Running and Pregnancy
January 11, 2023
Running has become a very popular sport, and more than half of recreational runners are women. For runners who are pregnant, you may be wondering if it is safe to run while pregnant. If so, how much and at what intensity? Is it safe in the first trimester? What about the third trimester? And postpartum – when is it safe to return to running?
The purpose of this post is to answer these questions and address your prenatal and postnatal running concerns.
You’ve just found out you are pregnant – congratulations! Does that mean it is time to stop running? For healthy women with healthy pregnancies, studies have found no significant difference in gestational age at delivery or birthweight in women who stopped running and those who continued running through their pregnancy. In fact, in most pregnancies, exercise has been shown to have many health benefits, including decreased risk of depression, macrosomia, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, caesarian delivery, low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, and urinary incontinence.
Current recommendations are to perform aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity for 150 minutes per week. This can be broken into smaller sessions; for example, you could exercise 5 days out of the week for 30min. If there is a regular exercise you participated in before pregnancy (e.g. running or strength training), you may continue this exercise during pregnancy, although it is best to avoid any physical activity that could include contact (e.g. soccer), sports with a high risk of falling (e.g. skiing), or sports with altitude changes (e.g. scuba diving).
While it has been found to be safe to exercise at a vigorous intensity for most healthy pregnancies, there are many physical changes that our bodies go through during pregnancy. All pregnant women experience a growing belly during their pregnancy. This often means a little extra weight is carried in their midsection, causing their center of gravity to change which can take some getting used to, especially when exercising.
All of these body changes, along with general pregnancy weight gain may alter the way you like to exercise and move so it is important to listen to your body and adjust your workouts as needed, especially if you are a pregnant runner.
After delivery, running may not be the first thing on your mind, as you enjoy getting to know your little one. At some point, you’ll want to return to your normal exercise routine! But what does a return to running program look like postpartum? We know there are numerous benefits of running, especially for your cardiovascular health. However, there are also postnatal pelvic health issues that may create barriers to exercise, so it is important to understand how to return to exercise in a safe way.
Just like other muscles in our body, our pelvic floor muscles need time to recover. Running is a high-impact sport associated with increased intra-abdominal pressure and increased impact on the pelvic floor. It is therefore recommended that only low-impact exercise is done for the first 3 months postpartum (e.g. walking, spinning), followed by a return to running at 3-6 months postpartum. These time frames may vary depending on your pregnancy and birth experience, whether or not you had a cesarean and your general energy levels after giving birth.
It is also recommended to have a pelvic floor assessment done to screen for any abdominal or pelvic floor dysfunction to optimize your return to running. If you have any of the following symptoms, running is not advised until a pelvic floor assessment is completed: urinary and/or fecal incontinence (including constipation), pressure/bulging/heaviness in the vagina, ongoing vaginal bleeding, or pelvic pain.
At Synergy Physio + Pilates, your physiotherapist will perform a full body assessment as well as a pelvic floor assessment to identify the underlying cause of your symptoms, and develop a treatment plan based on these findings to work towards your goals, whether that is running, or something else. Let us help you reach your movement goals!
Please note that this information is based on general guidelines for healthy pregnancies, however, every pregnancy is different. If you have any health concerns or questions it is always best to consult with your doctor.
Written by Lauren Albert-Lebrun
Lauren is a physiotherapist at Synergy, offering physiotherapy services in both our ConnectTherapy for Runners program and our Healthy Pelvic Floor program. Lauren has two beautiful daughters and is an avid runner, which is what led her to her interest in running during pregnancy and helping women return to running post-partum. Lauren understands how important running and exercise is for not only our physical health, but for our mental health as well. She would love to share her passion for running and movement with you and help keep you moving toward your goals.