I always pictured myself running through out my pregnancy, but to my surprise when I became pregnant I didn’t like running at all. I was slower. It was harder to breathe. My heart beat faster. I was nervous I would fall – I’m clumsy as it is.
During my first trimester, I was exhausted, and starving all the time. It was also December, so cold winter days, didn’t really motivate me, plus we had a snowy winter. What if I slipped on ice? So I didn’t run, and instead I spent my free time curled up in a chunky knit sweater drinking a hot tea, reading about how to be pregnant.
Once the winter passed the summer began. I walked every day, wishing I was running, but it was just to hot. I did prenatal yoga as well. And by the time I hit 36 weeks my feet were swelling and the pool became my best friend.
The few times I did run while pregnant, I was slower, out of breath, and it wasn’t fun. I had a doctor tell me, if it feels good then go for it, if it doesn’t, then stop. Running while pregnant didn’t feel good, so I found other forms of exercise to keep me healthy and strong during my pregnancy.
I’ve been reading this book, called Brain Rules for babies. It says, “If I were to give a single sentence of advice based on what we know about in utero development during the first half of pregnancy,it would be this: The baby wants to be left alone.”
Sounds weird, but the fact is the baby has a lot to accomplish and develop. The best feature of life in the womb is the lack of stimulation.
Because of this, we have morning sickness to keep us eating a bland diet, away from any foods that could harm. We feel exhausted because our body is at major work. Most energy goes to the baby developing in the womb, but this exhaustion keeps over achieving athletes, like myself, from over doing it. The female body is truly amazing, it does all of this, so it can avoid overstimulation of the fetus.
The book also states that anthropologists believe our ancestors walked as far as 12 miles per day. And evidence proves that exercise should definitely be a part of a healthy pregnancy. However, what I have found is there are certain types of exercise that is better for a woman during pregnancy than others.
The more I research this subject the more glad I am that I didn’t run during pregnancy.
Along with reading, I have been listening to a couple of podcasts with the focus on motherhood and running. These podcasts have called in many experts including, running coaches and physical therapists who specialize on the pelvic floor. Through them, what I have discovered, is that… Running may not harm your baby, but it may harm you, during pregnancy and postpartum.
Here are the facts…
Heart: During pregnancy your heart beats faster to pump more blood to the fetus. In the early stages when your heart rate goes up so does your baby’s. However, at the end, the opposite happens. When your heart rate goes up, your baby’s heart rate (in most cases) drops.
Lungs: When you run you may feel out of breath, because your lungs are pumping more oxygen to the fetus.
Ligaments: During pregnancy, your ligaments start to soften to prepare for child-birth/labor and delivery. This normally starts to happen at around 20 weeks. I remember laying in bed with hip pain. This pain was totally normal. My hips were just spreading to make room for baby, and softening to prepare for labor. When running during pregnancy, most coaches suggest that most pregnant runners stop running after 20 weeks, however, each person is different and they evaluate case by case. After 20 weeks, the ligaments are soft and pregnant runners become more injury prone. Postpartum, your ligaments may still be soft. And although, baby has been born, your ligaments are still soft which means you are more prone to injury.
Bones: Postpartum, if you choose to breast feed, calcium first goes to baby. If you are not getting enough calcium in your diet, this can be a problem, and can lead to stress fractures.
Pelvic floor: The pelvic floor is the muscular base of the abdomen that is attached to the pelvis. These muscles for a woman, hold all of our organs inside – organs include uterus, bladder, and large intestine. The pelvic floor becomes weak during pregnancy, and during labor. It is more prone to injury to those who run during pregnancy, and for those who jump back into fitness to early postpartum. It is typical for doctors to give the “OKAY” to work out again to their postpartum patients 6-8 weeks postpartum, however, most running coaches, think this is too soon. Some highly recommend postpartum runners see a physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor, and get their pelvic floor evaluated before they start running again.
In Europe, strengthening the pelvic floor, is something that is included in prenatal care, and postpartum care, however, in the USA some pregnant women have no clue what the pelvic floor is. For those who are pregnant, it is very important to focus on strengthening the pelvic floor during pregnancy. In the prenatal yoga class I took when I was pregnant, the two areas of focus were on strengthening the pelvic floor and doing chest and hip openers.
Do you have a weak pelvic floor? There are a couple of symptoms and signs that you may notice that means your pelvic floor is weak. If you have had a baby, and you leak urine, this may be a sign that your pelvic floor is weak. Sometimes it may be while you are on a run, other times you may sneeze and pee a little. Also if you ran while pregnant and you are experiencing hip or back pain it may mean your pelvic floor is weak. In this case, it is best to get it evaluated.
There are ways to strengthen your pelvic floor during pregnancy in order to avoid injury. Also if your pelvic floor is already weak there are exercised you can do to strengthen it back up. However, if you ignore the problem, you may need surgery later.
Uterus: During pregnancy the uterus expands to hold baby, this heavy uterus pushes down on the pelvic floor. Because of this reason, it is important to strengthen the pelvic floor (read above). Running during pregnancy, when the uterus is larger, heavier, pushing down on the pelvic floor can cause injury. Postpartum, the uterus may take time to go down. Again because it is larger, pressing on the pelvic floor, working out to soon postpartum can cause injury.
Running form: When you are pregnant your body has transformed to make room for baby. Rib cage and hips have spread and expanded. Your core no longer exists. You have gained weight. Your uterus is larger, and is housing a baby. Your ligaments are soft. Your lungs and heart are working hard. Because of all of this, your running form may adjust in order to handle your pregnant body. You may or may not realized this change, however, a change in your running form may cause injury. If you do decide to run while pregnant, you may consider getting your form evaluated because you may need different running shoes.
Cadence: How many steps you take in one minute is your cadence. The goal is to reach around 180 steps per minute. When you are pregnant you may not be able to get your feet off the ground fast enough, so therefore your cadence may be a lot lower. When your cadence is lower it means your foot is on the ground for longer, or your stride is longer. Both of these can cause injury.
At 7 months, postpartum, I am now RUNNING for TWO. Zoe my 7 month old daughter is my favorite running buddy. I have never been an early bird, but Zoe is training me to be one. She goes to bed every night between 7:30 and 8:00, which means on a lucky day she sleeps in until 7:00 am, but on most days she is up ready to play at 6:00 -6:30 am. This gives us plenty of time to go for morning runs.
I have been running since 14 weeks postpartum. This gave me a full two months to focus on just me and my running. I focused on form and cadence. I’m not as fast as I was before, but I am getting there. Those two months gave me the time I needed to get my strength back so I would be comfortable bringing on the extra weight of a baby and running stroller. I have been running most days, and everyday I run with Zoe my pace improves. This stroller gig is making me stronger. Zoe loves it as well, and on most days as long as she is well fed, she naps during our runs.
So although, I didn’t run for two while pregnant, I am doing it now. And whether she is sleeping peacefully, or giggling, or in the rare case screaming her head off, running with Zoe is my new favorite kind of running.
So if you are a pregnant runner consider the above information, and always remember, although it may seem like forever, you are only pregnant for a short time. Soon your baby will be here, and you will be pulling out the running stroller before you know it.
Mama’s – Did you run pregnant?
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