I have a friend who’s run all 10 Rock ‘n Roll Marathons in San Diego, including one when she was pregnant. She is quite proud of her streak and the fact that having a baby didn’t keep her down. She also likes to remind those who roll their eyes that she was still in her first trimester when she ran that one and about six months later delivered a perfectly healthy baby boy.
I thought of her and other women who run while pregnant when I read news articles last week about strenuous exercise being linked to early miscarriages. The study published in a British medical journal involved more than 92,000 women in Denmark who were asked to recall their exercise regime while pregnant. Results showed those who engaged in more than seven hours of weekly exercise and/or high-impact activities, including running, were at least three times more likely to miscarry than those who took it easy during their pregnancies.
According to various articles, about half of the women involved in the study exercised during pregnancy, most between 75 minutes and about 2-1/2 hours weekly doing low-impact activities such as walking, cycling or swimming.
Of the 3,187 who suffered miscarriages before 22 weeks of pregnancy, the highest risk group exercised seven hours or more weekly and engaged in high-impact activities. Running was among the sports singled out.
The researchers concluded: “The fact that high-impact exercise seems to be associated with the highest risk of miscarriages indicate that jolts produced while exercising plays a role.” They tempered their findings with this caveat: “It is too early to draw any pubic health inferences. Many positive effects of exercise are well-established and the findings of this study need to be replicated.”
Most women are aware of the potential dangers of running during the later stages of pregnancies, when the concentrated weight can cause cramping and unusual fatigue in some, but certainly not all. However, this research involves the early phase, when women often aren’t even aware they are “with child” for the first month or two.
Some medical experts immediately responded to the study by saying pregnant women should not be discouraged from continuing with mild to moderate exercise if their healthcare provider consents. Rather, they should consider the intensity of exercise during the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage dropped considerably after that.
Running while pregnant has long been controversial. I remember reading about a woman in her last trimester that was widely jeered for running a marathon back in the early 1990s. Her case sparked a heated national debate that still rages today