Women running numbers are continuously increasing. In the 2013-2016 period, approximately 57% of all runners completing a race event were women. Some of these women eventually get pregnant and must decide whether continuing running or stop this activity.
It is well known that running promotes physical and mental health. Women who run regularly report physiological benefits such as stronger pelvic floor muscles, lower resting heart rate, and improved oxygen uptake (VO2max) among others.
Continuing previous running habits during pregnancy limit excessive weight gain and ensure a faster recovery after birth. Additionally, physical activity during pregnancy helps to maintain lean muscle mass while providing emotional, social and spiritual benefits.
Some years ago, medical guidelines recommended to restrict activities leading to an increase in heart rate for pregnant women. Nevertheless, current evidence promotes active women to keep with their levels of physical activity while they are comfortable and without complications that could make it unsafe. Despite this evidence some providers still have outdated ideologies and continue discouraging running.
Pregnancy induces physical changes apparent to the women before people around them notice. Once pregnancy is visible, living in their own bodies is scrutinized. It seems that everyone is authorised to asses also the risks their behaviour could bring to the foetus.
Some of the current guidelines for guiding perinatal healthcare has been criticised recently for being too focused on how the mother must prepare herself for her baby´s needs. Without evidence of an objectively risky behaviour women should also be able of controlling their lives.
The “Doing Pregnancy” approach
The recent “Doing Pregnancy” approach tries to equilibrate the needs from the baby with those related with the physical wellbeing of the mother. Pregnant women have the capability of adjusting daily behaviour according with her physical changes and bodily sensations within cultural norms.
There are 3 processes in this framework:
- Learning to do pregnancy: women compare their previous body with the pregnant one while monitoring changing sensations and taking advices.
- Adapting to do pregnancy: women decide if follow, ignore or challenge advice based on their own sense of healthy living.
- Performing to audiences: adapting behaviour to underpin support from supportive individuals or avoid scrutiny from unsupportive ones.
The mother-runner community
A study tried to get women opinion, sampling from the “Another Mother Runner (AMR https://anothermotherrunner.com/)” community. This online community of mother-runners is full of interesting information about issues related to running during motherhood, childbearing and beyond.
For women who were already runners, the act of running is a vital part of their lives and identity. Beyond the physical activity is a source of empowerment: a running woman is seen as a modern woman with the time and resources necessary to run.
During pregnancy women tune their activity to changing sensations, adjusting activity levels if necessary. Running withdrawal could carry a moral weight. This should be accounted by midwives, nurses and physicians, who should promote self-management of health in running women during pregnancy.
“I am a Runner”: A qualitative analysis of women-runners’ pregnancy experiences.
Ohlendorf JM, Anklam AL, Gardner L
Women Birth. 2019 Jun;32(3): e307-e314. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2018.07.021.