Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Answers to Every Question I've Ever Been Asked About Running During Pregnancy

Can you believe it was almost 80 degrees here yesterday? 

What a glorious feeling to crawl out of the cave of winter in the sunshine of spring! This time of year always fills me with a renewed energy to set goals and tackle projects inside and outside of the house. One of the goals on my list is to dedicate more time to blogging.  The winter season was a rough one for our family, but now that we're finally coming up for fresh air after drowning in mold toxicity, Lyme disease, tonsil surgery and a broken collar bone, I think I might actually have enough energy to write!
One topic I miss writing about most is running.  At 33 weeks, I've had to trade my running shoes in for a walking pair, but I'm okay with that.  This is the longest I've ever been able to run during a pregnancy, and with just 7 weeks to go before baby (fingers crossed - they like to take their time entering the world), I'll be running again soon.

Over the past few years I've received a lot of questions from my readers about running during pregnancy, and thought it might be helpful to summarize those questions and answers all in one post for those of you who are looking for more information on the topic.

*Please note that I am not an expert in this field, or a trained medical professional.  Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program while pregnant.
1.  Is it okay to start running if I wasn't running before pregnancy?
The answer to this question depends on whether or not you were engaged in some type of exercise routine (besides running) prior to your pregnancy.  If the answer is no, then I don't suggest you begin running right now. Walking, swimming, or Pilates designed for pregnancy are a better option for you. If, however, you exercised on a regular basis prior to pregnancy, and walking at a brisk pace brings you no discomfort, then running is definitely an option for you!

2.  What are the benefits of running during pregnancy?
There are many wonderful benefits to running throughout your pregnancy (or as long as your body permits), which include more balanced hormones, increased energy, easier labor and delivery and quicker post-partum recovery.  You can read a more detailed list here.

3.  Do I need to change my regular workout attire? 
For the most part, no. Thankfully, it's becoming easier to find fun, comfortable, and stylish maternity athletic wear in stores and online. But tights and tops aren't the most important things you should consider when it comes to running.  The three items I suggest you focus on are:
:: bigger shoes
:: a better bra
:: the best belly support belt
Not everyone, but many of us naturally need to size up a bit in the shoe department during pregnancy. So, if you're clinging to your favorite pair of kicks, but notice that you're feet are feeling a bit squished in them, don't worry, you'll be able to sport them again one of these days.  But for now, your feet need plenty of cushion, support, and wiggle room, so consider purchasing a new pair a half size, or size up. 

As for the bra - keeping those girls tucked in neat and tidy means less chafing and more comfort during your run. Think structure, support, and sizing up (which is a bonus for people like me!) when looking for a new bra. Athleta and Title Nine both offer a wide variety of bras that meet very specific shapes and sizes, but if you're sticking to a budget, Target and athletic stores like Dick's Sporting goods will also provide a nice selection for you.

Finally, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of wearing a support belt (I really like this one). Not only will you find, as your tummy begins to grow, that the belt supports your expanding abdomen, but it also alleviates some of the pressure on your lower back and bottom, which can be quite a relief if you struggle with pain in either of those areas during pregnancy.

4.  How fast and how far can I go?
Distance and speed are primarily determined by two things: the level of shape you are currently in, and your personal comfort level as you are working out.  No matter what your exercise goals are for the day, you must listen to your body.  If you're feeling overly fatigued, light-headed, short of breath, or experiencing ANY pain at all, you must stop running, or at least slow down if you are pushing the pace. Fighting through the pain is a familiar routine for many runners, but it shouldn't be during pregnancy, so listen to your body.  With regards to distance, achieving a particular number of miles per day may be your goal, but perhaps not a realistic one right now.  Consider running for a particular amount of time rather than distance, or if you just can't let go of your mileage, try mixing some walking in with the run to give your body the much needed break it is asking for.

5.  What should I eat after a run?
While fuel is an important factor to consider when running, even more important is hydration.  I cannot stress how vital it is for mamas to stay hydrated throughout their pregnancies, especially before and after a workout. Dehydration can be dangerous for baby and for you.  If you plan to run (or take part in any exertive exercise) for thirty minutes or longer, then I highly recommend replenishing fluids with an electrolyte replacement.  I prefer Nuun, because it is lower in sodium than Gatorade type drinks, it's very low in sugar, and doesn't contain any artificial ingredients such as food coloring or flavorings.  If you are working out in warm weather, be sure to dress appropriately and consider carrying a hand-held water bottle (like this one) with you when you run/walk. 

Post workout replenishment should be simple and nutritious (you really don't need as many calories as you might think).  I like plain, non-fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, a small scoop of paleo granola with coconut milk, fruit and veggie smoothies with a whey protein mix (I like this one), or a banana topped with a couple of teaspoons of almond butter. Quality protein and slow digesting carbs will help repair your muscles and replenish your energy for the remainder of the day.

6.  Should I consider my posture and form when running?
Yes! There are a couple of really important things to remember when it comes to posture. First, because your center of gravity is going to shift a bit as your tummy begins to grow (which can effect your balance), and your loosening joints and ligaments can also cause some instability, you will find it necessary to shorten your running stride.  Doing so will give you greater stability, balance, and sense of security out on the road.  

Second, take a posture check in the mirror.  Is your expanding belly causing your back to arch? If you feel a dip in your lower back, try bringing your spine into a neutral position, by tucking your pelvis in a bit.  The posture correction may feel a little strange at first, but really you are just aligning your spine over your hips, and this should take some pressure off of your lower back.  In doing so, you will find a greater level of comfort while running by simply keeping the posture of your lower back in check. 

7.  Is it okay to race while pregnant?
To me, racing means training and working towards a PR, and pregnancy is not the time for either of those things.  If your definition of racing means signing up for a local 5K and running/walking for fun with your friends, then sure, if you were running prior to pregnancy, go for it! On the other hand, if racing means long runs, speed work, and strength training to meet a goal race time, then it's time to set aside those ideals for the next few months.  Shift your focus to the health and strength of your body for the benefit of the baby and to achieve a smother labor and delivery. What race could be more important?

8.  What should I do about an overactive bladder while running?
Multiple births have a way of making a mom feel a little insecure when it comes to bladder control. My suggestion is to hydrate well throughout the day, but avoid drinking anything 1 hour before running. Then, be sure to replenish fluids post-run.  Run close to home, in case you have an urgent need to go. And, if the motion of running is simply too much, it's simply time to start walking.  I know that no one (including myself) likes to do those annoying pelvic floor exercises, but if it's a choice between being able to run and having to postpone exercise until after birth, then it may be well worth your time to devote a few minutes a day to doing them.

9.  What are some signs that I should stop running?
I can speak with confidence in this arena, because I have had a myriad experiences over seven pregnancies.  During some of them I felt fantastic running, while with others I wasn't able to endure more than a few weeks of running. The decision to stop running and switch to another form of exercise should primarily be determined by the first and most obvious symptom, which is pain or discomfort. Pain is always your signal to stop! Also, if you are unable to catch your breath, or feel extremely thirsty, do not continue running. Consistent low blood pressure or aching joints and ligaments post-run, may also be serious reasons to postpone any future runs. If you are going to run pregnant, you must run smart for your own safety and for baby's as well.

10.  How did you run a marathon while pregnant?
Given the answer to question #7, I hope I don't sound like a hypocrite here.  First of all, you should know that I didn't set out to run a marathon while pregnant.  It was during the last couple of weeks of training for the Chicago Marathon that I discovered Steve and I were expecting baby #7.  Since I was on the taper portion of my training, and was very early on in my pregnancy, I knew that I could finish the race if I fueled properly, paid extra careful attention to hydration, and abandoned any goals to finish with a PR.  

Even though I faithfully followed through with those specific conditions, I was still pretty tired throughout the race (first trimester fatigue is tough!), but I finished, and was happy with that.  If I were a newbie at running, I would not have attempted the race. But, with years of running experience and the advice of experts on my side, I was confident that I could make it to the finish line safely.

Looking for more information? I highly recommend these two resources:
2. Fit and Healthy Pregnancy by Kristina Pinto

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this - I am almost 31 weeks and think of you often while working out :) And regularly wish I could pick your brain about running while pregnant. Your input on a belly band is much appreciated as I had a bit of round ligament pain and think this will help, especially while I am active. Already ordered from amazon. Good luck in your home stretch with baby #7!


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