There is possibly no activity more freeing than lacing up your shoes and heading out for a run! We train many (prior, current, and future!) runners at The Lotus Method and strive to support each woman in building the capacity to enjoy the benefits of running. Running during pregnancy can be fine, but there are a few things that are often not considered when determining the pros and cons of running.
The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists advise that pregnant women who habitually engage in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (ie, the equivalent of running or jogging) or who are highly active “can continue physical activity during pregnancy and the postpartum period, provided that they remain healthy and discuss with their health care provider how and when activity should be adjusted over time” (Department of Health and Human Services, 2008).
The ACOG does not speak directly about our biggest concern regarding running during pregnancy....
The biggest consideration we are thinking about when deciding whether running is the best choice for pregnancy is the health and function of the pelvic floor. During pregnancy, the extra weight from the baby (and everything that comes with him/her!) is placed on your pelvic floor, a basket-like structure of musculature and connective tissue that lines the base of the pelvis. The pelvic floor provides structure and support to our bodies, aids in continence, and plays an important role in birth, and sex, as well. Along with having to manage the extra load of our bodies due to pregnancy, the pelvic floor's ligaments become softer and more relaxed in response to the changing hormonal landscape of pregnancy.
What this adds up to is a pelvic floor that may not be able to meet the high impact demand of running. As a result, running may put us at an increased risk of pelvic floor dysfunction, including incontinence and prolapse, which may persist well after the immediate postpartum period.
For this reason, we typically don't encourage running during pregnancy after the first trimester for most women.
If running is something you're unwilling to give up beyond the first trimester (we totally get it!), we highly recommend seeking the expertise of a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist (PFPT) who can give you a better idea of your unique situation. It may be that your pelvic floor is coping well to meet the demands of running and you might be able to stay in the game longer!
What we really want to think about when we're deciding if running is an activity we want to continue to do throughout our pregnancy is the big picture and our long-term health. If there is a chance that running during pregnancy will predispose us to conditions that have longterm implications (and may even prevent us from running in the future), is it worth it? When there are so many other activities that will get our heart rates up and make us feel good, we're not so sure!
So, what can you can do in lieu of running? Lots of things!
With all of these activities, follow a few simple guidelines:
-Keep your rate of perceived exertion (how hard you feel you're working) at a level where you can still speak a sentence, or 13-14 (somewhat hard) on a scale from 0-20. It's no longer considered necessary to monitor your heart rate (unless you have a preexisting condition).
-Avoid activities that increase your risk of falling.
-Watch out for symptoms of heaviness, pressure, dragging, and bulging in the pelvic floor. Leaking is another sign that the pelvic floor is overwhelmed by the activity being placed on it. Adapting the strategy in which you do the activity causing symptoms may be all you need to continue with the activity - you don't necessarily need to give it up!
- Uphill walking
- Spinning (keeping your tailbone untucked can help your inner core unit do its job best)
- Climbing stairs
And our personal favorite:
- Lift weights/resistance train faster! Keep your rest intervals shorter and work in a circuit format to reap the benefits of strength training and cardiovascular endurance. Check out the video below on how to turn up the intensity on simple strength training exercises without having to contend with the impact of running.
Running will still be there for you if you prioritize the well-being of your body (especially your pelvic floor) and take your time during pregnancy and postpartum to focus on activities that take this transformative period into consideration.
When the time comes to return to running postpartum, be sure to check out our tips on how to safely and effectively work back up to it. We also offer a Return to Running workshop! Keep your eyes on this space for more details.