Many female runners worry that when they fall pregnant they will have to hang up their running shoes, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Done right and with the necessary precautions and clearances from your doctor, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to carry on running throughout your pregnancy for as long as is comfortable.
We spoke to Alan Green, club captain for the West Coast Athletics Club and qualified Sports Scientist with 20 years coaching experience in the health and fitness industry as well as sports coaching in various disciplines. He agrees that if you ran before falling pregnant then it’s generally safe to continue doing so.
“Running is a good form of exercise. However if you were not a runner before pregnancy then taking up running is perhaps not the best form of exercise as it will place a lot of undue stress and pressure upon the body,” he says.
However, even for regular runners, he strongly advises that once you find out you’re pregnant you should get medical clearance from your attending obstetrician or gynaecologist. If you get the all-clear, the next most important thing to note during exercise is your body temperature" as this has the most adverse effect on the developing foetus”.
Running in the different trimesters
While exercise is important throughout pregnancy for both mother and baby, there are different precautions which you need to take as your pregnancy progresses. Obviously running in the first trimester will be a very different experience from running in the third, although the experts tend to agree that the second trimester is probably the ‘easiest’, hence why it’s often referred to as the ‘honeymoon trimester’.
“During the first trimester the body is going through a lot of hormonal changes and adaptations and it’s during this trimester when a lot of women experience morning sickness and severe mood swings. The resting pulse rate of the expectant mother will also now be elevated to accommodate the developing foetus and the amount of circulating blood in the body remains the same which causes the amount of oxygen capacity in the blood to be reduced,” explains Green.
This is when you should start taking not of any changes in your body during exercise and pay close attention to what your body tells you. If you feel dizzy, stop. If you feel very breathless, take a break.
By the time the second trimester rolls around you should be more attuned to the changes your body is undergoing and as things begin to settle down a bit more, exercise should become a bit easier.
“During this trimester you shouldn’t really experience too much discomfort as long as you remain fairly cool and don’t overly stress the lower back region,” advises Green.
In the third trimester, things may become increasingly uncomfortable as your centre of gravity will have shifted, your belly will be quite big and due to the hormone Relaxin, your joints will be more pliable and supple than usual which could contribute to you feeling uncoordinated and ‘clumsy’. If running becomes too much, then switch to walking but keep the pace steady and fast.
Water, water, water
Throughout pregnancy whenever you exercise it’s vitally important to keep yourself hydrated, says Green.
“Drinking enough water helps keep the body cool and also plays a role in the digestion, absorption, transport of vital nutrients as well as the removal of waste products.”
Try to drink small amounts of water before, during and after exercise.
Running will become less comfortable
Let’s face it, running with a growing belly is not the most comfortable thing, so prepare yourself for the fact that as your pregnancy progresses running will become more difficult.
Green says that the two most noticeable changes during pregnancy will be that it becomes harder to breathe as the lungs can no longer expand downwards with the assistance of the diaphragm as the developing foetus will be pushing the organs upwards constricting the diaphragm. So be prepared to get a lot more breathless than you did before and pace yourself accordingly.
The second change is that due to the hormones released to make the joints more supple in preparation for childbirth, the running gait will tend to become shortened with less elasticity. It’s not permanent however and once the baby is out and you return to regular running you should regain your usual gait.
Distance: how far is too far?
Depending on how often you used to run for pre-pregnancy and what distances you covered, it’s fair to assume that you won’t be able to manage the same as you get more pregnant. However, as Green points out, each pregnancy is different and it all depends on the fitness and health of the individual pregnant woman.
“There are no set guidelines for what distances are safe, as far as I know. There have been reported cases of expectant mothers running ultra distances just days before giving birth, but I would advise each expectant to listen to her body and only run what is a comfortable distance for them,” he says.
Why running is good for mom and baby
Basically the good news is that if you are a runner and you’re having a healthy, complication-free pregnancy with the OK from your doctor, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to run for as long as you feel comfortable throughout your pregnancy.
There has been much research which shows that mothers who exercise during pregnancy tend to have healthier, leaner babies and the benefits to the mother are endless too.
“One of the major advantages is that it helps control the weight of the expectant mother and also gives her better body image. It has also been documented that expectant mothers who exercise have easier deliveries,” says Green.
Reference:Alan Green, club captain for the West Coast Athletics Club and qualified Sports Scientist with 20 years coaching experience in the health and fitness industry as well as sports coaching in various disciplines.
(Amy Froneman, Health24, July 2011)
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