Running While Pregnant

Stock Image from user ColinBroug - Athletics Track Many women ask if it’s okay to run and exercise while pregnant. According to an article on SportMedBC, Dr. Karen Nordahl, physician and co-author of Fit to Deliver: Prenatal Fitness Program, recommends that “A woman can run as long as she feels comfortable and has no pregnancy or orthopedic complications.” Dr. Nordahl currently practices family medicine and obstetrics at BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver. For women who have not been regular runners prior to pregnancy, SportMedBC advice is “now is not the time to start running. Instead, try walking, stretching or a prenatal exercise class”, but “women who were regular runners before becoming pregnant usually find they can run long into their pregnancy and for some, right up until delivery.”

In Dr. Nordahl’s book, she discusses the importance of a prenatal fitness program for both mother and baby. The studies she quotes indicate that a fitness regimen for expecting women usually leads to more comfortable pregnancies and an easier time in the delivery room than for women who lead a sedentary lifestyle, including reduced rates of pregnancy-related diabetes and high blood pressure, fewer C-section deliveries and shorter labours. As well, there is evidence that infants born to exercising mothers develop motor and language skills earlier.

Early in her career, Dr. Nordahl discovered that women who remained active in pregnancy had very little clear information and guidance available to them. In partnership with Carl Petersen, a Physical Therapist and Training Coach with a background in working with high-performance competitive athletes, Dr. Nordahl developed the Fit to Deliver program which includes prenatal and postnatal fitness classes.

A March 2014 article on Fitness for you and your baby by Anne McLaughlin, reviewed by Dr. Nordahl for the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre Foundation newsletter, addresses frequently asked questions about exercise in pregnancy. The article states that, “not only is it safe to exercise when you’re pregnant, but a good fitness program can make your pregnancy easier and more enjoyable” affecting both physical and emotional health and improving pregnancy outcomes for your baby.

The article cautions that it is important to talk first to your maternity care provider if you have:

  • A high risk pregnancy
  • High blood pressure
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Underlying heart or lung conditions
  • Issues with the baby (e.g. small for date and bed rest is necessary)
  • A history of two or more miscarriages (in which case, you may be advised not to exercise until after your first trimester)

The benefits of regular exercise in pregnancy are listed as being:

  • Improved posture and reduced back pain
  • Decreased leg cramps
  • Reduced constipation
  • Increased energy
  • Improved overall mood
  • Increased fitness which will help during labour and delivery and assist in post-partum recuperation

For those new to exercise, the recommendation is to begin with “a low intensity walking program or a prenatal exercise class taught by a qualified instructor. Gradually increase the time you exercise and listen to your body. If you are overly fatigued, don’t exercise, or cut back the length of time, intensity or frequency of your chosen exercise routine.”

For those who regularly train at a gym, the article recommends a couple of sessions with a trainer to adapt one’s regular routine, and to use an incline for exercising on one’s back, rather than exercising flat. This reduces pressure on the vena cava (the large vein that returns blood from the lower half of the body to the heart) and the pelvic veins, and helps to prevent dizziness.

Women at health club.While “yoga can be beneficial, providing you work with a yoga instructor with training in pre-natal exercise”, hot yoga should be avoided. “The excess heat can put your baby at greater risk of neural tube defects (which impact the baby’s spine or brain) or other abnormalities. Excessive body temperature during pregnancy (from fever, extreme exercise, saunas, hot tubs, etc.) is known to impact the developing fetus.”

The article recommends the following cautions:

  • Avoid over-stretching (joints are more flexible due to body changes in pregnancy, and it is important not to overwork them)
  • Activities that require balance, such as skiing, won’t be as easy, because you will be less steady on your feet
  • Resting heart rate increases during pregnancy, so is not an accurate indicator of workout intensity. “Use the ‘talk test’ instead. Can you comfortably carry on a conversation during your workout? If so, you’re exercising at the right intensity.”

During the second and third trimester, the fetus grows larger and is no longer protected by the mother’s pelvis, so it is important to “avoid the risk of abdominal trauma. That means no exercises that put your stomach at risk, such as soccer or squash.”