There's a common misconception with pregnancy that for the next nine months you must stop all activity and patiently await the arrival of your new baby. However, just because you've gained some precious cargo, doesn't mean you're not able to exercise or do (most of) the things you did before you found out you were pregnant. It's also perfectly normal to be a bit more cautious about exercise, such as running or horse riding. But if you're sensible about it, you can keep exercising well into your pregnancy.
Medical professionals and sports coaches agree that it’s both safe and beneficial for women to continue exercising throughout pregnancy. In fact staying active is among the most common advice you'll hear from your midwife. Elite and recreational athletes with low-risk pregnancies can even, for the most part, continue with their training regimens.
Hannah Mills, mum, personal trainer, and pre & post natal specialist says: 'For me, exercising in my 1st trimester helped ease any queasiness and it most definitely helped me feel more energised – meaning I was less likely to slump on the sofa, falling in to a "I feel sorry for myself and my queasiness" mood… you know the one. Obviously our bodies are all different, so it’s important to listen to your own – but for me – exercise has helped so much!'
'The type and intensity of exercise you choose to do will of course depend on your pre-pregnancy activity and fitness level,' Hannah adds. 'Pregnancy isn’t a time to start striving to hit new PB’s – but equally, remember you are pregnant, not powerless – I love this little motto and have been using it so much right now!'
The benefits of staying active in pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy do's and dont's
- DO talk to your midwife if you're uncertain about continuing to run.
- DO map out your runs for bathroom breaks.
- DO walk if you need to/give yourself more rest stops.
- DO remember you are pregnant - don't beat yourself up about not breaking your PB.
- DO listen to your body.
- DON'T be alarmed when your gait changes.
- DON'T get frustrated (but know that it's ok if you do).
- DON'T listen to friends/family/strangers telling you that you shouldn't be running – unless you've had advice from a medical professional that you shouldn't run, you're fine. Pregnancy affects every woman differently, and you know your body best.
Top tips for running while pregnant
Of course there are risks associated with most sports, plus certain symptoms of pregnancy (such as needing to pee every two seconds) may put even seasoned runners off, or naturally make them want to back off a bit during this time. And that’s ok too.
The key thing is to keep to your usual routine, so don't start training for your first marathon – but if running is a part of your normal schedule, and your body is already used to running, it's perfectly safe for you and your baby.
Here are some tips to be aware of, from our friends at Trail Running:
During pregnancy, and especially in the later trimesters, your center of gravity changes and your joints loosen, which some say can make it easier to lose your balance. And while knee scrapes and shin bruises are one thing, falls that impact the abdomen can be more risky. Though it's worth noting that falls won’t necessarily lead to problems—the baby is enveloped by amniotic fluid and a muscular uterus designed to protect it from harm. Even so, pregnant runners will want to be extra careful navigating off road over uneven terrain.
Your body’s shifting hormones actually causes your body’s muscles, joints, and ligaments to become more elastic, leaving you much more vulnerable to injury. This hormone, which is called relaxin, is great for when you’re in labor and need that cervix to relax and stretch, but can make you wobbly and unsteady on your feet, so take extra care when running.
Perhaps stick to more stable ground, at least at first, to get a sense of how your body feels different.
Mild dehydration during pregnancy can increase constipation (already a problem for most pregnant women) and cause false contractions, known as Braxton Hicks. Monitor the colour of your urine to make sure you’re drinking enough fluids. It should be the colour of very light lemonade – any darker and you are already on your way to dehydration.
As for nutrition, most experts say pregnant women need to eat only about an additional 300 calories per day starting in their second trimester. But hunger patterns can certainly be unpredictable during pregnancy, so it's worth bringing snacks out with you to keep your energy up.
Mileage vs. Intensity
There’s no science to determining how much mileage a pregnant runner can put in. Instead, runners will want to make that decision based on their current fitness levels and how they feel at any time. Remember that what feels good in one woman’s body isn’t always the same in another woman’s body. It’s about trying to be flexible with yourself and listening to your body.
Doctors used to recommend that women keep their heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute during pregnancy, but that guideline is now considered outdated. Most medical professionals today say that women can put in about as much effort as they did pre-pregnancy without any negative impacts on the baby.
That said, as a pregnancy progresses, runners will naturally slow down.
Get some support
One piece of gear that many pregnant runners say they can’t live without? The belly band. Many women start wearing these bands, which lift and hold in the growing belly while also supporting the back, in their second trimester. Some say the bands can alleviate round ligament pain, or the aches and jabs women can feel in the lower belly and groin as the uterus expands.
You'll also need to make sure you're giving the proper support to your growing breasts. If you're finding them uncomfortably heavy and a nuisance when working out, a good sports bra can help. Invest in a sturdy, supportive bra that fits perfectly to help relieve some of the pain that may arise when running.
Invest in good running shoes
As mentioned above, you may find you're a bit more wobbly on your feet when running while pregnant. So, it's essential that you have the right running shoes that support your ankles and take the pressure off of your knees. If your trainers are looking a rather well-loved, it's a great time to invest in a new pair (just make sure you break them in properly before hitting the road – no one wants blisters).
Look out for a pair with good arch support, believe us, you'll need it. Running with extra weight will put more pressure on your muscles. You can also buy arch supports to insert into your current pair of trainers, if your aching feet need a bit of extra TLC.
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