Why we need to remember that running during pregnancy is different for everyone
Updated: Jan 5
I recently came across some posts on Facebook about running during pregnancy. Some of the runners in those posts were doing a lot more volume and distance than I did. Others had a hard time even getting out of bed, and some of them said they felt a bit down about not being able to exercise.
Before I got pregnant, my knowledge of running during pregnancy was pretty limited. I had one friend who stopped after a few months because she was uncomfortable, and another who didn’t feel like it because of morning sickness. I saw some posts about a mum who trained for the Olympic trials through pregnancy, but I didn't give too much thought about what I would do in the situation.
I looked into it a bit more when I actually trying to fall pregnant. A quick Google search told me that exercise in pregnancy was good, and running was okay if your doctor was on board. It was on the top of my list to discuss when I found out I was pregnant, and I was given the okay to keep going.
When I started telling people I was pregnant, I got a lot of comments about how I would need to stop running soon. I suppose it’s natural to think that when general pregnancy advice always suggested caution and it’s not exactly an everyday conversation topic. Each time it came up, I explained that I had spoken with doctors and unless there were complications or a specific reason not to, there was nothing stopping me from running. I was feeling okay and my body was used to exercise, so while I wasn’t uncomfortable, I could keep going.
It wasn't overly surprising that people I spoke to outside the running world didn't have a lot of knowledge about the topic, given that someone who is a runner (me) and went actively looking for information couldn't find a lot. I found an article about Serena Williams playing in the Australian Open early in her pregnancy. I found another about a US 800m runner competing late in her pregnancy, and a marathoner who raced not knowing she was pregnant. But the tone of the articles suggested these were relatively unique experiences and somewhat incredible rather than something anyone could do.
But despite there not being lots of mainstream information, social media was helpful, and I read stories from lots of women who were out there running while they were pregnant.
I ended up going through to just before I gave birth at 37 weeks, at a significantly reduced volume and intensity. I enjoyed it and didn't get to the stage of feeling uncomfortable, but it was definitely tough at times.
In a previous post, I wrote about some of the things I struggled with early on – heat, tiredness and lack of motivation being the main ones, all of which contributed to a big drop off in the amount of running I was doing. Once that happened, it didn’t take long for my fitness to drop off. I was working a lot harder to run paces that used to feel completely comfortable. Then there was the extra weight I was carrying around, because I definitely wouldn’t normally try to do parkrun with a 10-ish kg weight attached. I also had some soreness in my heels that meant I took extra rest days to let them calm down.
A few times I woke up in the morning to the feeling of my little baby kicking or rolling around, and I just didn’t want to get out of bed and miss out on it. It’s probably a better reason to procrastinate on going for a run than some of the others I have come up with over the years!
Later in my pregnancy, I took a week or so off when I was worried about the way my daughter was lying in my belly. But was told I was okay to keep going when she moved into a better position.
Despite the challenges, there were good reasons for me to get out and run. I wanted to maintain a little bit of fitness, because I was used to doing a lot of activity, it made sense to me that staying active would be good for me and good for my baby.
It was also good for my mental health. I felt better after I went, it cleared my head and helped to get rid the sluggish feeling when I’m a bit tired.
Between the good parts and the hard parts of running during pregnancy, I thought it was an important message to share that it is safe to run if your doctor gives you the go ahead. But it’s also completely okay to stop or slow down if it doesn’t feel right for you.
I recently listened to a podcast interview with Jess Trengove where she talked about the running she did in pregnancy. She mentioned that she was looking forward to a break after three marathons in 2018.
It reminded me of how I felt after the Amsterdam marathon in 2017, when I felt like I had pushed myself as far as I could at that point in time. While I wanted to keep running if and when I fell pregnant, I was looking forward to not training at a high level for awhile.
I ended up struggling to figure out what the right level was when it took longer than I expected to fall pregnant. But once I was pregnant, I was more than happy to take my foot off the accelerator. I had moments of FOMO and having to let go of my competitive nature when I couldn’t keep up at parkrun, and a few times where I felt excited about a faster than expected result as my pregnancy progressed. But they were the minority. For the most part, I didn’t feel the need to push myself. For me, it was an opportunity to take a time out and hopefully reset before working towards some new goals.
I posted a lot about what I was doing on my Instagram account. I was happy to put it out there that I was running because I think it’s important to share stories of women being active in pregnancy to help break down the still common belief that it shouldn’t be done. It would be great to get to a point where the stories we have heard recently about people continuing to exercise or play sport were considered more normal. Where the default response isn't that you would need to stop. And that it wasn't so difficult to find information about your options.
But I also think it’s an area that needs a bit of care.
With more and more great stories out there of women running well into their pregnancies, running far and running fast, it shows whats possible. It shows us that we can do things that people not have thought were possible in the past. It shows us that we don’t have to stop doing things we enjoy for nine months because we are carrying a child.
But it can also lead to a feeling of what you should be doing.
I experienced it. I remember reading a story about a woman who was running close to half marathon distances in the third trimester. I read about another who was running fast times at the same point in her pregnancy. And for a few moments, I felt like I wasn’t succeeding because I wasn’t doing the same. I felt like I probably should be doing that too.
Never mind that I didn’t particularly want to, but the fact that I wasn’t doing these things that were being celebrated made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough. Based on the Facebook comments I read from people feeling disappointed they had to stop, I may not have been the only one.
The last thing we need is for pregnant women to feel down or feel guilty for not doing enough exercise.
While I think it is important to share the message that exercising during pregnancy is great when you can, it's also equally important to reinforce that it's not something you must do.
When I am helping someone train for a goal race, and they are going through a tough point in the program, I usually say that any run is better than no run. But I don't think that applies during pregnancy. Between hormones, emotions and changes to your body, there is a lot going on and there is nothing wrong with putting your feet up, resting or eating heaps of chocolate.
Because not everyone can stay active during pregnancy and not everyone wants to.
Things like morning sickness, anytime of the day sickness, pelvic pain or even difficultly falling pregnant can all contribute to not being able to or not wanting to exercise.
In the interview with Jess, she mentioned she took a break during her pregnancy because of pelvic pain and spent a lot of time on the elliptical to maintain fitness with lower impact. It was a good reminder to listen to your body and that it’s okay to take a step back if you need to. Some people may not need to, and that’s fine. But there are plenty who do and will, and that is totally fine too.
Because along with the stories of pregnant women running long distances and fast times, carrying a baby and supporting a life is amazing on its own too.
For me, I was happy to keeping moving along for fitness and doing something that I enjoyed. I hope I would be able to do it again if I have another pregnancy. But the key thing to remember is that each experience is different.