Earlier this month, a runner named Amber Miller completed the Chicago Marathon in 6 hours and 25 minutes. Seven hours later, Miller gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
Miller, who ran the 26.2-mile race while 39 weeks pregnant, is not the first woman to combine marathon training and pregnancy. But her case certainly represents an extreme example of trying to maintain a fitness routine leading up to childbirth. When it comes to pregnancy and training, what’s the best approach?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
The Marcus Welby school of thinking was that women should exercise very little or not at all during pregnancy. But today, doctors routinely advise expectant patients to stay active. And how active is a matter of how much you—and now I’m talking to would-be mothers, not forty-something-year-old men—were doing before.
For example, Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder in the women’s marathon, ran twice a day through the first five months of both her pregnancies, then cut back as she approached her due date. Remember, though, this is someone who was logging more than 100 miles a week prior to pregnancy.
If you were not exercising vigorously before you were pregnant, the nine months before you deliver a baby is not the time to begin channeling your inner Jillian Michaels. But if you were regularly logging five miles a day, there’s nothing wrong with continuing that distance through most of pregnancy. The key is to ease up on intensity.
Typically, a baby receives about 20 percent of the mother’s blood flow. But during strenuous exercise, that drops to about five percent, which is not healthy for the fetus. Hard running can also lead to overheating, which is another danger area.
So expectant mothers who exercise should keep the pace conversational. And as the due date approaches, listen to your body: If you find paces that were once a snap to be quite challenging, back off even more.
Studies show that exercise improves the health of mother and child. It lessens back pain, prevents excessive weight gain, improves sleep quality, and reduces delivery complications and the time spent in labor. But you need to listen to your body and keep your obstetrician advised about your exercise habits throughout your pregnancy. And, of course, if you experience any leaking, bleeding or pain, or notice decreased fetal movement, stop exercising and see your doctor.