A New Warning If You’re Running for Two

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, News and Opinion

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

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Dawn - Pink Chick on October 1st at 6:21 pm

    While it’s been a long time since I was pregnant I do recall being very active during all my pregnancies except the last.

    With my first I used to do long swims even during the last trimester. Yes I got strange looks and comments like “should you be doing that” but my Dr said all was fine as it was not a new activity for me. The key with any activity is doing what both you and your Dr are okay with. This can vary from person to person and pregnancy to pregnancy.

    Great article. Thanks.

  2. Sarah on October 2nd at 1:08 pm

    I just had a baby in February. I ran the VA Beach 1/2 marathon in September 2006 at approximately 13 weeks along. I continued to run another month or so, then walked, used the elliptical or biked the rest of the time, as well as lifted weights. I spent 2 hours in the gym within 24 hours of giving birth to a wonderful and healthy baby girl. I was running again within 3 weeks of delivery, albeit slowly and with caution. I will be running a marathon in November–less than 8 months after giving birth.

    We can all be very careful, do the best for ourselves and our babies, but I hate to see articles like this that say that my running will cause a miscarriage–this is a great way of scaring off individuals from their favorite form of exercise while pregnant. My doctor uses me as an example to his patients on what healthy living during pregnancy can do for a woman and her baby.

  3. Anne on October 3rd at 4:52 pm

    Sarah, Congratulations on your new baby. I think the article wasn’t saying running will cause a miscarriage. It’s merely pointing out that INTENSE exercise (e.g., taking up running after being sedentary or doing difficult workouts for extended periods of time)during the first three months puts a woman at higher risk of miscarrying. Obviously from the sheer volume of respondents, there were plenty of successful “running pregnancies” mixed in with the women who were less fortunate.

    It might be worth noting that the actual journal article was designed to caution doctors to be careful what type of exercise they prescribe to their patients since medical advice (and particularly OB/GYN practices) changes with each generation.

  4. Debbie on March 8th at 7:43 pm

    I’m a little more experienced on both ends of the spectrum than the average mom. I am now 24, and I have a 5-year-old daughter. I became pregnant during the summer after my freshman year in college. I was a full-scolarship athlete and a middle distance runner. I found out I was pregnant after injuring myself running the 400 hurdles. I went to the hospital and as a routine, they do pregnancy test before x-rays. I sprained my ankle and found out I was toward the end of my first trimester. I returned to school for my sophomore year and continued to run with my doctor’s and coach’s permission. For three more months I ran cross country and finished in top places with no one actually knowing I was five months pregnant. After my fifth month, I stopped training. My daughter was born four month later. Fast forward five years, and we have another take on the same situation. My husband and I were terribly excited about the child I was carrying. Of course I’ve never stopped running since college, and I graduated three years ago, but I’m older, and my body has changed since I had my daughter. I was considering those factors when I decided to jog and lessen the intensity of my workouts during the second month of my pregnancy. At about 11 weeks, I miscarried. I really believe I was often dehydrated and could have caused the fetus to overheat. I am now pregnant again and it’s only been a month since the miscarriage, and believe me, I won’t be hitting the track hard at all. If I hit it, it will be in my walking shoes.

  5. Erica Lickley on April 6th at 12:34 pm

    Dear Debbie

    I can relate to your situation somewhat. I started running 5 years ago and stopped running when I found out I was pregnant 3 years ago and had a healthy baby girl. I started running again 8 weeks after her delivery and have been running, swimming, biking a lot since then. My husband and I decided to have another baby and became pregnant in December. I decided to keep running. Then I miscarried when I was 5 weeks along. Who knows if the running caused that, but I am now pregnant again and only walk. It is only for a short period of time in my life and I got in the best shape of my life after my first baby, so I know I can and will do it again.

  6. PG817 on November 6th at 2:09 pm

    I have been running and exercising regularly for over a decade. I am in very good health. Three years ago I gave birth to a healthy little boy. I stopped running during my pregnancy because I didn’t feel that I had enough energy to run, but I still exercised during the first trimester. Two months ago I got pregnant again, but this time I continued my usual running routine of 6 – 10 miles at least 5 times weekly because I still felt good enough to run. Sadly, I miscarried at 5 weeks. I am not sold on the fact that running was the cause, but either way I am going to take it easy when we try again.