This is the first post in our three-part "Fit Mamas" series. Next week, look for tips on a healthy, happy return to running post-baby.
Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman's life. But for a woman who runs, it can also be an uncertain time. Can I still run? Are people going to say things to me if I do? The short answer is that it's usually okay for runners to keep running.
Continuing to run during pregnancy isn't only about doing something you enjoy. Studies show that exercise improves the health of mom and baby-it lessens back pain, prevents excessive weight gain, improves sleep quality, and reduces delivery complications and time spent in labor. But you should know that your pace and goals will change. Here are some things to keep in mind about running during pregnancy. Call it "what to expect when you're expecting-the running edition."
Consult Your Doctor
Absolutely, positively consult your OB/GYN before running (or engaging in any exercise) while pregnant. They will determine if you have complications or contraindications like certain medical conditions that suggest that it's not in your best interest to run. But for the most part, if you ran before becoming pregnant, you can do it while you're expecting. If people give you a hard time about it, tell them your doctor said it was safe to continue this activity that you engaged in before you were pregnant.
Unfortunately, most experts agree that pregnancy is not a time to start running. If you want to start exercising while pregnant, definitely discuss it with your doctor first. Once you've gotten approval, Chicago-based coach (and Runner's World blogger) Jenny Hadfield offers some tips on how to start a walking program at the link below.
How to start an exercise program while pregnant
Belly + Bladder
As your belly grows and presses on your bladder, you'll likely have to take bathroom breaks more often. So that you can easily make a pit stop, plan routes that don't take you far from your home (or that of a friend or family member) or public restrooms. Some women like to wear a maternity support belt when running, as it can help reduce pressure as well as the feeling of bouncing.
How Much? How Fast?
First, know that every pregnancy is different. Some women can comfortably run all the way through pregnancy. Others run the first trimester and scale back as they progress, while others take it easy in the first trimester due to exhaustion and nausea and are able to ramp up during the second and third trimesters.
After you get your doctor's go-ahead, your mileage is determined in part by how much you were doing before. If you regularly ran five miles a day, you can keep logging those miles, albeit at a gradually slowing pace, says Kathryn Peck Rutenberg, M.D., an obstetrician in New York City who ran through both her pregnancies. So if you ran a 10-minute mile, you may find a 12-minute mile during pregnancy is just as challenging. And there's no shame in taking walk breaks when you get tired (that also goes for runners who aren't pregnant!). For some women, even running their regular distance at a slower pace will be difficult-that's normal. Listen to your body and call it a day if you feel tired. As your due date approaches, lower-impact activities like swimming and walking may be more comfortable.
In the past, pregnant women had been advised not to let their heart rate exceed a certain number. But heart rate is no longer considered a good indicator of intensity, as it will change throughout the course of your pregnancy. Instead, use perceived exertion, or how you feel, as well as the talk test. "You should be able to talk or hold a conversation while running," says Hadfield. "If you can't, slow down. If you use this as a guide for intensity, you'll naturally slow as you progress. "
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Now is not the time to be concerned with weekly mileage or setting personal records. It's fine if you enter races, but don't "race" them. Run them at the speed of an everyday run. Focus on your overall health-run for fitness, eat well, and get enough sleep. For some women, planning weekly mileage can be futile. Just get out the door, listen to your body, and enjoy being active.
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A few safety tips for running moms-to-be:
- Always carry a phone.
- Stop running and call your doctor if you feel pain, dizziness, or experience vaginal bleeding.
- Keep your core temperature in check, as overheating can be unsafe for your baby. Run at cooler times of the day (early morning or evening) or on a treadmill. Avoid hot baths and overexerting yourself, as these things can also raise your core temperature.
- Run with a buddy or in a populated area where you could get help if needed (short loops work well).
- Don't do exercises on your back after the first trimester as it can restrict blood flow to the uterus.
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So, have you run while pregnant? If so, how did it go? Do you think it helped prepare you for labor? Would you do it again in another pregnancy?
Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.
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