I often think about how amazing the human body is. The stamina, adaptability, and resilience that it continually demonstrates raises the bar as to what people are capable of. No reminder of this is more evident than in pregnancy and even more so, running while pregnant.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist of Canada recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise over a minimum of 3 days a week during pregnancy. While both aerobic and resistance exercises are recommended, the choice of activity is entirely up to you.
While I didn’t run during pregnancy and didn’t start again until 10 months postpartum after my second child, many people do. It’s important to make decisions and considerations that will work for you.
YOUR Health Priorities
Many individuals see running as not only a part of the well-being of the baby but also their own physical and mental health journey.
For mom of two and half-marathon runner in-training, Nadya Stewart, prioritizing health during pregnancy meant using running to help manage the difficulties that came with her pregnancy to keep her mental health intact. Stewart experienced many challenges throughout her pregnancy including severe nausea and vomiting, anxiety during the pandemic, and an emergency C-section. In explaining why running was important to her during pregnancy, Stewart notes,
“Fitness was not my goal or a priority at that time but because my mental health was taking such a dive, I felt that if I continued to push through with running, it could be a healthy release for me. I had also suffered two miscarriages not long before my pregnancy with my daughter so where my mental health was concerned [,] it gave me the control I really needed at [a] time [when] everything else was so out of my control. I could really hone in and use my run time to focus on running.”
For others, like myself, not running was the choice in prioritizing health.
I experienced hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that involves severe nausea, vomiting, and weight loss, that extended into my whole pregnancy as well as severe shortness of breath that lasted right into delivery. Most days, I didn’t have the energy to walk let alone THINK about running. I had just enough energy each day to focus on making sure that I was eating, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep after work.
As health priorities differ at varying stages of pregnancy and are dependent on the experience of the individual, it’s important to prioritize what is most important to you.
Listen to Your Body
In addition to determining what health means to you, it’s important to listen to your body. Afterall, a new life is growing and that new life might be telling you to slow down.
For avid runner and triathlete Emily Strauss, running while pregnant has been a learning journey. Initially Strauss would go out to run as much as she could partially in fear of losing not only her fitness, but also time to herself. As first trimester symptoms and cold weather set in, her running frequency lessened and she switching to more indoor cycling. As Emily continues with her pregnancy journey, she continues to listen to her body; at the end of her second trimester she attempted to venture out to run again but at a slower pace and shorter runs. She explains,
“…running during pregnancy has been a blessing as it’s taught me to actually enjoy running without the stress of aiming for personal bests. I’ve enjoyed running for simply being outdoors and for the benefits of exercise. It’s nice to run in the absence of fear of not running fast enough or long enough.”
However, each individual is different; while some don’t run at all, others run almost up to their delivery date.
Moriah Jameson, who has been a runner for 13 years and whose current goal is to get a personal record on both her 10K and half marathon times, ran until she was 36 weeks pregnant. In explaining what made her stop she states,
“I made the decision to stop at 36 weeks because my body was too fatigued…My job required a lot of physical and mental energy and I decided to focus on my job. I started walking every day instead of running”.
In listening to her body, Jameson found that running helped her stay mentally healthy. She also found it allowed her to have a quicker physical recovery after giving birth as well.
Whether you decide to run until the day you go into labour or decide to forego any running, it’s important to listen to what your body needs and to follow its lead.
The Post-Partum Experience
While for nine months, the focus for many is health and well-being, it is important to consider whether (and when) running might be part of your postpartum lifestyle.
Like Jameson and Stewart, Paige Nichols, who has been running for 8 years, ran in pregnancy until she was 24 weeks. Running helped her stay grounded especially during the pandemic and to deal with pregnancy related medical issues. Nichols’ has been able to continue her running routine postpartum and it has brought tremendous benefit:
“My daughter had colic from week 3 to week 12 and running helped me mentally more than I can say. Having some time to yourself postpartum is necessary. It also helped me by giving me more energy to deal with the lack of sleep”
When you decide to return to running is a personal decision.
The choice to not to run during my pregnancies was right for me. I never felt guilty or worried I wasn’t doing enough even during a five year running hiatus. I looked at it as an opportunity to focus on my health in a different way. It wasn’t until 6 months ago (10 months postpartum) that I was ready to slowly re-introduce running into my life using it as a form of exercise and self-care again.
It’s important to remember that there are so many changes that are happening in not only the baby’s first year of life but also your life. There is no judgement on whether you decide to run, how much you decide to run, or when you decide to run. With all the experiences shared, what’s clear is that the choice is yours for your mental and physical health regardless of what others feel you should be doing. Whether you decide to run three marathons or walk 3 days a week during your pregnancy, know that the choice is yours and you are making the best ones!
This blog expresses opinions that are specific to an individual and their experience. It recognizes that all experiences are different and important. If there are questions related to your health, running and pregnancy, please consult with a health professional/doctor to determine what is best for your situation.