Some of you likely saw The New York Times article about elite women running through pregnancy. And this spotlight on exercise during pregnancy is definitely a positive thing, showing women no longer need to lay down and rest the whole nine months. Pregnancy isn’t some ailment that needs to be treated with such caution. It’s certainly a giant leap forward.
However, I’m an active woman who had complications that necessitated a shift in exercise levels while pregnant. I see a worrisome trend. Yes, elite athletes can and should continue solid levels of training into their pregnancies with proper supervision of a coach and medical team. Running, in these cases, is their job and, on some level, continues to be treated as such. It only makes sense. The recreational athlete, though, needs to employ a bit of common sense and set some more realistic expectations with regard to training and racing.
I ran a half marathon at the end of my first trimester when I was pregnant with my daughter. I slugged at a much slower pace than usual (finishing in 2:09 versus my standard 1:44), made lots of potty stops, fueled my body for the task, and crossed the finish line. I felt great and continued running into my second trimester following the same guidelines I set up with my doctor. I felt well … until I didn’t. After a slow 15K run at 19 weeks, I started experiencing regular contractions, which never really stopped until the day I delivered some 19 weeks later.
My diagnosis? Irritable uterus, a vague medical descriptor that just means random stuff (walking, running, car rides, lifting, certain body positions, looking at my uterus the wrong way, etc.) can cause nonproductive contractions at alarmingly tight intervals. Though I wasn’t put on full restriction (bed rest) because my contractions weren’t producing any cervical change, it was a scary twist of events and caused me to lessen running and general exercise as I advanced in weeks. For me, the contractions continued no matter what I did or didn’t do, but running certainly didn’t help the situation.
Irritable uterus isn’t terribly common, so that’s just me. Still, seeing all these women who weren’t missing a beat frustrated me. I had a lot of “why can’t I do that?” moments. It’s true: Some women can run until the day they deliver – keeping fast paces and high mileage – with absolutely no problems whatsoever. Some do really well cutting runs slightly shorter and going slow. Alternatively, others cannot get pregnant until they decrease their activity levels considerably. Then others have conditions, like placenta previa and preterm labor, that necessitate full body rest.
The message here: We should celebrate women moving in pregnancy. But we should also remember that we’re all different. Exercise should be approached in a unique way for each unique person and each unique pregnancy. What you see your friends doing or read on blogs or the news doesn’t necessarily apply to you on either end of the spectrum. Your best resource is your primary physician, midwife, OB, etc. If you aren’t getting the answers or guidance you seek, it’s in your power to get a second opinion.
Above all else, listen to your body. It sounds corny and perhaps trite, but you will typically know if an exercise or training plan isn’t working for you. In cases where you have discomfort, it’s best to take the cue and modify what you’re doing accordingly. If you’re running marathons through week 40 – more power to you. If you can’t, that doesn’t make you any less of an athlete. Pregnancy is not the time to test limits for the sake of proving physical strength.
Do what feels good. Take care of yourself and baby. Involve your care provider. And enjoy this special period of your life. It goes by fast, and – at least in my experience – you’ll be back smashing PRs before you know it.
Written by Ashley Marcin.