Pregnancy and Running
Pregnancy is a miraculous process that allows families to grow and ultimately, bring joy and happiness upon the birth of your newborn. Of course, it will be of top priority for you to want to take the proper steps and precautions to make sure you provide a safe environment for your baby to develop and grow during these months. By focusing on maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle for yourself during your pregnancy, you can improve your stress, increase your energy, and reduce the risk of future complications. While there are several fitness activities to choose from, running included, a common question that may go through an expecting mother's mind is if running is safe to do while pregnant. We dive deep on the professional recommendations and also speak with a doctor of physical therapy, women's healthcare, and pelvic floor rehabilitation specialist, Allison McKay, who gives us her thoughts on pregnancy and running.
Even though running is considered to be a high-impact activity, the verdict on pregnancy and running is that in most cases, being that you are overall healthy and without any pregnancy complications, it is generally safe to do. This is especially true if you were already a runner pre-pregnancy, however, it is advised to be mindful and continuously listen to your now current pregnant body for any signs of discomfort or pain. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition recommends at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. For those who already do vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, they can continue to do that level of intensity during their pregnancy. Of course, you may need to bear in mind that you may experience fatigue, morning sickness, or weight gain that may require adjustments to your pace or length of time while out on a run. Words to live by while running while pregnant are to remain flexible and adjust your runs as necessary.
That being said, if you are new to running, it is not typically advised to start while pregnant because the body is in a constant state of change. Instead, it is recommended to start with low-impact activities like walking, swimming, or prenatal yoga. With any doubts, always consult with your doctor and a women's health practitioner regarding any adjustments to physical activity that may be necessary during your pregnancy.
Another thing to keep in mind is your core body temperature. There is a risk during the first trimester of neural tube defects when there is high body temperature, greater than 120 degrees. Exercise alone rarely causes that extreme rise in body temperature but it is advised to avoid workouts outside on hot and humid days, doing hot yoga, or hanging out in hot tubs and saunas.
In regards to running, pregnancy, and potential pregnancy-specific issues, we talk with Allison McKay, DPT, PRPC who is a doctor of physical therapy and pelvic floor rehabilitation specialist and works at The Physical Therapy Effect in San Diego, California. She starts by giving us her two big take-aways with pregnancy and running. “Stop running if it is painful and if you start to experience leakage (uncontrolled urine release or incontinence) while running, see a physical therapist because that should not be considered as normal.”
She reiterates, “I make sure all of my patients know that regardless of how many children they have had (if this will be their first or fifth) it is very common to leak but it is not normal! So even if it is just a little bit it is something that needs to be addressed so it does not get worse.”
Running during pregnancy has many benefits like helping to improve heart and lung strength and improve mood while at the same time possibly improving your baby's brain development. Running may also reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), pre-term birth, and cesarian section. Physical exercise may also promote faster labor and quicker postpartum recovery. However, if you begin to experience joint or nerve pain, muscle weakness, bleeding, urinary leakage, a bouncing sensation in the belly, or reduced balance or coordination while running, you should stop until you seek professional advice.
Allison says, “When it comes to running, most people tend to underestimate the complexity of it. Running requires a decent amount of stability and strength throughout your pelvis and core to avoid complications such as incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, or other injuries.”
Here are a few exercises Dr. McKay typically provides to her pregnant and active patients:
“For almost all of my patients, I start with diaphragmatic breathing in various postural positions. Next, I work on getting the pelvic floor (the group of muscles that acts like a hammock to hold up your internal organs) as well as the transversus abdominis (the muscle that acts as an internal back brace) to fire and engage. I like to do this in both quadruped and standing.
“Posture is huge. Teaching my patients to stack their ribs over their hips is a biggie in allowing the “core” to function and work properly. Another exercise that I always give to my patients is called the ski jumper – it's a great way to get people out of posterior pelvic tilt and allow them to engage the core/anterior musculature.”
How to do the ski jumper:
Start in standing with feet hip-width apart, hands down by sides, and feel your weight through your feet.
Slightly adjust to transfer your weight forward onto your toes only moving from the ankles, as if you were in the position of a ski jumper skiing down the hill.
Inhale and engage your pelvic floor in that position and then exhale and release. Repeat the engagement with each breath working up to 1-2 minutes.
What does engaging your pelvic floor feel like?
Allison says, “If someone is having a hard time grasping how to engage the pelvic floor my cues are to imagine with your vagina to either try to pick up a blueberry or sipping through a straw in a smoothie. Most people tend to think it is tightening but it is also tightening and lifting.”
In conclusion, if you are in overall good health and were a runner previously to the pregnancy, it is considered safe to run while pregnant. Be sure to listen to your body and expect to make necessary adjustments to your pace, distance, or time depending on how you feel. Try not to get frustrated with your running possibly getting slower, needing to add walking breaks, or needing extra recovery time following a run. Your body is going through a lot of changes, so try not to be so hard on yourself. Don't forget to add in the additional breathing and core exercises suggested by Dr. Allison McKay to help your posture and pelvic floor during and even after your pregnancy.