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Running While Pregnant: How much is too much?

This post is going to be more personal than usual – I’m going to share some details about my wife’s pregnancies and her training. Let’s dive in.

Jason and Meaghan

I met my wife in college when we both ran cross country and track for Connecticut College. Just look at that adorable couple!

After college, we both kept running. While I trained competitively and kept competing, my wife Meaghan ran mostly for fun. But that didn’t stop her from racing and finishing her first half marathon.

She kept training through her first pregnancy in 2013 and again in 2015.

Even after falling on the side of the road in rush hour traffic (while 7 months pregnant), she kept at it.

Even after suffering through a brutal workout in tropical weather in Cairns, Australia, she kept at it (we thought she cooked the baby, but Reagan’s just fine!).

And over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to run through pregnancy.

But I didn’t really know how to answer them – until now.

Just understand that I’m a coach, not a doctor. So this article is based on:

  • Our discussions with nurses, doctors, and midwives
  • My wife’s research on the topic
  • Her personal experiences
  • My perspective as a running coach

So please consult with your doctor if you get pregnant and want to continue running. This is ultimately a medical issue, not a running issue.

Running While Pregnant: The Big Picture

Not one medical professional told Meaghan to stop running while pregnant or to limit the volume or intensity of her training. We were part of the George Washington University’s midwifery program for our first pregnancy and they actually had strict diet and exercise guidelines for expecting moms.

The rule that we heard over and over again was, “Keep doing what you’re doing, but don’t start anything new that’s more challenging.”

But the caveat is that you may have to stop running during the first trimester of pregnancy because of fatigue or nausea. This is normal, but you can also start running again when you feel better. Meaghan did this and did not consider it “starting a new exercise program” because she came from a running background.

Even after about two months off, she was able to start running during her second trimester safely and comfortably.

We learned that worrying about running while pregnant is mostly unwarranted. Just like it was silly for people to think that women’s uterus’ would fall out if they ran (seriously, this was a thing), it was silly to stop exercising during pregnancy.

My wife told me:

The first time I got pregnant I asked my midwife what exercise was off-limits. She said “none.”

She did say that some of her patients broke their bag once they were getting close to term (around 36 weeks). So I always made the rule that I would stop running at 36 or 37 weeks even if I still felt good.

Also, putting a cap on heart rate is unnecessary. We asked many nurses and doctors about this and all of them agreed – though you’ll still find some weirdos on the internet claiming that pregnant women should keep their heart rate under 140.

When you think about it, it makes complete sense. Heart rate is so variable among individuals that a concrete cap is mostly worthless.

Someone who has a max heart rate of 170 will feel very differently at 140 beats per minute than someone who has a max heart rate of 210!

Injuries and Recovery During Pregnancy

Pregnant moms are at a higher risk for running injuries and their recovery time is longer. Much of their energy is going toward growing another human being so there’s not much left over for recovery.

Later in Meaghan’s second pregnancy, she strained her groin and kept reinjuring it by slipping on ice and a bad prenatal massage. She had to take time off from running and the recovery took a lot longer than usual.

The other issue she experienced was round ligament pain. She describes it as:

When you’re pregnant the ligaments around your pelvis relax and are much easier to strain. Although not harmful to the baby, it’s a shooting, stabbing pain that happens when you’re getting up from a chair or changing positions in bed.

What caused the strain? All the lunges from the Standard Warm-up!

Despite this minor injury, all of the medical professionals we talked to (and our experiences) confirm that strength work is really important during pregnancy.

Meaghan’s advice:

Be careful with twisting motions and lunges but it’s a great idea to continue doing your strengthening routines as long as you can (when you can’t do a plank without balancing on your bump it’s time to stop!).

Being stronger will help ease some of the aches and pains of your new body after you give birth.

Lift as long as you want and feels comfortable. Stop if you feel any strain in your muscles, sharp pain, or do not feel safe (like that you might fall or drop the weight).

Ultimately, running while pregnant comes down to one simple rule: listen to your body.

Adjust your expectations. Don’t worry about distance or pace. In fact, Meaghan told me:

I only ran for time and never tracked distance or pace. If I did, I probably would have gotten depressed.

Leave the Garmin at home. Just use the stopwatch feature on a simple watch like a Timex.

You may have easily ran for 45-minutes at 9:00 minutes per mile before getting pregnant, but now a 20-minute shuffle feels like an interval workout.

Your body is working much harder and now it may need an extra day or two to recover. That’s ok!

For us, our focus was growing the healthiest baby possible – not on optimizing Meaghan’s fitness or maintaining a certain performance level.

When is it recommended to stop running while pregnant?

Most women struggle with consistency during pregnancy. But after about 7-8 months, things get a lot harder. Meaghan recalls:

I stopped running completely during the first pregnancy when every run felt like a skull grinding against my pelvis. This happened for me at 8 months, but for some people it may be 4 months.

I stopped with baby #2 when I got a sharp shooting pain after 7 -minutes of running (and immediately stopped) and then cramping on and off the rest of the day.

If you just feel awful on every run and you’re uncomfortable, it’s probably best to stop running. This happens anywhere between 4-9 months during the pregnancy.

There are other telltale signs you need to stop training:

Cramping: mild cramping can be normal but if it doesn’t feel good, then stop. Call your OB, midwife, or whoever is in charge of your health to see if it’s safe to keep running.

Bleeding: Not good. Stop running immediately and call your doctor.

Most women can safely and comfortably run an adjusted training program through 4-8 months of pregnancy. A few all-stars can train up to their due date. In fact, Kara Goucher ran and lifted the day she gave birth!

She’s an outlier, but it shows what’s possible when you start a pregnancy at an elite level of fitness.

My wife also highly recommends cross-training like walking, pool running, or swimming (being in water reduces a lot of the pressure and stress on your body).

Running is a jarring, high-impact sport. But opting for a low or zero-impact form of cross-training can be a more comfortable choice while pregnant.

When can you start running after you give birth?

This is a tough question and the answer completely depends on your birth and recovery. Did you have a c-section? Did you need stitches for any tearing? Was this your first child or 5th?

All of these factors impact your ability to start running again.

You may be able to run within 6 weeks. Or it could take 3-4 months. Ultimately, you have to listen to your body and do what’s comfortable (and avoid anything that’s not comfortable).

And of course, your return to running must be very gradual and conservative. Intensity – or the speed of your runs and workouts – is something that should be introduced cautiously only after you can comfortably run consistently for several weeks.

Increases in mileage should also be more conservative than my normal approach to mileage building.

Meaghan started running 7 weeks after each birth – always after she got clearance at her 6-week appointment. Your situation may be entirely different.

No matter what type of pregnancy and birth you have, there are ways to stay fit and run safely.

Talk to your doctor and make the best decision for you, your baby, and family. If you found this post helpful, please share it!

Next thing you know, you’ll be playing beer pong as a family!

Jason Meaghan Baby

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