Exercise plays an important role in maintaining a healthy pregnancy, but is running safe and how much can you do when you’re expecting?
Consultant gynaecologist and women’s health specialist Dr Nitu Bajekal told Running Mums that women who already run should be able to continue doing so during pregnancy.
Running brings many benefits to mums-to-be, including a lower risk of problems such as pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, pre-eclamsia and gestational diabetes.
“You have to look at any physical activity as a good thing,” said Dr Bajekal. “We have an epidemic of people being overweight or obese, and that makes it harder to get pregnant, and when you are pregnant it brings a whole lot of complications along with it.
“If you’re coming into pregnancy not having been physically active and you are overweight, you have a higher risk of having a bigger baby, then pregnancy complications as a result of that, but also a higher risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Being sedentary is a real problem.”
How to safely run in pregnancy
For those who have no health issues or pregnancy complications, Dr Bajekal recommends the following:
- 150 minutes of exercise a week, plus two strength training sessions, which equates to around 30 minutes a day.
- Begin with a 5-10 minute warm up, and finish with 5-10 minutes cooling down.
- Very fast or high intensity running running may reduce oxygen in your lungs and transfusion to the baby, so take care not to push yourself too hard.
- Be mindful if it is very hot or cold outside. If you overheat you may feel faint and could fall and you also risk reducing the oxygen supply and the baby’s heart rate could rise or drop.
- Avoid wearing a belly band or restrictive clothing. Loose comfortable clothing is best.
- Remember that what you could do pre-pregnancy may not be the same as what you can do now, so don’t put pressure on yourself.
- Women who are new to running should be mindful of taking up the sport at this time. Speak to a health professional and start slowly.
Pregnant women who have a known medical condition, such as abnormal blood sugar levels, diabetes or high blood pressure, need to seek advice from a health professional before running.
Those who have experienced bleeding, severe nausea, vomiting, or any pregnancy complication, should also speak to their doctor if they wish to run.
“[These women] should be very cautious about running,” said Dr Bajekal. “That can be real blow for active women, so that’s why you need to have this range of exercises that you do so that you’re not feeling deprived,”
Dr Bajekal suggests yoga and pilates, or swimming as an alternative, or supplement, to running.
“You should also ask yourself, do I have to only do running [or can I] mix it up with a bit of strength training, yoga, and pilates?” she said.
“Yoga provides visualisation and breathing practices, which are really important for good vaginal deliveries and pain control, pilates is very good for core control and incontinence.”
The golden trimester
Many women experience morning sickness and fatigue in the first trimester and so may be better avoiding running until these symptoms subside.
Dr Bajekal says it’s crucial pregnant women, especially those who are active, to remain hydrated and suggests those with a reduced appetite drink small shots of green smoothies, with nitrate-rich vegetables and fruits, to provide an anti-oxidant boost.
“The second trimester is the golden trimester because you hopefully won’t feel that sick, you’ll be feeling quite well, the anxiety levels may be lower as well as things seem to get used to the pregnancy, so running may be easier,” said Dr Bajekal.
“As you get bigger you may find it uncomfortable to run for that long, so you may prefer to do swimming, yoga, pilates or gentle stretching exercises, and you might run just once or twice a week.
“Women tend to put pressure on themselves but there should be no pressure. Knowing your body is really important and so is working up to [moderate exercise gradually].”
For more information and advice from Dr Bajekal visit nitubajekal.com
More from Running Mums
- Benefits of running during pregnancy could extend to offspring
- Can running affect my fertility? Advice on exercising and trying to conceive
- Rushed off your feet? 6 ways busy mums can find time to run
- When can I start running again after having a baby? Advice for new mums