There is not a cut and dry answer for running during pregnancy as there are quite a few factors that go into whether it is not only an effective form of exercise, but more importantly a safe one. Everyone and each pregnancy is different, and therefore, it is honestly a case by case scenario when determining whether or not to pound the pavement.
There are a few absolute givens that do not change across the board.
1. Consult your physician. This so often becomes the precursory, safety blanket for any exercise professional dealing with prenatal women, but I don’t say it to simply protect my behind. It is 100% essential. No one knows your body better than you, and your doctor is trained, educated and experienced in keeping Mamas and their babes safe. What better combination for making informed, safe decisions?
2. Talk test. This goes for all exercise during pregnancy, not just running. You will often hear people say to keep heart rate at or below certain beats per minute, but a better indicator for intensity level while exercising is the “talk test”, meaning you should always be able to carry on a brief conversation. Now, you don’t need to be able to give me your whole life story, but if I asked you what plans you had for the day, you should be able to give me a short synopsis. If you can barely pant out a word or two, just do yourself and babe a favor and take it down a notch. Pregnancy is not the time to chase PRs…
…which is essentially my next point, which is more like just a friendly tip or heartfelt word of advice coming from someone who needs to remind herself of this almost every single workout during pregnancy.
3. Cool your jets. If you like to leisurely or occasionally run, you can probably just skim this one, but if you are an avid runner or a competitive person at all, remember that now is not the time to win races or train crazy hours. Running should be more about simple exercise, vitamin D, fresh air and overall health. I make this point because it is VERY difficult for some to do. A few tricks that I implement in order to keep me from pushing too hard are:
a. Removing any fitness trackers. I have run enough that I can still kind of innately tell my pace, but it keeps me from trying to hit certain mile times.
b. Running for time instead of distance. Again, if I just intend to go for a certain time, I am not pushing myself to get it finished faster.
4. Be careful of overheating. If you are getting too hot from any exercise, blood flow will be diverted away from the uterus and your baby to the skin in order to help your body cool. This particularly becomes a concern with running in the hot summer months so take care to run in cooler temps as much as possible.
5. ALL EXERCISE SHOULD LEAVE YOU FEELING BETTER AFTER YOU FINISH. If you finish up a workout, and you don’t feel energized and refreshed, but rather weak, tired, dizzy, lightheaded, etc., it is usually a sign that you overdid it. So if your runs are doing it for you anymore, then give them the back seat for awhile.
Ok so those are the givens no matter who you are, but now I am going to go through the top factors to consider when determining whether or not you specifically should continue running during pregnancy.
1. Previous running experience: This is kind of a no brainer, but the woman who runs marathons on the regular is obviously going to be a more-likely (notice I didn’t say definite) candidate for running during pregnancy. Your body is accustomed to this kind of training, which is one of the major considerations when choosing safe exercise. The general rule of thumb is to keep doing the type of exercise that you had done previously.
If you haven’t run a day in your life prior to getting pregnant, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting a running program right now. Just as a side note though, it is advised that EVERY woman get some exercise during pregnancy even if she was completely sedentary prior.
2. Round Ligament Pain: There are a few ligaments that support your uterus during pregnancy, one of which is the round ligament. It connects in your groin area where your leg and pelvis meet. Normally, it tightens and relaxes slowly, but rapid movements like coughing, sneezing, exercising, laughing can cause the ligament to tighten quickly, causing sharp, sudden pain (especially in the second trimester and beyond).
While uncomfortable, this type of pain is very common in pregnancy and considered normal. You can still continue to run even if you experience round ligament pain.
3. Symphasis Pubic Dysfunction: If you experience a achy, constant pain in the front of your pelvis by your pubic bone, you most likely have symphasis pubic dysfunction. The joint there is made up of cartilage and holds the pelvis together, and between the relaxin hormone produced during pregnancy which makes your joints more loose and the growth of your uterus, it can stretch out, causing the tenderness.
It is much more intense pain than round ligament, and unlike round ligament pain, it is constant; yes, the pain comes in varying degrees, but once it is there, it really doesn’t go away. In this scenario, you should definitely not be running, and honestly, if you have ever had this, you know that running will feel like the LAST thing you want to do.
The reason being is that in very rare situations, the pubic symphasis can actually separate, which as you and I can only imagine would not be good. While this is not common at all, running increases the risk.
4. Diastasis Recti: If you have diastasis recti from a previous pregnancy, running will most of the time not be helpful in gap closure, and can definitely promote even further separation, particularly if you do not know how or are unable to properly connect and engage your deep core. I kind of consider this one a better safe than sorry situation, and advise most of my clients to put running on hold for awhile in this circumstance.
Along those same lines, be careful easing back into running after baby is born if you do have diastasis. You have to be able to connect that deep core!
5. Stress Urinary Incontinence: You should not do ANY exercise that causes accidental leakage as it means your pelvic floor is not strong enough for it. So if running makes you wet your pants slightly, again put it on hold.
Alright, hopefully this information has been helpful in determining whether or not to continue running while pregnant. I did want to finish by talking just a bit about when and how to resume running after baby.
Generally, 6 weeks is the recommended time of rest before resuming any exercise post baby, but again consult your physician to determine the best time for you; it may be shorter or longer. If you do have the green light to start back into exercise, make sure to also determine whether or not you have diastasis recti because as previously mentioned that may prevent you from running for some time.
If you are good to go on all fronts, ease back into it. Be patient with yourself and know that it will take some time to return to previous running levels. I recommend gradually increasing both duration and intensity over time.
Also, it is essential that you work on being able to connect your deep core while running. Whether or not you have diastasis recti, your pelvic floor has taken a hit the last 9 months so it is weakened and stretched out so make sure to work on engaging it.