Pregnancy can be a magical time, but also a stressful one. With so many things you can and can’t do, it can get confusing. Guidelines recommend women without complicated pregnancies should be maintaining fitness. But how?
Many women love the alone time pounding the pavement for a nice run out in nature, but is this too strenuous? We asked five experts if it’s safe to run while pregnant.
Five out of five experts said yes
Kassia Beetham, Exercise Physiologist:
Yes, until the third trimester. Moderate intensity exercise throughout pregnancy has significant benefits for the mother and baby. In the first two trimesters, running can help strengthen the placenta and pelvic floor muscles.
However, there is a risk that running in the third trimester may cause postpartum urinary incontinence or reduced infant birthweight. High-impact activities such as running should be limited in the third trimester as the weight of the foetus can weaken the pelvic floor. The greater demands of the foetus in the final stages of pregnancy also mean higher intensity exercise should be avoided in the final trimester.
Krissy Kendall, Sports Scientist:
To date, there are only a handful of studies specifically looking at running during pregnancy, but recent research is promising. A 2018 study examining the running habits of 1,293 female runners during pregnancy found running during pregnancy did not appear to affect gestational age or birthweight, regardless of training volume or stage of pregnancy.
It's important to note physical changes associated with pregnancy, like ligaments becoming more loose, and weight gain can negatively impact comfort levels while running. Australian guidelines warn of excessive body heat during exercise. It’s best to take your exercise indoors if outdoor temperatures are hot and humid.
Most guidelines also suggested women should seek advice from their health care provider before starting or continuing an exercise program.
Mary Kennedy, Exercise Medicine:
Continuing to run throughout pregnancy is not only safe, it’s beneficial for most women with uncomplicated pregnancies. However, starting a running program during pregnancy is not ideal for someone who is not regularly active.
While women are encouraged to embrace healthier routines during pregnancy, it's important to progress gradually. Vigorous activities, such as running, are something to work toward. This hard work is not advised while also managing the anatomic and physiologic changes that occur throughout pregnancy.
And existing runners must be willing to adjust their routines to accommodate their bodies’ changing needs. Pregnancy is not the time to 'push through the pain' or strive for a personal record. Women should listen to their bodies and develop a routine that feels good, recognising there may be a point when running is no longer comfortable. A health care provider should be consulted regularly to ensure activity levels are adjusted appropriately.
Rylee Dionigi, Sports Lecturer:
Yes, if the pregnant woman enjoys running, wants to run and feels they can run! After seeking medical/health care advice and clearance to run while pregnant, which is reviewed as a pregnancy progresses, pregnant women can run according to their own fitness levels and previous physical activity, sport or exercise experiences.
While the latest guidelines on exercise during pregnancy are useful when deciding if it is safe to run, they also say further research in this area is needed.
And these guidelines must be situated within the wider context, because ideas about exercise during pregnancy continually change over time, many factors related to pregnancy are out of women’s control and not all women have the means, ability or desire to exercise during pregnancy. So women should not feel obligated to 'run', and women should be provided with the conditions that enable them to make choices about physical activity that address their health needs.
Stephen Cousins,Exercise Scientist:
Exercise throughout pregnancy of at least 150-300 minutes per week is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Dynamic, rhythmic, weight-bearing activities that use large muscle groups are largely recommended.
However, the type of exercise should be based upon comfort, convenience and experience. So for those with uncomplicated pregnancies and those who were running regularly before pregnancy, it’s fine to keep it up. But if you weren’t a runner before getting pregnant, it can be a challenging time to start and you might want to consider other forms of recommended aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming or elliptical training.