Monday, October 22, 2012

Running During Pregnancy

Can you do it, is it ok and is it safe?

Yes it is, you can run during your Pregnancy. You just have to follow a few guidelines and get to know your pregnant body.

This is by far one of the most common questions I get asked and even though it has now been proven that running is most definitely safe to do during a pregnancy. If you do choose to run during your pregnancy then you will probably have to put up with many strange looks and people telling you that you shouldn’t be doing it!

Just a couple of months ago my client at 26 weeks was running on the treadmill at the gym and another personal trainer and his client came up to me concerned that there was a pregnant women running on the treadmill. They were hoping I would walk up to her and tell her to walk but instead they got a lecture off me telling them how safe it is to run during pregnancy and the benefits of it!

It is only when someone may want to take running up for the first time that running is not advised but nor is any another new sport. So if you haven’t ran before you were pregnant then don’t start during your pregnancy. If however you are a regular runner and have just found out that you are pregnant then you don’t need to stop unless you have any medical complications or your LMC advises otherwise.  All you have to do to run safely during your pregnancy is listen to your body and make adjustments to you training routine.

Running during a pregnancy will not increase the chance of miscarriage, approx. 1 in 4 pregnancies will miscarry and there are many un-explained reasons for this, running does not increase this risk. You will also not over heat whilst running especially if you are running outside. Dress for the weather and run in the shade or at cooler times  in the early morning or evening during the summer months.

Let’s have a look at heart-rates first, many years ago in the eighties (1985) a study came out that women should not exercise above 140 beats per minute this has now been changed.  It was an overly cautious set of recommendations presented by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which suggested, among other things, that pregnant women keep their exercise intensity below a heart rate of 140 beats per minute.

This study has now been criticized for a lack of scientific evidence and for failing to differentiate between sedentary and physically fit women; the guidelines were modified in 1994 and again in 2002. The most recent guidelines (2008) from the Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans don't use heart rate as a measure of intensity. For intensity guidelines during pregnancy have a look at my youtube video: 

Women who are fit and healthy as soon as they find out that they are pregnant their daily heart rate can increase by 10+ beats a minute almost overnight. If a pregnant women is exercising at a moderate intensity (aerobic) her heart rate can easily get above 140 beats per minute. If women stuck to the lower heart rate zones advised in 1985 some women wouldn’t even feel that they had exercised therefore reducing the benefits of cardio-vascular exercise. When I checked my running heart-rate during all 3 of my pregnancies it would generally be between 150-160 bpm.
There are many benefits to exercising during a pregnancy and you can read my 10 favourites here
One of the main benefits of cardio vascular fitness is that it improves blood flow,  a more efficient blood supply to mum also passes on to baby, a rich supply of healthy blood cells carrying vital nutrients.

What do you have to change when you are running during a pregnancy?

Now that you are pregnant your body is working up to 30% harder than before and it happens almost as soon as you see that positive pregnancy test. Last week’s 60minute runs are now the equivalent of 80 minutes. You need to reduce the duration of your runs by 10-20% and this percentage will increase during the pregnancy.

Pregnancy tiredness during the first Tri-mester is tough and running for periods longer than 50-60minutes may increase this fatigue so if you notice you are more tired after a 60min run just go for 35-45 min run instead and see how you feel after that. Everyone is different and each woman will start their pregnancy at a different fitness level. This is why it is important to listen to YOUR body and use that as a true guide.

Breast Changes:
 All women are different and breast size can change quite dramatically for some women during the first Tri-Mester. Breasts may also become heavier and quite painful, this in itself can stop a regular runner from continuing to run during her pregnancy.

Make sure you wear a very good supportive bra, wear two if you need to, along with a running vest over the top for extra support.

There are two pregnancy hormones which make muscle tendons and ligaments lengthen and weaken pre and post pregnancy these hormones are Progesterone and Relaxin. Relaxin is released in large doses from 20+ and 30+ weeks. This can make you more prone to injury as you are more likely to ‘go over’ on your ankle joints. I think it is best to avoid off road running from the start and be careful when you run downhill, try to think about your posture and watch your step! Carry your mobile with you at all times.

Perform one leg balance and core exercises at home or at the gym to increase your ankle stability and correct any muscular imbalances.  My on-line Pregnancy Exercise Program includes these types of exercises and address's correct pregnancy posture. A good physiotherapist or personal trainer should be able to assess your biomechanics during your pregnancy and prescribe the correct exercise’s to keep you running and be free of pain during your pregnancy. Pregnancy Posture

Round ligament pain (RLP):
RLP can increase from weeks 9-13 and again from weeks 18-25 it may be at its worse, running may increase this type of pain and discomfort, and you will need to manage this. If it is quite painful when you are running walk instead or change to a different exercise for a few weeks. I found that swimming would make it worse but run/walking and cycling was fine, avoid twisting movements, strength exercises can help ease RLP.

Baby’s Position:
From 20+ weeks baby’s position may cause you some discomfort. When I ran with my first she would often position herself with her head close to my lower right oblique causing a dull ache, some days I couldn’t run but on  other days when she had moved I would feel fine.

Your baby is completely supported by the amniotic fluid surrounding them, they are not getting bounced about! In fact it is believed you may even rock them to sleep. When running starts to feel uncomfortable then that is the time to stop.

Rest weeks:
I found that from weeks 10-12 and weeks 21-24 would be a little more challenging. During these weeks my runs felt more cardio-vascular challenging most probably due to all the changes that were occurring, the growth and demands of a growing baby.

Listen to your body,  if you feel more tired on some weeks take it easier,  reduce the duration of your runs, swap a run for a stationary bike ride or take a complete week off. Try to have one week off exercise every 8-10 weeks during your pregnancy.

Let your LMC know that you are running during your pregnancy as it’s a good idea to have extra blood tests to check your iron levels. I would get blood tests at the start of each pregnancy, 13wks, 24weeks then again at 30/32.  Your iron requirements increase during a pregnancy and exercise will demand even more. If you have any bleeding or cramps stop running and seek medical advice.
Strength Exercise
Keep on top of your stability and strength exercises as mentioned before. You are more prone to injury and you must maintain good biomechanics to have a pain free pregnancy. If you are not sure about what exercises to do and include have a look at the pregnancy program on my website as it includes exercises to maintain hip stability and strength.
Make sure you eat adequate amounts of protein, fat and vegetables and you drink enough water. You need to drink at least 2 litres of water a day during a pregnancy more if you are exercising. If you eat well it will ensure you and your baby are getting the vital nutrients that are required and you will recover from your exercise.

I ran during all 3 of my pregnancies, listening to my body allowed me to enjoy running pregnant. With my first I was very fit and at 16 weeks I could still run 4 times a week for 40-50mins along with swimming and strength training. I continued to run/walk up until 36 weeks I felt great. Every time I had tried to walk up until this point (36 weeks) walking actually felt harder and more awkward on my body, jogging was much easier and natural for my body.

My second pregnancy I ran until 24/25 weeks and then swam and with my third I just ran until 20/21 weeks as I didn’t have the fitness base and was just too busy with my other two children. I concentrated on strength exercises for the rest of this pregnancy!

Enjoy running during your Pregnancy, any questions please post and visit my website for more great articles on pre and post pregnancy health and fitness and exercise programs for your pregnancy.

Lorraine Scapens is a pre and post natal health and exercise specialist and has more than 20 years’ experience. She has created  and  Mum to 3 young girls Lorraine lives in Auckland NZ .

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