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Running for Two: Guidelines for Pregnant Runners

Stephanie Kager didn’t run during her first four pregnancies because she thought it was unsafe for her babies, but she learned she was pregnant with her fifth child while already training for her first marathon. Once Kager knew she was expecting, she switched to training for a half marathon and, at 19 weeks, ran a fun run at Disney. “After that, I set small goals for myself to keep myself motivated: keep running until the third trimester, keep running a weekly ten-mile run until delivery, and run on the day of delivery,” she says. Kager never thought she could run with her first pregnancies but knew differently by number five. What’s stopping you from lacing up your shoes?

Are you a runner?

If you were running before becoming pregnant, you don’t need to stop just because you’re expecting, says Dr. Lanalee Sam, MD, medical director for Elite Obstetrical and Gynecology in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A healthy, low-risk pregnancy enables you to continue your exercise routine without dramatic changes. Of course, if you were never a runner, pregnancy is not the time to start a strenuous new exercise regimen.

A runner since the age of 15, Amy Fox of Virginia continued to run into her seventh month with her first pregnancy and into her fifth month with her second and third. Concerning herself less with mileage once she was pregnant, Fox just ran as long as she could, usually around 25 minutes taking breaks as needed. Postpartum, she was back on the trail when her first baby was only a few weeks old.

Dr. Sam says that there is no specific time for women to start running again if they’ve delivered vaginally—a week to two weeks is fine. Every woman needs to listen to her healthcare provider and own body when it comes to postpartum exercise, as some women may be ready sooner than others.

When shouldn’t you run?

Being at risk for certain medical conditions can halt even seasoned runners from running during pregnancy. Always consult your physician before embarking on an exercise program while you’re expecting.

“Problems can include placenta previa, preterm labor, short cervix, preeclampsia, or a growth restricted baby,” says Dr. Annette Perez-Delboy, MD of Columbia Eastside in New York. If you suffer from any of these conditions, it’s going to be time-out for you until your baby arrives.

There are also risk factors to look for during your run. “If pregnant runners see that their heart is beating very fast, if there is shortness of breath or any bleeding, they should stop,” says Dr. Perez-Delboy. Since the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists no longer has exact guidelines on heart rate monitoring during exercise, you should try to run comfortably without feeling out of breath or overextended. Dr. Sam says that staying below 150 beats per minute is still optimal.

Dr. Sam adds that if you notice tightening in your abdomen (contractions), leakage of fluid, fatigue, or dizziness, it’s time to stop. “You really need to be in tune with your body and know when enough is enough and not to push yourself,” she says.

Where should you run?

So you’re going to keep running, belly and all. What is the safest place for you as a pregnant runner?

Dr. Sam says that as your center of gravity changes later on in pregnancy, your abdomen gets bigger so you’re at a greater risk for falls. She recommends running indoors on a treadmill during the second and third trimesters. A controlled environment is safer for you and your unborn child.

Karena Tapsak, mother to four children, started running after having her second child. During her third pregnancy, she enjoyed running outdoors during the warmer months—pushing a double jogging stroller no less! During the colder winter months, she ran indoors on the treadmill to prevent falls on the slippery pavement.

What should you wear?

Before pregnancy you might have been smaller in the bust area; now here you are with swollen and possibly tender breasts. Dr. Sam recommends that her patients wear a supportive sports bra or one with adjustable straps that offers good control.

Don’t forget to support your feet, too. With pregnancy hormones loosening up joints, even your ankles are at risk. Make sure you have a supportive shoe around the ankle with good cushioning and shock absorption.

Remember that controlling your body temperature is more important than ever, and you don’t want to overheat. Wearing comfortable, breathable clothing can help keep the sweat from adhering directly to your skin and retaining heat. A number of online stores, such as www.lucy.com and www.fitmaternity.com carry maternity fitness wear if you need bigger sizes.

How much should you drink?

Staying hydrated is another way to make sure that your body doesn’t overheat and helps to maintain the requirements your body needs to transport nutrients through the blood, decrease the risk of hypertension due to an increased blood volume, and reduce preterm labor.

Try to drink before, during, and after your run. A total of eight to ten eight-ounce glasses of water should be consumed daily at a minimum. Remember, keep drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty—once you are, you’re already dehydrated.

When should you call it quits?

It can be hard to stop doing something you love. If running is your passion and you’ve done it for years, it may be difficult to hang up your shoes and turn to walking, swimming, or stationary biking.

Some women can run up until the last weeks of pregnancy, while others need to stop before then. How will you know when it’s time? Your body will probably send you a memo.

“Most women stop running altogether because of extra weight and abdominal pressure by the last few weeks of pregnancy,” says Dr. Sam. She sees that the majority of her patients accept the fact that they will be walking by the third trimester.

Tapsak ran until a few weeks before her due date with her third pregnancy and then did power walking. With her fourth, she ran until seven months and then was too uncomfortable. “The strain on my low back and tail bone was a little too much to run up until the very end,” she says.

Running is a great way to maintain your fitness levels during pregnancy—just remember that pregnancy is not the time to try new things or reach for your personal best. When running for two you’ve got more weight to carry, less ability to breathe deeply, and more than yourself to think about. Stay hydrated and cool, listen to your body, and let it tell you how far you should go and when you should stop. Now get running!

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