If your preferred type of exercise is to get out for a session of street-pounding, being pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to give up your healthy habit.
Running in pregnancy does need to be tailored to each trimester however, and you will need to take precautions in order to keep your baby and your body in optimum health.
If you’ve not run before, but are considering taking it up in order to keep in good shape through pregnancy, fitness experts advise a rethink. While this isn’t the time to take up a new sport, there are specific exercises suitable for pregnancy that you can (and need to) do in order to keep your pregnant body in top condition.
So, in a nutshell:
Q: Is it safe in pregnancy to go running?
A: Yes and no. It’s complicated.
What are the benefits to running in pregnancy?
Running – and any other form of light aerobic exercise – is good for your pregnant body as it keeps your heart working effectively and helps prevent excess weight gain.
Some of the other potential benefits to exercising in pregnancy are:
- Improved core strength and stability
- A stronger back and reduction in back pain
- Better circulation, less likely to suffer from varicose veins, swelling and high blood pressure
- A shorter labour, with less likelihood of complications
- Improved sleep
Lucie Brand, author of 3 Plan: Your Complete Pregnancy and Post-Natal Exercise Plan, exercised throughout her two pregnancies.
She says: “I had quite enjoyable pregnancies with no sick days from work, straightforward and short labours (both under 5 hours), vaginal deliveries and a very quick recovery. I was active again within a couple of days!”
Talk to your GP or midwife first
“The golden rule to running during pregnancy is get your midwife or doctor’s OK first,” says Lisa Jackson, co-author of Running Made Easy. If you have any health complications in pregnancy, it may be that they advise you not to run.
Tailor your runs appropriately
If you’ve been given the medical OK to run during your pregnancy – consider next how to tailor your runs to each stage of pregnancy.
You will need to listen to your body and take into account how you feel when you exercise, says Double Olympian and Commonwealth medallist Liz Yelling. “If you’ve been running regularly then there’s usually no need to give it up while pregnant – you just need to reduce your speed and distance depending on how you feel,” she says.
Watch out for nerve pain
During pregnancy, your body produces an increased amount of the hormone relaxin, which loosens your joints. This can make injuries such as straining or pulling a muscle or nerve pain more common. “Listen to your body, as pain is a sign that you’re doing something you shouldn’t, and that you should probably ease back to a walk, or stop” Yelling says.
Brand says its essential that you warm up and cool down gradually, and always take time to stretch the muscles you used in your workout when you get home. “Ensure you stretch all the big leg muscles,” she says.
Don’t let yourself overheat
Your body temperature rises during pregnancy, meaning that you can overheat more rapidly than usual.
To prevent this from happening when you exercise, you need to remain within your aerobic threshold. When you are running, “You should be able to hold a conversation comfortably,” Jackson says.
So, when you’re training, ask yourself: Could I comfortably have a conversation now? If not, you need to go more gently.
Celebrity fitness trainer Sarah Maxwell also advises that you drink more water than usual. “When you’re expecting, your body temperature increases, so make sure you don’t overheat by taking it slow and drinking plenty of water”, she says.
Why is overheating best avoided?
“If the intensity is too high you may compromise the amount of oxygen going to your baby’s brain,” says running coach Suzy Fitt.
“Stop if you feel unwell or experience symptoms such as stomach or chest pain, vaginal bleeding, dizziness, headaches, amniotic fluid leakage and decreased foetal movements,” Fitt adds.
Don’t overlook those pelvic floor muscles
Any impacting exercise (such as running or aerobics) puts extra strain on your pelvic floor muscles.
You are advised to exercise your pelvic floor muscles throughout pregnancy, but if you are a runner, this becomes extra important. In order to get out running again post-birth, you’ll need your pelvic floor muscles to have recovered, so invest time into exercising them now.
Other essentials for running in pregnancy
- Eat before and after exercise. “A snack – not a three course meal – around an hour either side should do it,” Brand says.
- Wear a good bra and trainers when you are working out
- Be aware of running conditions – look after your personal safety, stick to well-lit areas and avoid rough or hilly terrain
- Try to maintain good posture when you run
Adapting your runs for each trimester
If you are a keen runner and want to train throughout pregnancy, Brand advises consulting a qualified personal trainer who will create a suitable training programme for you. She also advises considering the following as you run in each trimester:
Running in your first trimester
“During your first trimester you can carry on as usual, as long as the intensity is not very high (i.e. avoid intervals and sprinting), the duration isn’t too long (i.e. do not run for longer than 90 minutes) and you are not working harder than what you have been previously used to,” Brand says.
Running in your second trimester
Brand says that you should start decreasing your intensity and duration during the second trimester, once running starts to become harder. You should now be jogging, rather than running.
“Remember, you should be able to comfortably maintain a conversation when you are working out,” she says. “Your body is changing, and although you can carry on running, you should now gradually start to adapt your workouts.”
Running in your third trimester
Exercising safely during trimester three is all about listening to your body, and moving on to a lower impact activity when jogging doesn’t feel right, advises Brand.
“Your bump may make you feel unbalanced or you may have some pelvic aches. Cross training, power walking, cycling and swimming are all great alternatives. If you do continue to jog, work at a comfortable intensity for a sensible duration and maybe build in some walk/jog sessions, alternating between the two for five minutes at a time.”
What all this means for you
Brand’s summary of whether or not it’s safe for you to run in pregnancy…
- If you have never been a runner, don’t start during pregnancy.
- If you have done a little bit of running before, keep it at a moderate intensity through pregnancy (jogging rather than running). Do no more than 30 minutes a couple of times a week.
- If you have run in the past, but haven’t done any running for at least a couple of months before pregnancy, then do something else.
- If you are an experienced runner then there is no reason you cannot carry on running during your pregnancy. Stick to the safety advice about overheating, clothing, hydration and location.
- If running feels uncomfortable at any stage, stop. Consider another form of exercise.