‘Can I run during pregnancy?’ is one of the top questions that comes up in our Facebook Community Group. Once upon a time, running during pregnancy was not routinely advised. However, our knowledge of the topic is far more advanced these days. Exercise is perfectly safe for many women. This guest blog by pelvic floor expert Louise Field, who created the Adore Your Pelvic Floor programme, is the second in a three-part series. The blogs will give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about your pelvic floor and running. You can read the first part, which asks ‘Is it okay to accidentally pee during exercise’, here: Essential pelvic floor advice for female runners.
Is it okay to run or exercise during pregnancy?
Absolutely! In fact, moderate-intensity physical activity of at least 150 minutes a week in low-risk pregnancy offers many benefits.
- Weight management
- Reduction in hypertension (pre-eclampsia)
- Improved cardiorespiratory fitness
- Reduced risk of gestational diabetes.
- Improvements in sleep, mood and self-esteem
For these reasons, exercising during pregnancy is encouraged, as long as the exercise is appropriate to the individual. However, it’s important to discuss exercise with your care provider.
The aim of this blog is to help pregnant mums to continue the exercise/sport they love, injury-free. We also look at how to be in the best possible position postpartum to rehabilitate back to full fitness. Please note, getting that little blue line on the pregnancy test shouldn’t be the cue to launch into a new hardcore exercise regime. If you’re not used to exercising, seek advice from a qualified trainer who can suggest appropriate, effective and functional exercise.
However, if you’re already active, maintaining your current level of activity is fine, although modifications will be necessary as your bump develops. So, yes, you can continue running in pregnancy, as long as you’re already used to running.
You’re growing a miracle-being inside of you and there are plenty of other changes that will occur within your body during the pregnancy. Let’s look at these:
- Many women find they’re tired and lack energy, especially in the first and last trimester. Listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel!
- Basal temperature is higher during pregnancy. Ensure you stay hydrated, as dehydration can raise your body heat
- Exercise at a moderate intensity. Run and talk!
Changes during pregnancy
Hormones are present during pregnancy; this is a natural part of being pregnant, to increase the elasticity of the connective tissue for childbirth. This change in hormones can have an effect on the joints of the pelvis, allowing them to stretch during delivery. It also softens and lengthens the cervix, and helps relax smooth muscles in the uterus and elsewhere throughout the body. If you experience pain in the sacroiliac joints in the pelvis, speak to your care provider.
Ligamentous/connective tissue isn’t designed to stretch like muscle tissue and therefore doesn’t bounce back when it’s overstretched. You need to be careful not to overstretch or overload the ligaments, connective tissue or joints in your body.
In pregnancy, the balance and biomechanics also change, impacting on posture. The arches of your feet can flatten a little. The natural ‘S’ shape of the spine becomes exaggerated as the lumbar (low back) and thoracic (upper spine) curves increase. The upper body can also become more rounded and the chest tighter as your breasts get heavier. This is often exacerbated because women will tend to exaggerate this hunched posture to protect already tender breasts. These changes don’t just change the shape of your body, but can also affect how it functions. As the baby gets bigger, your breathing mechanics change simply because your internal organs have less room.
All of these changes will impact on your experience of running during pregnancy. My recommendation is to consider load, stride, intensity and duration of your exercise, while taking expert advice and listening to the body.
The pelvic floor
The pelvic floor muscles play a huge role in our overall wellbeing, and during pregnancy it’s important to consider the load placed upon it during any activity. As a pregnant woman, consider that during labour these muscles are required to relax and stretch to help the birthing process! In fact, it is worth ‘getting to know’ and conditioning these muscles, just as we would when we train for any impending event. This will help gain a great reactive muscle group.
Pelvic floor issues can occur at any stage in life for many reasons – not just during or after pregnancy.
- Heaviness dragging in the pelvic area (can be associated with prolapse)
- Leaking urine or the inability to control bowel movements
- Pendular abdomen or noticeable gap along the midline of your abdominal wall. This may indicate Diastasis Rectus Abdominis (DRA)
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Ongoing or increased blood loss beyond 8 weeks postnatal that is not linked to your monthly cycle
Help and advice for pelvic floor issues
Seeking advice is important, as 85% of incontinence issues can be completely resolved. Symptoms may be common and some have even become normalised to the point of social acceptance. We’ve all seen the ‘Oops Moments’ advertisements and laughed about peeing with a sneeze. But please understand these are symptoms of dysfunction and should be dealt with. If we ignore these issues, they rarely improve and actually become more problematic.
When it comes to exercise or going for a run during pregnancy, aim to keep within a range that does not cause any symptoms. Challenge your fitness level, while also allowing the pelvic floor group a chance to adapt, safely and without injury.
In my previous blog, Is it okay to accidentally pee during exercise?, I covered how important the pelvic floor muscles are to core strength and function. Here is a video explanation of the 2 recommended pelvic floor contractions all women should know and practice.
If your symptoms don’t improve, we recommend you seek an appointment with a Women’s Pelvic Health Physio for an assessment. Or speak to your local Adore Your Floor Coach for guidance and resources.
I have added a real-time ultrasound video explaining and showing you how the pelvic floor contracts and then relaxes. Like all muscles in the body, the pelvic floor group should be able to relax, contract and release. Learn to fire AND RELEASE the pelvic floor in a functional manner to manage the increase of the load, intensity and duration of exercise. This second video using the ultrasound shows how the pelvic floor reacts to a cough and the reaction of the bladder under load.
Exercise needs to be appropriate to our needs. This way you will support the path back to running after pregnancy, rather than increasing the risk of injury.
Introducing Louise Field
Health and physical activity is my career and an extremely important aspect of my life. As a proud mother of five boys, I have a special interest in empowering women, in particular, helping women restore good pelvic floor function to enable them to get back to physical activity. After I personally suffered a significant pelvic floor injury, I was horrified to discover that this could not only rob me of the exercise I loved, but my career as well. When I looked for advice on how to rehabilitate my pelvic floor muscles and get back to full fitness, I found the available information was limited and often contradictory. One of the recommendations suggested to me was that I should stick to walking or swimming short distances for the rest of my life.
As a fit young mum who loves to move and teach exercise, this was NOT going to cut it! So I began my journey to educate myself and learn every thing I could about the pelvic floor and how to rehabilitate it. From talking to other women, using my own personal experiences and working closely with specialist women’s health physios, my passion and dream combined to share the evidence I learned along the way – the endorsed Adore Your Pelvic Floor Programme was born. I now offer seminars to organisations and fitness professionals and health care workers accredited training on how to provide women with the understanding and skills they need to keep their pelvic floors healthy for life, so they can pursue the activities and sports they love.
Useful references and links
Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay