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.