The Ultimate Guide to Running While Pregnant

It used to be controversial for moms-to-be, but running while pregnant is becoming the norm as women conquer mile after mile on the reg. Plus, studies show that exercise during pregnancy can reduce back pain, prevent excessive weight gain, improve quality of sleep, and lower the risk of delivery complications. But how do you know when you’re good to keep going, and when it’s time to scale back? We talked to the pros, so you can stride on while your bump grows.

Talk to Your Doctor

No other decisions should be made until you do, as every woman is different, and everybody reacts differently to pregnancy. “For some women, whether they regularly run or not, continuing to run might not feel comfortable and can even be painful,” says Erica Zeil, personal trainer and founder of Knocked-Up Fitness. A thorough discussion with your doctor and regular monitoring throughout your pregnancy will help you determine what workout program is best for you and baby. In other words, until you have that convo, consider running a no-go.

Determine Your Base

Reality check: If you’ve always dreamt of being a pregnant runner but haven’t actuallyrun before, it may be time to let go of the idea. “Now isn’t the time to train for your first marathon,” says Diana Ramos, MD, medical director of reproductive health for the LA Public Health Department. But the impulse to exercise is great, and one you should capitalize on. Instead of jumping into a new, strenuous sport, she and Zeil suggest its modified sister—walking. “It’s one of the best cardio exercises when you’re pregnant,” says Zeil. “It’s lower impact, and if you’re not already used to the higher impact that you get from running, then you shouldn’t add that in now. If an extra challenge is what you’re after, add some hills or walk stairs to take it to the next level.”

Watch for Warning Signs

Even once you have your doc’s “okay,” you should still stop if you experience any of the below, says Ramos.

  • Cramping
  • Spotting/Bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain

Again, the importance of communicating with your doctor can’t be stressed enough. “They’re trained to pay attention and pick up on things that you might not think are a big deal,” says Ramos. And at the end of the day, is the extra mile really worth it?

Slow It Down

It’s great to keep busting out mile after mile while your baby grows, but that doesn’t mean you’ll run stride for stride like you did pre-baby. “As the pregnancy progresses, many women slow their pace down or reduce the amount of miles that they’re covering,” says Zeil. And there’s nothing wrong with that. “Remember, you’re growing another human, and that’s no easy feat,” she says. “If you feel tired, sluggish or lethargic, that’s a sign you may be overdoing it.” Don’t be afraid to scale back.

Drink, Drink, Drink

“Dehydration can cause signs of pre-term labor and contractions,” says Ramos. “Plus, it’s very important to not get overheated.” To help keep track of how much you’re drinking, consider investing in a water bottle that comes with hourly bench markers, like this one from Blogilates. That said, if you do feel like you might be having contractions after a run, drink some water immediately and check in with your doctor for further instructions.

Play It Safe

As your body changes, so does your running form, explains Zeil. Typically, your gait will shorten a bit and as your belly grows, you may struggle more with balance. To stride safely, stick to flatter surfaces—like a track or pavement—rather than running on terrain that could trip you up (ie: trail running). “Even if you’re a regular trail runner, err on the side of caution,” suggests Zeil. “Your favorite path may be clear one day, but then someone else gets on it and it’s different the next,” she says. “Plus, as your bump grows, you may not be able to see the actual trail anymore—and on top of that, your balance is off.” Not a safe combo.

Take It Day By Day

Running while pregnant isn’t an all or nothing activity, so don’t be surprised if you feel great one day and not so hot the next, says Michele Gonzalez, running coach and the blogger behind NYC Running Mama, who has run through two pregnancies (and even completed an Ironman while breastfeeding). “Some days, everything hurt and I wouldn’t even make it to the end of my block before I stopped and walked home,” she says. “Other days, things felt great and I was able to run 4, 6, or 10 miles.” She learned to embrace the good days, and accept the bad.

Bring Your Phone

As a safety measure, Gonzalez also suggests always running with your phone. “There were multiple occasions where it suddenly became uncomfortable, so I would call my husband to come pick me up,” she says. Having an out is key in case something happens.

Don’t Just Run

We love busting our butts through the miles as much as the next girl, but don’t let strength training fall by the wayside. “Just like any runner, pregnant runners should cross train,” says Sara Haley, pre- and post-natal exercise specialist. “Exercises that work the body laterally, like side lunges, will counter running. And core training is essential, especially with a focus on hip stability.” One favorite from her new DVD Expecting MORE: The 4th Trimester Workout: The Hover Crawl.

  • Start on hands and knees, with hands underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips.
  • Suck in your stomach, so that you’re pulling your belly button into your spine.
  • Maintain that hold, and lift knees up off the floor so you’re hovering. Hold for as long as you can.
  • For an added challenge, add a kegel (squeeze the pelvic floor muscles you use when you’re holding in pee).

Mix Up Your Gear

Remember, your body is going to be constantly changing for the next nine months. And while we get that it’s not realistic to buy new gear every trimester, it’s still important to pay attention to what works best for your body. Say you’re a runner who’s comfortable in minimalist shoes, but as you get further along in your pregnancy, you start feeling pain in your knees or your feet start hurting. That’s a sign it may be time to switch to a more supportive, stabilizing sneaker, says Zeil. Or maybe your belly feels heavier and like it’s lacking support, making you more uncomfortable with each step. If your doctor still clears you for running, Zeil suggests a maternity support belt. “Wearing one underneath your belly gives your abdominals more support, and can help you continue to run more comfortably,” she says. Gonzalez seconds the suggestion, noting she bought this one during her second trimester.

Skip the Sprints

While you may be in the clear to continue running while pregnant, this isn’t the time to put the pedal to the medal. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends using the talk test to monitor your heart rate (when you’re running, you should be able to maintain a conversation without feeling breathless or struggling to talk).

Evaluate Your Eats

We hate to burst your bubble, but the whole “eating for two” notion is a myth, says Ramos. “You don’t need that many extra calories per day, even if you’re working out,” she explains. “In fact, you only need about 300 to 500 extra calories per day. It’s more important that you focus on the right balance of nutrition—protein, fruits, and vegetables—to keep both you and baby healthy.” Haley says paying attention to how your exercise routine changes from pre-pregnancy to pregnancy is key, too. “If your exercise level, time, and effort is changing—say, decreasing a lot—you may not need to add any.” Again, consulting with doc is your best bet, as she’ll be able to provide proper guidelines.