Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Bump on Board: Running in Pregnancy

I’ve always been a runner. In school I took pride in being able to outrun some of the boys in my class. I played midfield in soccer which required a lot of stamina, and I kept up running for fitness through college and as I moved into “the real world.” Last year I even knuckled down and ran the London Marathon! So now I’m running while pregnant, which you’ve probably picked up on.

When I mention that I’m still running, I often get one of two reactions: Cue furrowed brow and concerned tone: “Is that really a good idea for you and the baby?” OR a perplexed grimace that suggests I might as well be bungee jumping or throwing myself into a rugby scrum. So I find myself justifying my actions, and explaining that there is no reason for concern. “I’m only running a couple of 5Ks a week, nothing too taxing for baby or me!”

This approach was not condoned at my first “booking in” midwife appointment around 11 weeks, where I was told plain and simple, “don’t run, we don’t advise it.”

I felt a little cheated by this response. Yes, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but mainly, it conflicted with advice I’d read elsewhere. I’m sure the midwife had a duty of care to echo the advice in the NHS Handbook that gave she me, but this “blanket advice” didn’t account for my history running, fitness level, medical history, etc. It seemed more of the “cover our backs with catch all safe advice” family. So I dug a little deeper…

Now I’m no medical expert, and the following is my understanding and NOT official medical advice (disclaimer, disclaimer, etc). but herein lies the skinny on running while pregnant:

If you haven’t run before you were pregnant, don’t start once you are. It is generally safe for seasoned runners to continue at a lesser distance and intensity; you will need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses and your bump grows. It’s important to stay hydrated and not to overheat, especially in the first trimester while your young baby is developing its vital organs. You may be more prone to injury as your body has higher levels of relaxin, a joint-relaxing hormone, so tread carefully over uneven ground and to wear supportive footwear. A sturdy sports bra is also a must, and a maternity support belt could help support your bump. Try to engage your pelvic floor as you jog since extra strain is put on these muscles. Listening to your body is most key: if you feel nauseous, dizzy, out of breath or experience chest pains, blurred vision, a headache or vaginal bleeding, STOP! If anything feels uncomfortable or not right, STOP! Don’t push yourself and don’t go for the “burn.” Think in terms of your fitness, not keeping up your previous level of training.

Across the board, advice suggests that women with pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, placenta previa (low lying placenta), a weak cervix and others, particularly a history of pre-term labor or miscarriage should avoid running; if you are at all concerned, have a discussion with your doctor or midwife.

This article from Runners World suggests that women entering their second trimester should have an internal with their OBGYN to check the strength of their cervix. I’ve read more about this from US sites, and think my midwife might look at me like I have two heads if I ask her for an internal considering the advice I received previously, but maybe I should ask. I haven’t had any signs out of the ordinary, but this looks like an extra and sensible precaution runners can take. In fact, many US sites suggest getting the “all clear” from your doctor regarding your plan to run pregnant.

As with many things in pregnancy, a cautious and sensible approach to running looks like the answer. Many runners pay testament to their trade as a means of staying fit and healthy throughout their pregnancy and preparing them for labour. Here’s an excerpt from a Babyfit article on the topic:

“When I became pregnant with my first child, I decided that as long as my doctor said it was okay (and I felt good), I would continue running for as long as my body would allow… I'd been a runner for years and loved both the physical and mental benefits. So I was relieved that when I went in for my first OB appointment, the doctor said I could continue running as long as I felt good and didn't push myself too much. Running helped alleviate the constant morning (and afternoon and evening) nausea I couldn't seem to shake, kept my weight gain at a healthy rate, and prepared my body for the toughest race I'd ever have to run-labor and delivery. As my belly expanded, I went from a comfortable jog, to a slower jog, and finally to a waddle the week before my daughter was born. I was quite a sight to the neighbors I passed on my running route! But I wouldn't trade that for anything. For anyone whose health care provider has given their okay to continue running, I highly recommend it.”

Some other useful articles about running pregnant are at Babycentre and Pregnancy Today.

So come on fellow running ladies, let’s lace up our sneakers, give our bodies and minds a work out, our bumps a ride and those passers by something to gape at!
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