On October 9, 2011, Amber Miller completed the Chicago Marathon. She then went to the hospital and gave birth to a baby girl named June, weighing 7 pounds 13 ounces. While this may sound dangerous, or just plain crazy, it is also a tribute to what the female body can do.
In our 17 years of practice, we have had many more pregnant patients ask us for handicapped parking permits so they don’t have to walk the extra block to their office than ask if it is safe to run a marathon. But for avid runners like Amber, participating in races or simply continuing with their normal fitness routines is usually not harmful to the pregnancy as long as certain precautions are taken.
A woman who is pregnant should not start a new intense exercise regimen that she was not doing prior to pregnancy. Walking, swimming, and prenatal yoga are great, but this is not the time to undertake the “couch-to-marathon” training program. However, if she has been working out regularly before conception, she can continue many of her routines.
A pregnant woman should always inform her doctor if she is interested in participating in an extreme sport. Her doctor may want to monitor the baby’s growth more closely with ultrasounds in this situation in order to assure that the baby is getting all the nutrition and oxygen it needs and is growing appropriately. For some women, intense cardio workouts will shunt too much of the oxygen to the working muscles and the baby will be deprived. We recommend for women to monitor their heart rate during a workout and maintain it under 140 beats per minute.
Running has its own set of hazards as well. Because of the growing belly, the woman’s center is gravity is shifted forward, and falls become more common. As the pelvis and joints loosen to allow more space for the baby, it becomes unstable. Women should also stay well-hydrated during this activity by drinking water or electrolyte solution after every mile.
We applaud women who stay active and healthy during their pregnancy, but we want to make sure they do it safely. We think the best time to focus on fitness is actually before pregnancy so that the exercise regimen is familiar and sustainable.