Can I run now I’m pregnant?
A letter to mumma-to-be runners, from a runner.
It’s one of the most Googled questions from expectant mums: is it safe to run when you’re pregnant? We have good news for you.
Pregnancy is exciting, amazing and nerve-wracking all at once. It can be a time of immense joy, and it can also be a time of great worry. Not only because your life is about to dramatically change, but because there may be uncertainty and fear.
As I write this letter to you, I’m 27 weeks pregnant and staring down the barrel of my third trimester. But this isn’t my first rodeo. It’s actually my fourth pregnancy. I have a delightful three-year-old son and two rainbow babies following heart-breaking losses. So, I share my reflections, insights and knowledge about moving and running during pregnancy from experience.
I’m not a health professional or a running coach, but I like to be informed. With each pregnancy I have sought the latest research and information (from reputable sources) about exercise and pregnancy to guide my workouts and ensure the safety of bub and me.
Pregnant women like you and me are some of the strongest people on earth. If moving by running is something you want to continue to do – or even start to do during your pregnancy – then more power to you mumma-to-be!
Don’t stop moving
The great news is that exercise is recommended during pregnancy. Research has found that daily exercise reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, premature birth, pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), having a baby with high birth weight, and the need for a caesarean section.
However, too often I hear stories of women with uncomplicated pregnancies who stopped moving or running when they were pregnant. Sometimes they were told to by family, friends or even their healthcare professional. Sometimes it was because they didn’t know if they could keep running; if it was safe or if they could challenge themselves physically still. Sometimes it was because their fitness or running coach wasn’t confident enough to train a pregnant woman. And other times, it was because they personally weren’t prepared for the incredible changes their bodies were about to experience.
Even though running and pregnancy are two of the most common events – running before, during and after pregnancy is one of the least researched and talked about topics. Frustratingly, when new research is released it often takes ages to trickle down to healthcare professionals.
There are also many myths around exercise and pregnancy, and the health guidelines are mostly focused on limiting what you can do, rather than providing advice for what is possible and how great this can be for you and baby.
For example, I can’t recall how many times I’ve been told by well-meaning family, friends and even strangers that I shouldn’t be running as it will harm my baby, and that I should slow down, not get too hot, rest, put my feet up and not raise my heart rate.
Of course, if complications in your pregnancy arise – such as bleeding, placental problems, or pre-eclampsia – running should be reconsidered. But for women with uncomplicated pregnancies, experts say there’s no harm in maintaining your exercise routine and that running won’t cause miscarriage or hurt the baby.
In fact, in 2018 the largest ever international study of nearly 1,300 pregnant women recruited from park run found no evidence of negative effects of running on the baby. The women were categorised according to whether they continued to run during pregnancy or not. Information was collected on how many weeks into her pregnancy a woman ran, and how many kilometres she ran each week.
Details of previous pregnancies were collated, including gestation of delivery, birth weight and pregnancy complications. These were related to expected baby size by taking into account the mothers’ ethnicity, height, weight, and her baby’s gender, allowing an accurate assessment of running impact on pregnancy.
Reassuringly, the results found that there were no ill effects related to the intensity or frequency of running during pregnancy and that continuing to run into the third trimester was safe.
Changes in hormones
One of the biggest variables between women and even between pregnancies is the body’s hormone changes. During pregnancy, especially the first trimester, hormones rise at incredible rates, but the body’s response to this increase varies between women. That’s why some women feel rotten and others feel good, and it’s these hormone changes that have a huge impact on what you can and can’t do physically, and whether going for a run feels right.
The most important thing to remember is that every woman, every pregnancy and every birth is unique. You shouldn’t be made to feel bad or guilty about wanting to continue to move, jog or run if it feels right. You are an individual and the best things you can do are to team up with a doctor, obstetrician or midwife that is knowledgeable about exercise and pregnancy, as well as to tune in to your body and how you’re feeling to guide your movement, exercise and running program.
So, let’s do away with the fear and recognise pregnancy for what it is – the most powerful and incredible of all human events. Making and having a baby is a huge journey of discovery.
Try to remember that women were born to both run and give birth. Your body is a powerhouse and it’s your basic human right to move and rather than thinking of running as an aside, when you make it a part of your pregnancy journey, you can realise what a positive difference it can make to both you and your growing baby.