Pregnant runners experience some weird symptoms. Experts weigh in.
When I found out I was pregnant late last year, the strange symptoms started almost immediately. It turns out, I’m not alone in experiencing them.
Things hurt in weird places. Like your crotch.
Just a few weeks into my pregnancy, I felt a weird sensation in what I can only describe as my crotch. It felt almost as if everything inside was going to fall out. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do. My doctor suggested icing the area. Though this weirded out my husband, it was surprisingly effective.
It turns out that even weeks before your baby bump emerges, your body is getting ready to carry and deliver. That means hormones are causing your ligaments to relax, which can cause pain and pressure in your lower abdomen and crotch areas, says Diana Ramos, M.D., medical director for reproductive health for the Los Angeles Public Health Department.
A support belt can help reduce this discomfort, but often, changing up your activities – that is, trading in running for walking, swimming, or yoga – can be more comfortable.
You slow down. Quickly.
When my husband and I were trying to get pregnant, I was excited that I wouldn’t have to worry about hitting certain splits or trying to maintain tough paces once I started running for two. To my former self, I say: Be careful what you wish for. My speed was gone pretty quickly – about 10 weeks in – and so was my stamina. Now I walk by the local track, cling to the chain-link fence, and gaze longingly.
Before women start showing physical signs that a little one is on its way, they will feel fatigued and struggle through what was once an easy pace. That’s largely in part due to pregnancy hormones, including surging levels of progesterone, Ramos says. “I often remind patients that it takes a lot of energy to make a baby, and one of the first signs of pregnancy is exhaustion.”
As the baby gets bigger, it pushes into your rib cage and your lungs, making it harder to breathe. It’s important not to overexert yourself. On hot days, move your run or workout indoors to prevent your body temperature from rising too much.
You pee. A lot.
Runners already hydrate (and urinate) more than the average non-athlete. Pregnancy plus running equals constant trips to the bathroom. Before runs, I experience frequent urges to empty my bladder, like the nervous pees I used to have before high-school track meets.
Always having to pee is a common complaint among all pregnant women, but running can make it worse. Your uterus is sandwiched between your bladder and your rectum, so depending on where the baby is situated it can push on either (or both!), making you run for the nearest bathroom, says Ramos. You’re also supposed to be drinking more water to support the extra blood volume that’s circulating in your veins.
There’s a lot of thigh-chafing. And chest-bouncing.
I’d never experienced thigh chafing until five months into my pregnancy, when a few kilometres into a ‘run’ (if you can even call it that), I felt a burning sensation in my upper inner thighs. It was horrible, and my post-run shower made it worse. (I now apply BodyGlide before runs, before walks, and when I’m wearing a dress without tights.)
This newfound chafing can happen in part because of pregnancy weight gain – your legs are getting thicker, and your running shorts may no longer cover the inner thigh area. But your skin also stretches, which causes friction and itchiness that leads to chafing, says Ramos.
I also noticed my sports bras were snugger and there was a lot more bouncing. This is also due, in part, to weight gain, but as Ramos points out, breasts grow to prepare for breast-feeding – milk-producing cells multiply, increasing your cup size.
PBs are possible.
Pregnancy doesn’t have to deter you from achieving your running goals, as long as your healthcare team has approved your activity and you feel good. While pregnant with her daughter, Ava, who is now 11 months old, Christine Mayes was running six days a week with her club during her first trimester. She ran two marathons in two months, Hartford and the New York City Marathon, where she set a four-minute PB (4:16). Mayes continued to run up until the seven-month mark and had an easy delivery.
“I attribute such a healthy pregnancy and birth to how conditioned my body and mind were throughout the duration of my pregnancy, because I kept running,” Mayes says.
Lauren Garges, a P.T., and board-certified women’s health physical therapist, agrees that being in shape can help.
“An increased fitness level is definitely beneficial,” she says. “If a woman has a lot of strength and endurance pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy, typically, labours are shortened, and the recovery time is much faster.”
Ultimately, your body is your guide. Throughout your second and third trimesters, your blood and plasma volume are almost double their normal levels. Your heart and lungs are working harder during aerobic activity to circulate your increased blood volume, and breathing may become harder.
You can still do those hill repeats, track workouts, and races, but there’s no shame in stopping and walking if you’re short of breath and struggling more than you’re used to. It’s important not to overexert yourself, and during pregnancy, it’s better to keep moving in a healthy way than to nab an age-group award.
Running may no longer be a priority.
If you’re not running as much anymore, that’s okay, too. Growing a tiny runner is exhausting and comes with inexplicable aches and pains. You may opt for extra sleep instead of logging your usual morning KMs or find other activities that are more comfortable.
“My goal was to run for as long as I could through the pregnancy,” says Meredith Mahoney, who has a 4-month-old son and a 3:25 marathon PB. “But I also wanted to listen to my body, and I was prepared to stop if at any point it didn’t feel right. Despite all the inspiring stories out there, at around five months, I felt that running was becoming difficult and that I’d be better off pursuing other physical activities like prenatal yoga and fast walking.”
Rebeccah Wassner, a professional triathlete and mother of two, had to stop running at 22 weeks. “I thought I’d be out there running to the end, but when it came to the health of the baby, it wasn’t so hard to temporarily say goodbye to running,” she says. Even professional runner Sally Kipyego, who was second at the 2016 New York City Marathon while one month pregnant, gave up running at 18 weeks.
On days you just don’t feel like moving or you’re sore from what used to be an easy run, Garges recommends trying certain exercises to relieve your discomfort.
“A lot of times, getting on your hands and knees is a way to unweight the pressure from the baby in the front,” she says. “Yoga positions like the Cat-Camel, Happy Baby, and Child’s Pose all feel really good.” You can do traditional standing stretches, too.
You’re just so…hungry.
It’s pretty standard that you want to eat the entire contents of your fridge after a 32-kilometre run. But when you’re pregnant, you might feel totally depleted after a shorter, slower run. Wassner said her post-run snacks had to be doubled when she was pregnant. And once she couldn’t run anymore, she signed up for cooking classes.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, mums-to-be need an additional 1400 kilojoules per day during their second trimester and an additional 1800 kilojoules per day during their third trimester to nourish themselves and the baby. And those numbers don’t factor in calories burned through exercise.
So go ahead and chow down. But while it may be tempting to reach for a family-sized bag of chips, extra kilojoules should come from nutrient-dense foods like lean meats, vegetables and whole grains.
Pregnancy changes your running form.
Your center of gravity shifts upward when you’re pregnant, which takes a toll on your form. Lauren Bianchi, a 1:56 half marathoner and mum of one, never expected to have to put so much thought into her posture and gait once her belly presented itself.
“It was an all-the-time, every-second-of-running focus for me,” she says. “It got exhausting.”
Your posture takes a hit while you’re expecting, even when you’re not running, so one of the most important things Garges talks to her patients about is postural control.
“Think about tucking your tailbone under to make sure you don’t have that big arch in your lower back,” she says. “Then imagine there’s a puppet string on your head pulling yourself up straight. That helps to make sure your head isn’t forward and your shoulders aren’t rounded.”
Your form may start to affect the comfort of your run, too. The extra weight and slower pace have changed my form so much that it’s causing pain in my shins and calves. Now I walk with a couple jog breaks.
People will stare. A lot.
They’re just jealous that you’re running and they’re not. Or they still think running will cause your uterus (and your baby!) to fall out. Don’t sweat it.
Giving birth isn’t the finish line.
New mums may want to hit the pavement as soon as possible. But Garges says you’ll have to wait about six to eight weeks postpartum – and that’s only if your core is starting to get stronger, you have no symptoms (pelvic pressure, bladder leakage, or numbness or tingling), and your doctor gives you the go-ahead. If you begin running too soon, you run the risk of organ prolapse, which is when your bladder or uterus drops down through the vaginal canal. Research has found that up to 50 per cent of women who have given birth may experience organ prolapse, although they won’t always be symptomatic, says Garges. A much more common result of giving birth in athletes, especially in higher impact activities like running, is urinary incontinence.
And once you do lace up, it’ll take some time to get back to your former self. Often, women need up to a year to get to their pre-pregnancy fitness levels, thanks in part to joint laxity in the ankles, hips, pubic bone and lumbosacral spine. Your muscles need time to strengthen, too.
“Since I felt great my entire pregnancy, I ran as usual but reduced my mileage,” says Taeya Konishi Schogel, who has a 2-year-old son and a 2:59 marathon PB. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong until I went for my first run six weeks post-delivery. I couldn’t even run a kilometre. It turns out, my right hip was rotated forward because my son was breech and his head was on my right side. I couldn’t run for six months while I recovered with physical therapy.”
Once you’re cleared by a doctor, start out slowly. Garges recommends running two or three days per week for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, then incrementally increasing that by 10 per cent and reassessing. It’s important to do exercises specifically designed to strengthen your pelvic floor and ab muscles.
Your body has been through a nine-month marathon of changes. “You have to give yourself time to recover after,” Garges says. “Just because you’re not as strong after three months doesn’t mean you won’t be eventually.”