Women get real about what it’s (actually) like to run pregnantSierra Willis
You’ve probably heard that pregnant women are supposed to exercise. You may even know that pregnant women are supposed to be getting more exercise than we previously thought. In fact, The Journal of the American Medical Association says pregnant women are supposed to be exercising quite a lot— 20 to 30 minutes almost every day. (Well, I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a lot!) Those guidelines are the same as for people who aren’t pregnant, by the way.
But though pregnant women are working out more and more, not all choose running as their preferred mode. Injuries and low energy often come hand-in-hand with pregnancy, and can prevent a lot of women from running while pregnant. Yet, as someone who has run without injury through (almost) 2 pregnancies, I still get a lot of questions from women who want to try, but are still a little unsure about it. We wonder if our bodies can really handle it, and sometimes we still worry that perhaps it’s not safe for our babies. For me, the protective instincts of motherhood, and the sometimes even the fear of judgement from others (there are still so many misconceptions about running pregnant) can sneak in and undermine my confidence and trust in my body.
I’m currently 39 weeks pregnant, and still out there chugging along the pavement. My belly is big and obvious, so the stares and comments I receive daily have convinced me that a pregnant runner is still a relatively rare sight for most people. I’ve found that there’s still not a lot of (good) information out there for women who want to try running through a pregnancy. Over time, I’ve discovered that simply talking to women who’ve done it before has been the best mode of learning for me. It has been mothers who’ve shared their stories with me, revealed the benefits (and difficulties), and pointed me toward the best research.
So, in the hope that these revelations will help other women as much as they’ve helped me, I’ve compiled some thoughts from a handful of women who ran throughout at least one full pregnancy, and were willing to share their experiences with me.
Why was it important to you to continue running while pregnant?
J: Working out daily has always been part of my life routine. This includes running and lifting weights. So when I became pregnant with my first and now second, I have just continued with exercise as a way to begin my day and have set new goals that make me proud of myself.
A: I chose to keep running because it is one of the best tools I have in terms of self-care, and has been a huge part of my life over the past 13 years. I knew that pregnancy would be challenging on many levels, and felt that running would be one of the ways I could support myself over the 9 months—mentally, physically and emotionally. I had also read research on the benefits of maintaining lean muscle mass and fitness while pregnant, and knew that it would benefit both me, and my baby.
N: I run because I like getting outside and it’s the fastest workout I’ve found for a busy mom. Working out pregnant was always important to me to help minimize weight gain and postpartum recovery, as well as keeping me strong for the delivery
S: Running is my therapy but I am also SUPER competitive. It is my guilty pleasure but also clears my head so that I can handle the fun of life as a wife, mother of now 4, special ed parapro, and coach. I don’t use running as a method of weight loss but a way to just be myself. When I run, I am not a mother or a worker, but just free to think and be me.
K: When I first found out that I was pregnant with my first born, I was in disbelief. My husband and I waited 7 years after we got married to try for a child. I was very fit at the time and raced competitively after college while teaching and coaching full time. I had to take a pregnancy test 9 times to believe it and I celebrated by crushing the infamous Michigan Workout with our cross country team. I was 8 weeks pregnant but was already in great shape so I didn’t want to lose my fitness too much over the next 9 months. I ran all the way through that pregnancy and vowed that I would do the same with any future children I would bear…. not realizing at that time it would be 3 more!
What benefits did you experience from running during pregnancy? What were the drawbacks?
A: I stayed very fit and strong right up until I went into hospital. (One of the doctors actually commented after I had my son that I was one of the fittest pregnant women she’d seen, which was nice!) I had quite bad morning sickness in the first trimester, and for some reason, it tended to ease after I ran. I also found it easier to be mindful with what I ate when I ran, as I thought more about how to nourish my body post-exercise. This was a very good thing, as many people told me that I could “eat whatever I want” because I was eating for two! Finally, I believe it helped me in labour. My midwife warned me that as it was my first baby, I may have to push for 1-2 hours. He was out after 13 mins of pushing. The drawbacks were: constant judgment from complete strangers. I copped a lot of glares, snide comments and headshakes. I had gym members even go to the reception and ask if the manager knew I was still running (honestly!) This is still baffling to me. I’m a qualified PT; I know what the guidelines are on exercising when pregnant, and have read books on it. I adjusted my training accordingly throughout my pregnancy. Even if this weren’t the case though, it shouldn’t have been anyone’s else’s business.
S: Running pregnant had it’s ups and downs. I ran or worked out every single day like I would normally. It wasn’t easy to run during morning sickness. The only drawbacks were…I wasn’t able to get the pace and mileage I needed so I also joined a gym and did low impact cardio. Basically I ran 3-6 miles outside and then did 2 hours at the gym. Strength training became a big part of my summer. More benefits were running helped my morning sickness and gave me energy when I was drained.
K: I experienced so many benefits and so few drawbacks. The benefits were: 1.) Put me in a better mood! 2.) Didn’t gain unnecessary weight. Was able to cut the weight healthily after labor. 3.) All full-term children that were big kids 7-9 lbs at birth. 4.) Gave me a sense of control that sometimes feels lost with pregnancy and all of its surprises! 5.) Kept me regular. I had the genes for really bad hemorrhoids and the running kept my body from getting constipated. 6.) Thrived for that runner’s high and endorphin rush. 7.) Lessened prenatal depression and post-partum blues. 8.) Zero complications during labor. 9.) My unborn children were soothed by my breathing and bouncing of running. This helped them with sleep and comfort once out of the womb. 10.) I felt better about myself and my body because I was staying fit. 11.) I was proud of myself for staying fit for my family. I still am very proud that I did this to this day and always will be. 12.) I had much more energy and less morning sickness when I ran and exercised in the morning and throughout the day as well as increased my flexibility in a healthy way due to more lax joints. 13.) Slept better at night. 14.) My recovery after labor was unbelievably fast. I was able to run again within a week after my kids were born. 15.) Created a healthy habit that my family owns to this day – exercising as a family! 16.). All four of my children are very athletically inclined. They have strong hearts, low pulses, and blood pressures. They love fitness and are genetically blessed with the gift of a runner.
N: Me time! My runs are the only times I can get away and do something just for me. It was great to still feel like me, feel capable even with a growing belly. Also I always had nonstop nausea for the first 15 weeks of each pregnancy. The only time it waned a bit was during workouts. Drawbacks? Sure. Of course. My hips hurt. Other, less mentionable areas felt pummeled the next day. I would pee at least 5 times before heading out for a run and within the first block feel like I had to pee incredibly bad.
J: I love the feeling of accomplishment while running. I ran up until the day before giving birth and absolutely know that these endurance workouts prepared me for labor. With this second pregnancy, I am still running but doing more interval training. (Plus I don’t have as much time to do long runs with a toddler). This time around I am getting bigger faster so I can feel the pressure on my stomach, which doesn’t stop me but I am enjoying running shorter distances faster and including a lot of strength workouts.
Did you feel like you had to pee all the time? How did you manage that?
N: Most definitely. It was easiest if I ran first thing in the morning before I drank anything. By the last month of my pregnancy I would have to stop at the restroom of the park I would pass by (sometimes twice!) to make it through.
S: Honestly I didn’t have to until 30 weeks. I would just pop a squat in a cornfield lol. But I also had a fitletic band and it helped so much.
K: Before I was pregnant I was known as “Pittle” since HS. I have peed my pants in almost every race I’ve run. After labor & childbirth it was MUCH worse but I’ve accepted that it’s going to happen. I actually help my 3rd daughter feel better because she has accidents all the time. I tell her that mommy does too! Unfortunately that’s a sacrifice that mothers have to make sometimes. It’s worth it! It’s a minor concern. I just always have an extra pair of shorts or undies in my purse.
A: In my third trimester I felt like I had to pee if I ran too fast, or got overly fatigued. I managed it by running slower, doing shorter distances, and eventually choosing treadmill running over running outdoors (it’s much lower impact). I also did a lot of body-weight squats, focussing on tensing my core, and I felt that it helped to keep my pelvic floor strong.
J: Only the last 6-8 weeks or so of pregnancy. I always made sure I went to the bathroom before the run and then tried to tune out the mental urge. Sometimes though I did stop mid-run to pee.
Did you experience any setbacks or injuries? How did you recover?
J: No setbacks/injuries. While pregnant and afterwards, I made sure to do yoga, stretch, Massage and see a chiropractor. After delivery, I did give my body a good 2 weeks to heal but then I was anxious to walk and get back in the gym by 3 weeks. I started semi-slowly. I felt in better shape at 9 months pregnant than 3 weeks post-partum so I was careful.
S: Heck yeah. Between pelvic pain, calf pain, shin splints and lower back pain…
Compression calf guards and fitletic band helped me get through. I also went more low impact cardio to save my hips for race day. I knew my endurance was there but needed to save my body and strengthen it.
K: My varicose veins caused me a lot of pain. I also experienced a herniated belly button starting with my first child as well as abdominal muscle separation. I have had surgery to repair the hernia but I don’t think the separated abs or loose skin will ever be the same! I did not have major running injuries during pregnancies.
A: No injuries.
N: During my second pregnancy I had to quit running about 7.5 mos in. In fact I could barely walk at times without my hips giving out and me falling. I didn’t yet realize they were muscle knots and a combo of stretching and massaging would help. So I ended up using the elliptical or stationary bike those last two mos instead.
How did you respond (or simply cope with) people who questioned your decision to run, or advised you against it (e.g., “don’t shake the baby!”)
S: I basically just kept doing my thing. I knew I was fine and my midwives were super supportive. There were some comments that made me sad..But I had so many friends and followers that stood by my side which shocked me and inspired me more because I posted my journey online but didn’t know how many people actually followed it. When people said negative things I brushed it off. I knew my body and my doctors were in awe of my ability. Not everyone is blessed to be able to run the miles I do so I am super thankful. I hope that other ultra runners can learn from my experiences
K: It’s crazy what people say! Most people were very supportive. But many people thought that I would hurt the baby or thought I was crazy. It’s a different day and age now! I ran for myself and to show children strength and determination. They are proud that mommy ran with them in her tummy! Running is now a huge part of their lives, as well. So with it starting before they were born is even more special!
N: I didn’t really get criticism about running. Did people think I was crazy? Yes. But no one tried to tell me it was wrong or dangerous.
J: I have explained to people on numerous occasions that my body is very used to running because I have done it my whole life and pregnancy wasn’t going to change that. With the incorporation of strength training, I felt very strong and made sure to listen to my body. So as much as people didn’t always agree with me, I really didn’t let it bother me and in the end I got a lot of compliments.
A: It took all my strength not to snap at them, or say something snarky or sarcastic. I usually just said, “Thanks for your concern, but I know what I’m doing and my baby is just fine thanks.” Then I imagined whacking them repetitively on the head with a huge blow-up hammer, and went for a run.