you shouldn’t run or should stop running. Some of those are:
In very high temperatures.
When it’s too hot, you you risk raising your core body temperature to levels that can harm the baby. Runners who are well-adapted to the heat may be fine to continue running – but should do their best to run in the coolest parts of the day, in shady areas, with extra water, and possibly include extra walk breaks.
In the snow and ice, or on technical trails.
In these situations, you’re at risk of losing your footing. Pregnancy changes your center of gravity, which makes it harder to stay balanced and on your feet as it is. Choose your routes wisely, and stay safe!
If you have a high-risk pregnancy or are not recommended to by your doctor
The reasons for this will vary, which is why it’s so important to talk to your doctor. Share in detail about your running plans and ask if he/she has concerns with any of it given your situation.
If you experience any of these symptoms:
- Onset of bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Excessive or persistent low back or SI joint pain
- Excessive or persistent pelvic pain
Or, if YOU simply don’t want to, or if it just doesn’t feel “right” to you, then don’t run!
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What to expect when running while pregnant
Your pregnant running experience might not be like that of your neighbor, your sister-in-law, your mother, your BRF.
It might be what you envisioned and hoped for yourself – or it might not be! Regardless, any safe, healthy activity you are able to do while pregnant will bring tremendous benefits for both you and your baby. Don’t get caught in the perfectionism trap! Something is better than nothing. Even if it’s at a very slow pace, even if it includes walk breaks, and even if your exercise frequency is much lower than pre-pregnancy.
Expect to take a lot more bathroom breaks when running while pregnant!
Your body is literally rearranging its internal organs to make room for a growing baby, and that baby will be sitting right on top of your bladder.
Your resting heart rate will be, on average, 10-15 bpm higher than pre-pregnancy.
If you previously trained based on heart rate, make sure to adjust all of your heart rate zones based on this information. Better yet – I recommend training based off the Borg rating of perceived exertion scale (RPE). This is a scale of 6-20, where 6 is no exertion and 20 is maximal exertion. For most pregnant women, it’s recommended to stay between 12-14 (light to somewhat hard). Women who were well-trained prior to pregnancy (most runners fall into this category) can train a little bit harder.
Staying hydrated becomes doubly important when pregnant.
Not only does every energy system in your body require water – but now baby’s does, too. Your hydration needs will increase will pregnant, and as runners our hydration needs are already higher than our sedentary peers. If you’re drinking as much as you were pre-pregnancy, you’re not taking in enough! I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay hydrated. It reduces the risk of health complications.
Experienced runners may have a harder time checking their ego at the door when pregnant.
Remember that your body’s number one priority now is growing a baby, and when forced to choose between directing resources to you or to the baby, baby always wins out. This means it may take you longer to recover in between workouts, you might notice it’s harder to build or maintain muscle, and you may notice fatigue. All of this will come back postpartum!
Ultimately, the greatest benefit of exercising while pregnant is the sweet baby we get at the end of it.
Your baby won’t care if you ran 40 miles per week while pregnant, or 5, and I think that’s a healthy dose of perspective for all of us. Take it one week at a time, and try to be extra grateful for everything your body is doing for you during this simultaneously crazy and amazing time!
If you ran during pregnancy, how do you think it benefitted you the most?
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