If there’s one question I get asked time and time again about pregnancy exercise, it’s whether or not it’s safe to run while pregnant. In short, there are two ways to answer this:
1) Is the baby safe? Yes, absolutely.
2) Would I advise running during your pregnancy? No. Let me elaborate…
As with all my pregnancy blogs, it goes without saying that every woman and every pregnancy is different. My advice here is aimed at the “average” woman, with a low risk pregnancy. What your pregnancy exercise regime looks like, depends entirely on your pre-pregnancy fitness, your general health, how your pregnancy is progressing, how far along you are and what goals you have. But ultimately, running during pregnancy boils down to weighing up benefits vs risks, and as far as I’m concerned, the benefits of running while pregnant really don’t stack up for most women.
The only real benefit of running during pregnancy is to keep up your cardiovascular fitness, but you can achieve the exact same effect using many alternatives such as walking / hiking, cycling, swimming. I should add that, clearly, I am absolutely not discouraging exercise during pregnancy! On the contrary, keeping active while pregnant is hugely important. But it makes sense to choose exercise that supports the changes going on in your body. You don’t need to wrap yourself up and fear exercise, but you do need to be mindful of your physiology.
There are two main risks when it comes to running with a baby on board:
– Damage to the pelvic floor. The increasing weight of the baby places huge stress on your pelvic floor. Along with the abdominal muscles, your entire core is under a lot of pressure already, without the added stress from high impact activities. Jumping and running will only add to an already compromised pelvic floor, and excessive damage “down there” can lead to incontinence and even organ prolapse postpartum.
– Hormonal changes. Unsurprisingly your hormonal status alters significantly while pregnant. One of the key players during pregnancy is relaxin, which increases to enable everything to stretch when it’s time for baby to make his exit. The pelvic floor is 80% connective tissue so, unfortunately, this extra relaxin means that your pelvis is far less stable during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period. Given the repetitive nature of running and the impact on the joints, decreased stability means increased risk of injury, with lower back and knees being common problem areas.
Just to clarify, we’re not talking about a risk to the baby. Your baby is wonderfully cushioned inside your womb, floating around in a protective bubble of amniotic fluid, so there are no worries there. There is nothing selfish about running even with a massive bump. The issue is much more to do with your own body and how you’d like it to perform both during labour itself, and after you’ve given birth.
Chances are you don’t know this, but during labour, your pelvic floor provides counter pressure against the baby’s head to help turn him into position ready to be born. Many women with weak a weak pelvic floor find that they need an assisted delivery because the pelvic floor has not been able to turn the baby efficiently. Surely we’d all prefer to birth with minimal intervention?
If you’re reading this and you’re a professional or competitive runner, then it might be that the risk of losing form and fitness outweighs the potential risk of peeing yourself during your races. Or if you are just a recreational runner but love it so much that you cannot bear the thought of stopping, then perhaps consider doing shorter distances or replacing one weekly run with a bike ride instead.
Ultimately, the choice is yours and if you do choose to run while pregnant you can do so safe in the knowledge that it’s absolutely harmless to your baby. I am simply aiming to make sure you have an informed choice about whether running is the right thing for your body at this time. For me, I chose to stop at 17 weeks, and focussed more on strength training with plenty of walking, and a bit of swimming and cycling thrown into the mix.