Running and pregnancy: should you run in the first trimester?

When you first find out that you are pregnant, if you’re a regular runner, sooner or later you’ll probably wonder if it’s safe to keep running. And if so, how much you can, or should, run.

Running and pregnancy: should you run in the first trimester?

At this early stage, you’ll probably want to keep the exciting news under wraps, so it can be hard to find reliable sources of information on running and pregnancy. Here’s our advice for newly expectant mums during the first trimester (0-13 weeks).

As long as you listen to your body and take it easy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t continue running while pregnant. In fact there are many benefits to staying active during your pregnancy, from combatting morning sickness and helping you sleep better to preparing you for an easier birth.

Is it safe to run?

Historically, it was thought that running during pregnancy was not good for a woman in a 'delicate condition'. However, this was not based on fact, and doctors now agree that if you’re in good health and you already run, then continuing to run is perfectly safe during pregnancy.

In fact several major studies have concluded that exercising during pregnancy is extremely beneficial both to the mother and the unborn child. 

That said, it’s not a good idea to try a new high-intensity sport for the first time if you're pregnant. If you’re not a regular runner, stick to walking or low-impact sports such as swimming.

Reduce the intensity

During early pregnancy, you'll find that you will naturally slow down. Don’t beat yourself up about it, listen to your body and run at a pace that feels manageable. Keep it comfortable and conversational, at a maximum of 70 per cent effort.

If you feel like running every day, that’s fine. But if you struggle to maintain a previously easy pace the day after a big session, you know it’s time to ease off on the frequency and intensity of your sessions. Try mixing it up with some swimming – it’s a great low impact form of exercise that’s ideal during pregnancy.

Don’t overheat

You may have heard that pregnant women should avoid hot baths, saunas, hot tubs and so on. Raising your core temperature too much during the first trimester carries a risk of birth defects, so it’s wise to avoid overheating through exercise.

In summer, run when it’s cooler, in the early morning or evening. Wear loose clothing and stay hydrated, and again, don’t push it too hard.

Running and pregnancy symptoms

You may well feel sick while running, if so, take it down a notch: walk for a bit, breathe easy and drink small sips of water. If it doesn’t feel right, stop and try again another day when you feel better. Try not to exercise on a completely empty stomach: for many that’s when the nausea hits hardest.

You might find you need to factor in pee stops during your run: plan your route to pass by toilets you can access.

If you’re feeling so exhausted you can barely break into a walk let alone run, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a day or two, or even a week or more if you don’t feel like exercising.

Sprain alert

During pregnancy, the body releases a hormone called relaxin. It’s designed to  help your ligaments get more elastic, and allow your pelvis and abdomen to expand to accommodate the baby and facilitate the birth.

However, relaxin is released from the start of your pregnancy and it also affects all sorts of areas you might not necessarily want to get too relaxed. Any of your ligaments and joints can be affected, so during pregnancy you’re more susceptible to injury; ankle sprains in particular. Avoid running on rough ground and strengthen your feet and lower leg muscles to ensure your ankles remain injury-free.

What about that race?

If you’ve entered a race and you’ve been training hard for it, it can be frustrating to realise you won’t be able to achieve your race goal. If you want to (and feel up to it) you can still race, though you’ll have to be prepared to do it at a less intense pace.

This is not the time to go all out and shoot for a PB. Instead, take the opportunity to cruise along at a steady pace, run with a friend or just enjoy the atmosphere. Remember that for your baby’s sake you really want to avoid overheating or stressing your body too much. 

Do what feels right

The first trimester can be a rollercoaster of emotions, exhaustion, nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. If you feel like running, go for it! If not, that’s also just fine.

Many women take a break from running during this period and come back to it at about the 12-week mark when the early pregnancy symptoms start to ease off and some stop completely. The important thing is to do whatever feels right for your body.

For more on running and pregnancy, click here

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