“Can I run while I am pregnant?”
“When should I stop running when pregnant?”
“What can I start running again after having the baby?”
These are questions I receive quite frequently from clients, friends, my group exercise class participants or even strangers after finding out what I do.
The answer to the first question is yes. Running while pregnant is perfectly safe as long as their are no complications or you have not been instructed not to do so from your doctor. Though exercise duration recommendations for pregnancy is the same as the general public, 150 minutes a week, it is recommended that you do not exceed pre-pregnancy intensity levels. So if you were not running at all before pregnancy, you can definitely still began an exercise program, but it would be best to probably start with walking. If you do decide to run while pregnant, I would highly recommend good supportive sport bras as well as supportive shoes. Some women also choose to use a running belt as they get further along. You will want to really listen to your body as far as intensity goes and pay attention to any associated pain. It is not recommend to get purposely breathless while exercising during pregnancy (hormone changes will often make you feel rather breathless) but there is no need to be running 200 meter all out sprints while pregnant. Keep the intensity fairly moderate. The hormone relaxin is also circulating while pregnant, making joints a bit more lax so again, pay attention to your body. If you are having pain while running or afterwards, it is best to back off the pace or switch to fast or incline walking.
When should you stop running? There is no medical recommendation on exactly when a pregnant woman should stop. I believe you should stop when it becomes too uncomfortable, when it is no longer enjoyable or have been recommended to stop by a doctor or other medical professional. Exercise is supposed to make you feel better, not worse. I know women who ran for the majority of their pregnancy. With Caleb, I ran to about 27 weeks as it still felt good in my body. Of course, I was running quite a bit slower but I still enjoyed it. With Madelynn, I stopped and 19 or 20 weeks because it just did not feel good. My joints ached a bit and everything seemed to be jostling around no matter how much supportive gear I wore. So this is a very personal answer, if it still feels okay, you are not having any associated pain during or after, then you can continue to run until you feel too uncomfortable.
I stopped running well before this photo was taken.
Returning to running after having a baby is much more complicated and there are many more things to consider as there is a lot going on in your body post-partum.
A few things to think about:
- Are you having any pain with any type of workouts?
If gentle and slow exercise hurts, it is not time to start running.
- Are you having pelvic floor dysfunction which can include pain, incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse (when your pelvic organs drop from their normal position) ?
If you are peeing down your leg every time your attempt to run or have been diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse you need to focus on healing your pelvic floor first.
- How is your overall current lifestyle?
It is very likely that many moms, regardless of their kids age, are probably not getting enough sleep but are you getting ‘adequate’ rest? Often, time may be better spent getting a quick nap then trying to add extra miles to your weekly routine.
- How is your overall energy and stress levels?
If your body is still very, very much stressed the last thing we want to do is add a lot more stress with running and intense exercise.
- Are you breastfeeding?
You can run while breastfeeding but a few things to consider include needing a very supportive bra (I just ended up wearing two) as breasts are almost always larger when breastfeeding. You need to to think about timing of the run with feeding and/or pumping. When you are breastfeeding, you still have some relaxin in your body. This hormone makes the joints more relaxed and loose feeling. Be aware of any joint pain and see if running acerbates this.
Caleb and I about 6th months postpartum at one of my first post-baby races. I fed him early before I left and then pumped right before I raced.
As I have mentioned before, I just wish I would of waited to return to running and intense exercise with Madelynn. I think I would have skipped many months of severe back pain. Though I do not believe you have to wait 6 weeks post-partum to return to some form of light exercise, I do think you need to wait a bit to return to intense exercise which includes running.
Even if you are running fairly slow, running is high impact and can be stressful on our bodies. The last thing we want to do to a body that is already highly stressed due to having a new baby, hormone changes and lack of sleep is put it under a lot more stress. Remember, birth should be treated as a major event to the body regardless if you had a vaginal or cesarean section. You would never run a few weeks after having an ACL surgery and that it one location in your body vs. an event that impacted most of our body. Why does society put so much pressure on new moms to ‘get their body back’ and to return to intense exercise shortly after a major body event?
As Jessie Mundell, one of the most educated coaches in pre-and post-natal exercise, says about returning to exercise post-partum, “the slowest path is the fastest path.”
Before you get back into running, I would highly recommend the following to hopefully be able to return pain free and for the long term.
- Clearance from your OBGYN. It is standard to go see your OBGYN 6-8 weeks after birth. At this time the Dr. will generally check you for any issues and clear you for exercise. As mentioned, I think slow and intentional exercise before 6-8 weeks (walking, swimming, light weight training, body weight training) is okay and actually good for most women who have no complications. But for more intense exercise I would DEFINITELY wait until you have had your first post-op check up.
- Be seen by a Pelvic Floor Physio Therapist. A physio who specializes in women’s health can help determine pelvic floor function, any issues, evaluate you for diastisis recti and make other recommendations to help you heal and function properly. Unfortunately, a recommendation to see a PF Physio is not the standard of care in this country but as more and more women are starting to talk about be open with pelvic floor dysfunction, they are becoming more common.
- You have been doing at least a month (ideally two to three months) of lower intensity workouts The first time you exercise post-partum should not be a run. Before running, you should have started walking frequently, light weight lifting, body weight exercise and core work.
- You have no pain from exercise. Pain is different than being a little bit uncomfortable or challenged from exercise. Exercising after having a baby will be a bit challenging as you start to regain strength and stamina but again, exercise is supposed to make you feel better and enhance your wellbeing. If your joints or body ache after walking, do not attempt to start running.
There are no hard rules on pre-and postpartum exercise. Yes, there are some guidelines that should definitely followed but other recommendations are really personal to each woman. Listen to your body, work with a coach or trainer who is knowledgeable in pre-and post-natal training and whom you trust. Pregnancy is temporary but postpartum is forever. By being smart, taking it slower than you might wish, you are much less likely to have complications later on and you can return stronger than ever!
If you are looking to get back into running regardless of when you had a baby (or even if you never have had a baby), want to start running or even get faster and set a new PR, I am excited to share with you Running Beyond Baby. This program contains 3, 12 week programs and is for everyone regardless of ability level. The program includes weight, core and yoga workouts as well as education on hormones, nutrition and more! There are no other programs out there that offer this much information and education at this price! AND if you are not ready yet for running (see above) you will have access to the program forever but it is only sale this week so make sure to grab it! Check it out here before Friday!