Carrying a baby doesn’t have to mean hanging up your running shoes.
The day I conceived my daughter, I ran a 10K — which, for me, is nothing. I’ve run two marathons, dozens of half marathons, and logged thousands of unrewarded miles. Training, after all, is par for the distance runner’s course.
Plus, I wasn’t pregnant… at least not yet. My husband and I wouldn’t “celebrate” our fifth wedding anniversary until later that evening, but things didn’t change when two lines on my pregnancy test turned blue.
I asked my OB-GYN if I could keep running on the very first visit.
There were several reasons for this. I have anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder, and exercise has been (and continues to be) therapeutic.
Running steadies me, calming my body and nerves. In the past, I struggled with body dysmorphia and OFSED/EDNOS. Exercise helps me stay focused on living a healthy lifestyle not a weight obsessed one. Plus, I wanted to be the best version of myself possible.
I wanted to do everything I could to keep myself and my baby safe.
My doctor was encouraging. He told me I could run as long as I was comfortable. “You should cut back on the distance,” he said, “but given your history, running 3 miles a day is fine. In fact, it’s great. Staying active will even help during labor and delivery.”
So I ran. I bought new sneakers in my first trimester and new pants in the second. I slowed my pace and never went out without a light snack or bottle of water. I also stuck to my promise, limiting my runs to 45 minutes a day or less. And by doing this was able to run several times a week until my 38th week.
Until 6 days before delivery.
Of course, there’s been much debate about physical activity during pregnancy. Female weight lifters are regularly criticized, expectant CrossFit trainers are often scrutinized, and I cannot tell you how many wayward glances I got during my late-pregnancy runs. Unsolicited comments, like, “That doesn’t seem safe,” and, “Aren’t you worried you’re going to shake the baby?” were common.
However, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), not only is it safe for experienced runners to continue to run and work out while pregnant, it’s encouraged.
When you’re healthy and your pregnancy isn’t high risk, exercise can be a great thing, as it can reduce back pain, ease constipation, and decrease your risk of developing preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
It also promotes general wellness and health. However, ACOG notes what you can and cannot do will vary from person to person — and pregnancy to pregnancy.
“It is important to discuss exercise with your obstetrician or other member of your health care team during your early prenatal visits,” they suggest. And that’s exactly what I did. I spoke with my physician, and once given the green light, made a training schedule and plan.
That said, even though I had my doctor’s approval, felt good, and knew the facts, I still worried. What if I hurt myself or (worse) my baby? Was a 4-mile run really worth the risk?
I also had good days and bad days. My hips hurt… constantly. I tripped on two occasions, falling on my hands and knees — not my belly — and at least once a week (for yes, 38 weeks) I woke with my calf locked and toes contorted. Charley horses affected both legs. Shin splints were also common, though I’ve experienced the latter for years and think they had little to do with my pregnancy. But I kept going because I could.
In spite of the pain, the activity kept me physically and mentally safe.
If you (like me) want to keep running while pregnant, here’s the best way to continue — because you don’t have to trade your running shoes for Crocs or slipper socks.
Get a healthcare provider’s approval
I know, I know: I said this already, but it bears repeating. You should not begin and/or continue an exercise regimen without first speaking with your midwife or OB-GYN.
You’ll likely undergo a smattering of tests and a get physical exam at your first prenatal visit. From those assessments — plus your input on your lifestyle, mental health, and current exercise regimen — your doctor can help shape a pregnancy running routine that will work for your personal circumstances.
Slow down — and know when to stop
Many runners (particularly distance runners) push themselves. After all, tackling a marathon isn’t just a physical feat, it’s a mental one. But pregnancy is a different sort of race, and you need to be realistic about your expectations and give yourself grace. So slow down and, when necessary, stop. Walking is also a good alternative.
Eat and hydrate
Did you know dehydration can cause false labor or contractions? It’s true. Dehydration can bring on Braxton Hicks. Pregnant people also need more water than the average person, as water plays an important role in the healthy development of your baby and the placenta.
So bring a bottle of water with you on every run, regardless of the distance or external temperature, and eat a post-workout snack. My personal favorites included graham crackers with peanut butter and apple slices with cheddar cheese.
Smartly schedule your runs
It is always in your best interest to run on well-lit streets, making sure you’re wearing reflective or light-colored clothing, and in populated places.
But if you are pregnant you’ll also want to run where there are public restrooms and/or storefronts with accessible facilities. Trust me. Your bladder will thank you.
Listen to your body
Whether this is your first pregnancy or fourth, one thing is certain: Carrying a child is tough. It’s also unpredictable. You never know how you’ll feel from minute to minute, let alone day to day.
So if you have a training run on your calendar, but find yourself too sore, tired, or sick to lace up your kicks, don’t. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is nothing at all.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few — and when her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.