As I had predicted, several women disputed the suggestion that expectant mothers should avoid running more than two miles a day.
While it would be irresponsible of me to suggest anything but such a conservative approach (given that each pregnant woman is unique and may not be prepared to safely continue even a light a running program), I would like to commend the following examples of exceptions to the rule.
Robyn Holland of North Carolina writes that as an avid, competitive 50-plus-miles-per-week runner, she has continued running 30-plus miles a week during her current pregnancy (she is in the second trimester of her second pregnancy). During her first pregnancy, she averaged 40 miles a week.
"The important things are not to get overheated, dehydrated, or go into too much oxygen debt," she writes, admitting that most of the information she has found on the subject has been "gray," including the advice of her own doctors.
"Most people are not willing to commit to anything particular, but tell me that each person has to go on how they feel.
"A general consensus seems to be that women can maintain a good level of running if they have been accustomed to it prior to pregnancy," Robyn says she found. As an active athlete herself, she is a good example of someone who has safely continued a running routine based on previous experience.
Dr. Pamela Monaghan-Geernaert writes that she is 34 weeks pregnant, 29 pounds heavier, and still running five miles four times a week.
"My doctor has been surprised and impressed that I am still running, but supports me completely ... I run slower, wear a heart monitor, watch carefully so I dont trip, and take walking breaks when I need them."
Pamela believes that as a result, she has had no morning sickness, joint pain, bleeding, or loss of fluid and very little fatigue or swelling.
"Being pregnant is not a disability, and many women choose the time to stop all exercise and gain a ton of weight," she writes, noting that two co-workers gained over 50 pounds during their respective pregnancies and suffered from complications (such as pregnancy-induced hypertension) and numerous aches and pains.
"I know (some) people are very critical of pregnant runners, going so far as to ask Are you trying to miscarry, or kill your child? People like that are uneducated to the benefits of fitness and make us feel shameful for being active.
"Being positive and letting pregnant women know that exercise is good is the best thing we can do for them in a culture that is increasingly becoming overweight and inactive."
Anne Hougham also writes that she has continued running three to five miles about three times weekly, now at her 21st week of pregnancy. She admits that exercise was difficult during the first trimester, mostly because of increased fatigue. While she is running significantly less than her pre-pregnancy routine, she comments that "if running is a significant part of your life and you are relatively well-trained pre-pregnancy, giving it up may have a more significant negative impact on mom and baby than keeping it up."
While my initial implication that pregnant women ought to only run two miles a day or less may seem old-fashioned in light of these avid runners personal experiences, Id like to reiterate that it was a conservative "catch-all" approach that made no assumptions on any pregnant readers fitness level.
Active.com readers are not average by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to activity and personal health therefore my conservative advice for the "average" expectant mother was bound to have detractors.
I applaud the women above for not letting their pregnancy be a disability, and for taking the right precautions before deciding what fitness program was right for them and their child. They are exceptions to the rule, and empowering examples for some.
Erika Boom, a certified pre-natal and postnatal fitness instructor, was kind enough to add a few exercise tips that were overlooked in my previous column.
"I would like to emphasize the importance of weight training in pregnant women to strengthen certain muscles that are involved in and/or stressed during pregnancy and labor," she writes.
Abdominals and pelvic floor exercises are great for strengthening transversals and the uterus because they are involved in the pushing part of labor. Side-lying abdominals, Pilates movements, and Kegels are all good exercises for this, though curl-ups should ONLY be done during the first trimester.
Gluteals and hamstrings should be strengthened since they are extended during pregnancy due to changes in a womans center of gravity. Hip extension machines and standing or seated leg curls using a machine are good exercises for this.
Upper back strength is necessary to accommodate changes in the center of gravity, good posture, and preparation for breastfeeding. Shoulder shrugs and shoulder-blade squeezes (squeeze, hold for three seconds, relax, and repeat 10 times) are good exercises to strengthen the upper back.
A Few More Dos and Don'ts
- Avoid free weights after mid pregnancy (use machines instead).
- Avoid the supine position (lying on your back) after the first trimester.
- Stay hydrated.
Finally, a book that several readers recommended in their letters to me was Dr. James E. Clapps Exercising Through Your Pregnancy.
While any "general" advice should be taken with a grain of salt (and unquestionably with a visit to your prenatal care physician), this book is evidently a great resource for active women who are looking to maintain a level of fitness while carrying their child.