At the risk of getting too personal, I've spent the last 5 years trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, or recovering from pregnancy. I had my 1st child in October of 2016 and gave birth to my 2nd child September of 2018. It's been quite the journey and I spent a lot of time scrutinizing the pros, cons, roles, and limits of exercise on conception and pregnancy.
I received a lot of fear based recommendations from other people. Those who aren't in the field (or don't exercise) generally believe exercise is going to harm the baby or mother. I had people warn me that the baby would fall out when I run (yea, that's absolutely not a real thing) or that "it can't possibly be good for you" (also inaccurate).
If you don't like or want to exercise, it's easy to find non-research based opinions to support your argument. Additionally, the old school believe was to "lay low" during pregnancy. However, despite popular belief, there aren't many limits and instead, most of the recommendations are about encouraging movement - aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise week (that means getting slightly out of breath).
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG - the expert body on all things pregnancy) basically warns:
Additionally, ACOG outlines circumstances conditions in which exercise must and might be limited (see respective images below).
There are a lot of changes going on in a pregnant body that may change how you approach your usual routine (ACOG FAQs here). Namely :
While guidelines are helpful, there's a lot of individuality in "what's right" for a pregnant body it's often relative to what you are used to doing. But every body is different and even every pregnancy is different. There's also a degree of personal variation in what you're comfortable doing. When in doubt, chat with your doctor and be smart.
Before I tell you what it was like exercising during pregnancy, it's important to outline my situation. There are many factors that put me at an advantage, so it's important to recognize that what was right for me may not be and does not need to be right for you. Please do NOT use my personal story as a guide to what you should be doing during pregnancy.
Here's a bit about me:
So let's talk about what it was like moving the last 10 months!
Going into this pregnancy, I was active. After Tucker was born in October 2016, I quickly ramped up my running and strength training and maintained ~50 miles / week. I ran a marathon in April 2017 and qualified for Boston (woot woot!). I maintained that mileage by running to and from work, running at lunch, running before work with the pups and stroller, and added in a few days of cycling 20 miles, sporadic yoga, and consistent strength training for the rest of summer / fall. In December 2017, I reduced my volume and intensity intending to start training for the Boston Marathon in 2018.
Trend of # of steps and running mileage throughout the course of pregnancy. Not a big change until the final trimester. NOTE: I got a fancy new watch in January that better tracked running vs cycling as well as # of steps. I was NOT running 300 miles / month in October of 2017...some of that's cycling.
1st trimester - goal "maintain, don't train"
I found out I was pregnant a few after writing my Boston Marathon training plan. I debated at length whether or not to go forward with training but ultimately decided my plan would be to "maintain, don't train." My long run when I found out I was pregnant was 14 miles, so I decided to maintain that each weekend and general overall mileage of 40 miles / week plus strength and yoga until the race (or as my body would allow).
I could have run more and even attempted the full marathon - there is no evidence saying running that much would cause any harm to me or the baby (especially since my body was used to running that kind of mileage). Part of me wanted to be one of those "crazy pregnant ladies," but I knew my personality well enough that if I trained for the full race, I'd stop listening to my body and instead focusing on hitting numbers. I didn't feel comfortable putting that kind of pressure on my body (or mind). I estimated that I'd be 20 weeks pregnant in April, so set a goal to run 1/2 of the Boston Marathon to celebrate being 1/2 way through the pregnancy.
My first trimester was pretty uneventful. I've been lucky with both pregnancies and had minimal nausea and my energy always stayed the same. I did notice early on that trying to run fast was harder and I was out of breath easier. I was hitting 6 and even some sub 6 min miles for my 800 meter repeats, but quickly found my pace slowing down for the same perceived exertion. I also had a lot more bloating which makes running less enjoyable but not impossible. But all in all, pretty easy to maintain my previous routines.
2nd trimester - starting to feel pregnant
At 20 weeks, I ran 1/2 of the Boston Marathon. It was QUITE the day - pouring rain and frigid. The race itself was easy enough - averaged 8:15 min miles (qualified by running 7:20s). But waiting around for two hours before the race was miserable and I almost bailed. The square in Hopkinton was a swamp of mud and water with no way to get warm other than to huddle as best you can - I couldn't feel my toes or stop shaking. Combine that with a shrinking bladder (yet need to hydrate) and it gets pretty interesting! But once I made my way to the start, found a bathroom, and got running, it was a treat. I trotted along until I got to 13.1 miles and my husband and kiddo picked me up (dressed as superman).
The remainder of the 2nd trimester was a slow decline of pace and speed. By 25 weeks I couldn't run to and from work anymore - running with a backpack and a growing belly wasn't kind to my back anymore.
By week 26, running after 12pm wasn't working either. I felt like food was sitting heavy in my stomach and pressing on my lungs making it hard to breath. The jostling and twisting of running just didn't feel good. So I shifted all of my runs to before work - which meant taking the kiddo in the stroller and the 2 dogs. As a result, pace went WAY down (but the joy factor went way up).
The final trimester was the most entertaining. Each week I felt my body growing and changing. At the start, I was running pretty well. But by 30 weeks, I couldn't run up steep hills with the stroller but flatter sections and down hills were no problem. I continued running most days and lifting weights.
Everything really changed by 36 weeks - I felt pretty taxed after long runs and lifting weights was miserable. So I dropped the number of days I ran, the distance, walked more, and started using just my body weight to maintain strength and mobility (push-ups, lunges, hip abduction exercises, tricep dips).
By week 37, my belly was feeling so big that running down hills put a lot of pressure on my pelvic floor. Enter more walking. I also told myself that 3-4 miles was "enough" (even though I felt like I could do more at times).
In the final two weeks of pregnancy, my "runs" were more and more about walking instead of trotting. Every day I thought "well this is the last day of running" but each day my body cooperated on the flat sections and tolerated 3-4 miles pretty easily. I continued my light strength training and generally felt pretty good!
A few days before the 39 week mark, I started feeling contractions more and more (but not when running). I continued logging 3-4 miles of walking (and even some trotting) until my water broke a few days later.
Where I am now...
As I write this, it's been 2 weeks since the baby was born. Delivery was no joke. After my water broke, labor was fast and intense. Unfortunately the baby was completely wrapped up in his cord and with every contraction, his heart rate dropped. Six hours after getting to the hospital, I had an emergency c-section - which was NOT the way I wanted to deliver because I feared the recovery length and immobility (I had a natural birth with my first).
I had heard horror stories of being couch bound for weeks and the thought of being so dependent on others was terrifying. However the process has been totally different than what I expected:
While I'm able to move with zero pain and lift most anything, I'm very aware that a c-section is an extensive surgery that cuts through many layers of tissue and muscle. It's tempting to go for a slow trot and "see how it goes" but this is one of those circumstances in which "if you think you're ready, give it a few more weeks." There's a lot of strengthening and repair in my future! But for now, "workouts" are about enjoying the outdoors with my kiddos and pups in the fall weather.
Moral of the story...
Movement during pregnancy is absolutely possible, but the amount, type, and speed are very individual. What's most important is to pay attention to your body and stay in close communication with your doctor about your concerns. If you struggle hearing signals from your body, consider working with your physician or an experienced personal trainer to provide gentle structure and give your body a voice.
Stay nourished friends!
DISCLAIMER: The writing here is for informational and educational purposes only. It is NOT a substitute for individual care. Your needs may vary. or individual support, please contact a provider.
Please note it's been a number of years since I have updated these posts. The content and philosophies may have changed as I've grown as a provider. Please reach out with questions or concerns.
Dietitian, personal trainer, mother, wife, runner, and endurance athlete supporting well-being, one bit and bite at a time