Running + pregnancy is not a combination that works for everyone. Sometimes there are health concerns, sometimes it’s a matter of discomfort, and sometimes (okay…many times) you just can’t imagine why anyone would even want to run while pregnant. If there’s ever a time in life to slow down and take it easy, pregnancy is probably it. I understand that running while carrying a baby doesn’t sound appealing to everyone….and I definitely get quite a few crazy looks when people find out I’m still doing it.
Taken at 21 weeks, 1 day. Things are suddenly growing a lot faster!
But, for me (and many of you reading this, I would assume), running is something that I naturally want to do. I’ve considered myself a runner for the majority of my life. It’s so ingrained in me by this point that it would feel stranger not to do it. So before I got pregnant, I always just assumed I’d keep on running…as long as baby looks healthy and my OB continues to okay it.
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Because as it turns out, imagining what running through pregnancy will be like and actually doing it are two very different things. And although I like to think that I have an active imagination, I definitely was not prepared for the changes.
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the parts of running that I love so much — the competition, the goal-setting, that happy exhaustion that comes from pushing yourself to your limits, and even those runs when you zone out and become completely lost in your thoughts for miles — all sort of disappear when you’re pregnant. Sure, I can set goals to work toward and push myself a little bit by seeing how fast I can finish a run. But it’s not the same. I can’t zone out the way I used to because I’m too busy trying to make sure everything feels okay. I don’t feel light and free on my feet because the double-digit weight gain and protruding belly have finally caught up to me. I don’t run carelessly for miles because I get tired (and overheated) much easier now. And the pressure on my bladder and (sometimes worse!) bowels adds an entirely new level of complication to the run.
I realize talking like this can make me seem ungrateful. Or like I’m being way too hard on myself. I promise you that I’m not. Running with a mini-human growing inside of you and consuming a good portion of your energy and resources is hard work. I get that. I also get that I’m lucky to be running at all. I know that I’m playing a game with the clock at this point. Every week that I get to run might just be my last. I appreciate that, and try to make the most out of the time I have now instead of worrying too much about the future.
But I also want to be honest. Running while pregnant is important to me, but I can’t pretend that I’m breezing through it. Or that I’m always super motivated to get my butt off the couch and out the door. When you know you’re getting heavier and slower every week, you need to find other sources of motivation to keep you going.
So what’s keeping me in my running shoes these days? In no particular order…
For healthy women with normal pregnancies, regular exercise during pregnancy is recommended. It can lower your risk of gestational diabetes, give you increased energy and improved mood, increase your muscle tone/strength, and better prepare you for labor, among other things ( source ). Since I ran before pregnancy and am not experiencing any complications, it’s perfectly safe for me to continue doing so now. And already – seeing the adaptations that my body has made is pretty incredible. My heart and lungs feel so strong. My circulatory system is working on keeping two separate beings alive and I’m in awe over how well it’s doing. My legs are more tired now when I run, but I know that running with the increased weight will ultimately make me stronger — even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
The Baby’s Health
As I mentioned before, I would not still be running if there was any sign that my exercise routine was having a negative impact on the baby. But so far, baby looks perfect. And there’s some pretty compelling evidence that continuing vigorous exercise throughout your pregnancy actually benefits the baby. For example, did you know that regular vigorous exercise (like running) in early pregnancy (i.e. the first 24 weeks) actually increases placental growth and improves its function in later pregnancy? This is a natural adaptation to the stress of exercise. And although there is no disadvantage to not having these adaptations, research has shown that it serves as a protective measure. The increased blood flow that occurs when the placenta is larger can improve the baby’s resiliency — making it better at adapting to stress, responding to traumatic events in utero, and better able to cope with the stresses of labor and delivery ( source ).
Studies have also shown that babies born to woman who continue exercising through pregnancy tend to be leaner than those who don’t, which can lead to an easier delivery. Interestingly enough — woman who regularly exercise in early pregnancy but then stop in the later weeks for whatever reason tend to have the biggest babies ( source ). I guess all that extra blood flow combined with the lack of stress from exercise really helps fatten the baby up. If that’s not motivation to keep up the exercise routine until the very end, I’m not sure what is.
All aspects of growth and development after birth in babies from exercising mothers are equal to or better than those observed in the control offspring. – Dr. James Clapp, “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy”
As a side note: If you’re a runner or just a generally active women and are pregnant and/or thinking about becoming pregnant, I highly recommend reading Dr. Clapp’s book, “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy.” The science is fascinating and presents a very good case for continuing to run.
Don’t let the outfit scare you away. The book is an excellent resource!
My Peace of Mind
Running has always been my preferred method of stress relief. It helps me process and look at the world more rationally. Even on my worst run days — when my pace is slow or I have to cut things short — I always feel better after I run than before. Not only am I more energetic, but I tend to be less stressed. I sleep better at night. I feel a sense of accomplishment. During a time in life when I have very little control over my body, these small things mean more than ever.
Running also provides structure to my days. I can look ahead and see the weeks until December stretching out endlessly….or, I can set a schedule for the week, work toward mini goals, and measure my progress in less overwhelming chunks of time.
One of the times that I feel closest to Cheese Baby is when we’re running. Other moments of the day, I can easily forget I’m pregnant. But when I run, I’m acutely aware of her presence there with me. I talk to her (usually in my head) and imagine what she’ll be like in the future. Wonder if she’ll be strong, if she’ll be a runner like her mama. What her hopes and dreams will be.
It sounds so cheesy, and maybe a little silly, but I’ve grown to love our runs together. If I can get outside of my own struggles and focus instead on the life I’m carrying, the run becomes so much more enjoyable. And it makes me so excited for the days when I can run with her in the stroller, actually watching her engage with the world all around.
Those Incredible “on top of the world” Moments
And of course, I wouldn’t be completely truthful if I didn’t mention my competitive side. Pregnancy certainly hasn’t made me into the zen “mother earth” type, and I still thrive on competition — even if it’s just against my pregnant self. Those times when everything comes together for a great run feel more amazing than ever. Whether it’s looking at my watch and realizing that I’ve kept a sub-7:30 pace for the last mile of a run and wondering where the heck that came from. Or winning a race at 16 weeks pregnant . Little accomplishments become so much greater when you have a baby on board. And just like a really good run during a marathon training cycle, those moments are enough to keep propelling you forward, no matter how few and far between they might be.