Running While Pregnant

Which do you think is harder: finishing a marathon or giving birth to a baby?

Well, Amber Miller, a veteran marathoner, did both in one day!

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She was 38 weeks pregnant last Sunday, October 16, 2011 when she finished the Chicago Marathon with a time of 6 hours and 25 minutes. This is 3 hours longer than her PR (personal record).

Now, ladies, don’t be challenged and strive to copy Amber’s impossible feat. First of all, she was a seasoned athlete. She has completed eight full marathons and she had signed up for the Chicago Marathon even before she knew she was pregnant. So, she had plenty of time to prepare for this one.

In my opinion, Amber was taking a huge risk. She could have encountered all sorts of obstacles or unforeseen circumstances along the way. She could have tripped or fallen on her tummy. She could have suffered heat stroke or dehydration. Her water bag could have ruptured in the middle of nowhere.

I’m a doctor. Believe me when I say that I’ve seen the worse things happen to a pregnant mother and you don’t want it happening to you and your baby.

Exercising during pregnancy is recommended but we advise it only in moderation. Thirty minutes a day of walking, swimming and low-impact aerobics is the ideal. Running, cycling and jump-roping are not advised due to the risk of contractions and/or falling. Remember that as your tummy gets bigger, your center of gravity changes so you may easily lose your balance.

Make sure to hydrate yourself by drinking a lot of water before, during and after exercising.

Do not overheat yourself. Pregnancy itself increases your body temperature. Too much physical exertion may elevate your body temperature even more. Some studies have reported an increased incidence of neurodevelopmental abnormalities in babies when the body temperature of the mother rises beyond 39 degrees Celsius.

Learn to count your heart rate. If it exceeds 140 beats per minute, you are overdoing it. Slow down and take a break.

Wear lose comfortable clothing but be sure to wear a good support bra. If you don’t want to buy one since you won’t be using it for too long, you may wear 2 bras for better support.

Eat at least 1 hour before you plan to exercise to prevent heartburn and vomiting.

If while exercising you experience any of the following: headache, dizziness, chest pain, abdominal pain, contractions, watery vaginal discharge or bleeding…Stop!

You’re not Amber Miller… and you don’t have to be. Exercise is good but if it will compromise your baby then it’s not worth it.

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3 Comments

  1. Cristina says:

    This advice is outdated, especially the one about heart rate. I was in great shape when I got pregnant and worked out all the time. My doctor (I’m now based in the US) advised me not to go over 80% of my HR (that would be about 160) and not to do more than what I was already doing for exercise. She was very OK with me continuing to run and teach Zumba classes. It would have been unhealthier for me and my baby if I drastically reduced my workout schedule. I ran up until I was full-term and taught Zumba and exercised up until I gave birth.

    Amber was pretty much walking that marathon and it’s very doable although I wouldn’t do it just because there really isn’t anything I’d want to be doing for 6 plus hours in the third trimester! While pregnant, I “ran” a 10k in a hour 17 minutes which is painfully slow since my 10k best time is under 50 minutes. I actually wore a heart rate monitor early in my pregnancy but eventually ditched it when my HR wasn’t getting that high anymore. With my doctor’s blessings, I just listened to my body and slowed down gradually as I got bigger.

    I gained about 11 kilos and gave birth at 39 weeks with an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, I was cleared to exercise at 2 weeks, ran a 10 miler 3.5 months postpartum and my first marathon at 9.5 months postpartum. My now 21-month old boy was a healthy 7.7 pounds at birth and is just perfect. :)

    And for all you runners out there, I am faster now that I was before I had my baby so that’s anecdotal evidence that pregnancy makes your heart stronger (assuming you exercise while pregnant). :)

    • filipinamd says:

      Dear Cristina,

      Thank you for your comment.

      From your running history, I would describe you as a “seasoned athlete”.

      Like I said , keep running only if you think you are fit enough and if’ you’ve run marathons before. If it’s your first time, running while pregnant might not be such a good idea.

      Different doctors really have different styles when it comes to managing their patients. I’m the conservative type. I’d rather err on the cautious side.

      Let me point you to The Huffington Post, October 13, 2011 “Exercise and Pregnancy: Is Running A Marathon Safe?”

      Dr. Raul Artal, MD, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the St. Louis University School of Medicine has this to say about Amber Miller’s run:

      “Dr. Artal’s initial reaction to the marathon scenario summed up what we had assumed:

      Can it be done? Sure.
      Is it advisable? No.

      Any extreme physical activity is risky — Artal pointed out there was a fatality at the Chicago marathon — so why take that risk while pregnant? While he has worked with professional athletes who exercised heavily throughout their pregnancies, Artal says, in general, women should stay away from extreme, high-impact fitness activities, like marathons … or skateboarding … or skydiving.

      Artal, who authored the guidelines on exercise and pregnancy for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, suggests that pregnant women engage in 30 minutes to one hour of light to moderate physical activity each day.” (Read the full article at The Huffington Post)

      Good luck and keep running!

      • filipinamd says:

        Email from Cristina:

        Thanks very much for the response. I did read that Huffington Post article and I also agree that a marathon while pregnant (while doable) was not something I would have done. I was paranoid about hydration when I ran through my pregnancy so I don’t think I could have run a marathon lugging enough water with me! Besides, runners are fueled by the excitement of racing (dulling their discomfort and pain) so again, not the best situation to be in when you have to be mindful of a baby.

        Yes, it is different here. But in a lot of ways, it can be the same with conservative advice regarding running/exercise and pregnancy, especially in more rural parts of the US. I have friends who were also advised regarding maintaining a certain heartrate so that advice is still very much here. The difference perhaps is more women can easily switch doctors to find one who is more supportive of seasoned runners/exercisers. My entire family is in the Philippines so I was secretive about how much I continued to exercise while I was pregnant as I know I would have gotten so much pressure to stop. I’m sure even our family doctor would have called me had she known!

        Running has boooomed in the Philippines just in the last two years so I hope you get lots more questions about running/exercising while pregnant in the near future.

        All the best!
        Cristina