It’s important to stay active while you’re expecting - but can you run while pregnant?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) healthy pregnant women should exercise, and it’s advisable to clock up approximately 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week if it’s safe for you to do so.
Keeping active can offer a wealth of benefits for both mother and child, but everyone is different and your ability to exercise will also change as your pregnancy progresses. Read our guide to having a baby - stages of pregnancy by trimester to find out more about the nine month journey.
Pregnancy is a time of huge change and, for many people, can feel scary – not only is your body evolving, but the things you can do are, too. So yes, you certainly can run while pregnant, but it’s a good idea to understand both the potential benefits and risks involved, and how to do it safely.
Regardless of how advanced a runner you are, we know how important it is to get advice you can trust. Check out our guide to the best running watches 2022 to help you monitor your health while you exercise, and read on for expert advice on running during pregnancy.
Is it safe to run while pregnant?
In short, yes, but pregnancy isn’t the time to take up jogging for the first time.
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you’re healthy with no pre-existing conditions to speak of, running during pregnancy doesn’t increase the risk of miscarriage or early delivery and can offer a plethora of benefits instead. However there are considerations to note - plus, it’s crucial to listen to your body.
We turned to Michelle Baynham - a pre and postnatal fitness trainer, certified pregnancy and postpartum corrective exercise specialist, nutritional advisor and founder of Mother Fit - for advice.
“It is safe for a woman to continue running if she was already running regularly before pregnancy,” she explains. “However, it is recommended to lower the intensity, and for the general population, to stay within 70-75% V02max.” (V02 max is the amount of oxygen your body uses while exercising as hard as you can.) “It’s not recommended for a woman to start if she was not running before pregnancy.”
Brand new to running? Try low-impact exercise options instead, such as swimming, walking or cycling. Regardless of your experience level, it’s also advisable to tell your exercise coach or obstetrician-gynecologist if you plan to exercise throughout your pregnancy.
What are the benefits of running through pregnancy?
How running changes your body is well recognized, from improved heart, lung and bone health to building stronger muscles, enhancing mood, and mitigating the risks of obesity.
But how does running help pregnant women in particular?
“Staying active during pregnancy has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, reduce the chances of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, boost mental health, and help manage pregnancy weight gain,” says Hollie Grant, pre and postnatal Pilates expert and founder of The Bump Plan.
Baynham adds that regular exercise can help ease constipation and back pain, reduce the risk of needing a cesarean birth or developing preeclampsia and can help you to lose weight after your baby is born. There is even evidence to suggest exercise during pregnancy benefits your baby’s heart, too.
In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, the fetus is protected against potential harm during exercise, with the benefits of staying active appearing to outweigh potential risks.
What are the risks of running while pregnant?
Any pre-existing health conditions and certain issues related to pregnancy can affect your ability to run safely. Some conditions are considered an absolute contraindication (aka a complete no-go) to running, including:
- Cerclage (when the cervical opening is stitched closed to prevent early birth)
- Heart or lung disease
- Risk of preterm labor
- Pregnancy with twins or triplets
- Placenta previa (when the placenta covers the uterus opening)
- Preeclampsia (signs of high blood pressure and organ injury)
Aside from medical conditions, there are some other risks.
“The risks of running during pregnancy would essentially involve injuries caused by falling or tripping,” says Grant. “Your center of gravity tends to change during pregnancy as your bump grows, so this can make some women more at risk.”
Grant also advises anyone with pelvic girdle pain (PGP) to avoid running if it aggravates their symptoms, and to ensure their pelvic floor is functional as the weight of the uterus gets more intense as pregnancy progresses.
During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is produced and causes loosening in the ligaments around the pelvis, which increases joint mobility and injury risk. “Be careful on uneven or steep surfaces and rough terrain, as your joints are looser and you’re more prone to injury,” Baynham advises.
During a run, your muscles demand oxygen for energy. Your body also requires more oxygen during pregnancy, which leaves you more out of breath when running. “Keep to the guideline of moderate-intensity,” says Grant. “This is where your heart rate is elevated, but you are still able to hold a conversation.”
How to run safely while pregnant
If you’ve weighed up the benefits and risks of running while pregnant and decided to give it a go, how can you stay safe?
“Wear good trainers and a sports bra,” says Grant. “Our joints are laxer during pregnancy, so it’s important we wear good trainers to support our arches, and with changes occurring to the breasts a good sports bra is key.” Some of the best sports bras for running can help you stay comfortable and supported as your breasts increase in size.
If you’re fairly new to running or keen to improve your technique, learning how to run properly can help you stay injury-free. Gait analysis, an assessment often conducted by biokineticists and coaches, also helps improve your form and it’s worth looking into how running shoes should fit to really protect your joints.
“Don’t get too hot and stay hydrated,” says Grant. Pregnant women generally require more water for amniotic fluid, waste removal, and digestion.
It’s also important to fuel properly before you run. According to a study published in the Medical Clinics of North America, a general rule of thumb is to consume roughly 340-452 more calories a day in your second and third trimesters; you may find the energy surplus can supercharge energy and prevent feelings of dizziness when exercising. Learning what to eat before a run can help you better prepare.
And remember, always warm up and cool down properly, to decrease the likelihood of injury and improve muscle recovery. It might help to ensure you know how to prepare for a workout in advance of training. Baynham advises a method called 360-degree breathing with lots of back and side expansion to decrease stress on the pelvic floor, alongside regular blood pressure checks and pelvic floor exercises.
How to run during each trimester
Knowing when to stop is key. During the first trimester, many women experience fatigue and nausea which can deter them from training so it’s an important time to do a truthful self-assessment. Not feeling it? Don’t do it.
If you feel ready to tackle a run, remember the tips above and try to focus more on rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which means assessing tiredness on a scale of one to ten – rather than a specific pace, distance, or goal. This will not only aid your mindset, but it will also help keep you safe.
Many women find their energy returns dramatically during the second trimester, and it can be a brilliant time to get moving. However, loading can become an issue for some people, so this could also be a good time to consider your terrain.
“During all the trimesters, respect the body and fatigue levels as every woman's journey is different,” says Baynham. “Towards the end of the second trimester first-time mums may have loading issues, and second-time mums might experience this sooner.”
During the third trimester exercise can begin to feel painful, so you might feel ready to reduce (or stop) any higher impact exercising.
Nevertheless, one study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth in 2019 found that vigorous-intensity exercise completed in the third trimester appeared to be safe for most healthy pregnancies - so if you feel up to it, don’t feel you need to stop.
It’s important not to feel guilty, however, if you need to slow things down. According to a study by Sports Health published in the National Library of Medicine in 2015, only 31 percent of 110 competitive long-distance runners continued during their third trimester and (on average) those that did cut their intensity in half.
This is the perfect time to focus on gentle movement and self-care rather than going balls to the wall on intensity.
Most importantly, take each day as it comes – particularly if you’re managing old or existing injuries. If you experience bleeding, contractions, headaches, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, or swelling – stop and seek medical attention; and if you were inactive before pregnancy, build yourself up gradually and speak to your doctor first.
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Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and resident fitness writer at Future PLC. Having trained to work with both the mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and aims to bring mental wellbeing to the forefront of fitness. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and how we can build more sustainable training methods. You’ll find her writing about the importance of habit-building, nutrition, sleep, recovery, and workouts.