It’s recommended that pregnant women do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. In general, if you’re healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it’s safe to exercise. Doctors say that women who were already running regularly before pregnancy can continue while pregnant.
However, there are some conditions that make it unsafe to exercise during pregnancy. These include bleeding, preeclampsia, severe anemia, some types of heart and lung disease, and placenta problems. If you’re having multiples and are at risk of preterm labor, doctors don’t recommend exercise. It’s important to talk to your healthcare professional before you start any exercise program during pregnancy.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Less weight gain. A study of 39 women who continued exercising during pregnancy found that they gained less weight and fat, and had a lower risk of getting cardiovascular disease.
Easier labor. Pregnant women who exercise tend to have easier and faster labors as well as a quicker recovery.
Lower risk of complications. Exercise may also decrease the risk of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and reduce the likelihood of needing a Cesarean Section. Studies have found that gestational diabetes is less common among women who exercise regularly.
Mental wellbeing. Exercise during pregnancy has been found to decrease the likelihood of depression by 67%. Exercise can boost your energy levels as well as your mood.
Baby’s brain development. Researchers found that exercise during pregnancy can boost the baby’s brain development. A study of newborns’ brain activity found that those whose mothers exercised regularly during pregnancy had brains that developed more rapidly than those with sedentary mothers.
Risks of Running During Pregnancy
If you weren’t running before your pregnancy, doctors recommend that you don't start now. You can however try starting an exercise program such as walking but start slowly.
Off balance. Your center of gravity changes with pregnancy, thanks to the extra weight in front of your body. So be extra careful when running on uneven or steep surfaces or rough terrain, as your joints are looser and more prone to injury.
More aches and pains. Some pregnant women feel pain around their pelvis or abdomen, called round ligament pain. This is because of the round ligaments that help support the uterus. It can be more painful during vigorous exercise.
How to run safely while pregnant
Check your shoes. During pregnancy, your joints, such as those in your ankles and feet, are more at risk of injury. Make sure your running shoes are supportive. You may need to buy a size up if your feet have swollen or flattened.
More support. Your breasts change as your pregnancy progresses, so check that your sports bra fits. Some women find that a pregnancy support band can help with lower back pain while running.
Drink lots of water. You’re already needing to take more toilet breaks because of increased pressure on your bladder, and might be tempted to drink less when running. However, pregnant women need 8 to 12 cups a day. Water is needed for amniotic fluid, higher blood volume, digestion, and the removal of waste.
Listen to your body. Pregnancy isn’t the time to try for a personal best. Your body is already working harder than ever. Instead, take walk breaks, slow down, or add in extra recovery days. Because of hormones, fatigue is a common symptom in early pregnancy. Don’t push yourself or expect your fitness level to remain the same as pre-pregnancy days.
Know when to stop. It can be hard to run in the first trimester because of nausea and fatigue. In the second trimester, many women find that their energy returns and nausea goes away. Most women stop running in the third trimester because it becomes uncomfortable. Even competitive runners reduce their training during pregnancy. A study of 110 long-distance competitive runners found that only 31% ran during their third trimester. On average, they cut their training intensity by about half.
Warning signs. Be aware of some warning signs when exercising. These include:
- Bleeding, fluid leaking from the vagina
- Regular and painful uterus contractions
- Chest pain
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Calf pain or swelling
- Muscle weakness that affects your balance
- Shortness of breath before beginning any exercise
If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising and talk to your doctor.