Pregnancy is not a stop sign
Kristy Powell was running for two this winter and spring.
Powell, a committed and experienced runner, was able to run through nearly her entire pregnancy and even help other runners train for a half-marathon.
In fact, it was during a run that she had her first inkling that she might be pregnant.
“Usually I can hit seven-minute miles, and 7:30s were a struggle,” Powell said.
Exercise during pregnancy is considered beneficial, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommending that pregnant women without medical complications get the same suggested amounts of exercise as the general population.
Powell found that friends and family — both runners and nonrunners — were supportive of her continuing to run while pregnant.
“I’m glad other women have pioneered the way,” she said. “It’s no longer looked at as doing something harmful.”
It can still be something of a novelty though. When Powell ran on the country roads near her White Heath home during March’s warm spell, she often wore just shorts and a jog bra that exposed her pregnant belly.
“People kind of do a double take and smile,” she said.
When she became pregnant, Powell did a lot of reading about exercise and pregnancy.
“I heard from lots of different sources, as long as you don’t go above and beyond what you’ve been doing, it’s OK — and actually good — to continue to exercise,” she said.
Powell also talked to her doctor, who told her that as long as she wasn’t having any problems, she could continue running.
“Really the only complaint I have, since probably week 20, is the continual need to go to the bathroom,” Powell said in early April, when she was about 35 weeks pregnant.
Some of the best advice for Powell, though, came from the blog of Kara Goucher, an elite runner who will compete in the marathon this summer at the London Olympics. Goucher continued running during her pregnancy in 2010, and Powell liked being able to identify with what Goucher experienced.
And Powell looked to Ellen Byron as an example. Byron, of Urbana, ran until a week before her son was born in July 2011, including pacing a half-marathon training group last spring, then running the Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon herself. Byron used a heart rate monitor while pregnant as a guideline, so she wouldn’t let her heart rate get too high. When she was feeling tired, she would run with a slower training group.
Byron said she intended to keep running as long as she felt good and it was fun. Shortly before her son was born, it was no longer fun.
“It was July and it was so hot and I was so big, and I had to go to the bathroom all the time,” she said. “It’s really individual for everyone. You don’t want to get your heart set on running to the last minute.”
But running was a way for her to connect both to her baby and to her pre-pregnancy self.
“There are so many changes going on in your body,” Byron said. “When you’re running, it’s one of the times you feel like your old self. And you do feel very connected to your little person. I ran the half last year when I was pregnant. I ran the marathon this year.
“I was struck just how much I missed running with Adam (her son). You really develop a kind of a connection.”
Byron also looked to other local runners who are mothers and ran during their pregnancies. And her doctor — Mildred Nelson, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Christie Clinic — told her to listen to her body.
“That’s basically what I did,” Byron said.
Nelson, a swimmer and runner herself, said many people worry more than they need to about exercising while pregnant.
“If anybody asks me, I encourage people to be as physically fit and exercise as much as before they got pregnant,” she said. “If you never exercise and you’re a couch potato, don’t take up a sport in the middle of pregnancy.
“If you do exercise already, though, you can basically do anything you want, as long as you feel good.”
Nelson said the benefits of exercise for a pregnant woman are the same benefits everyone else experiences, such as more energy and improved mood.
She said exercise can also help with pregnancy-related issues such as swelling in the legs and constipation.
Similarly, Nelson said, the warning signs of a problem are the same as they are for pregnant women who are not exercising — vaginal bleeding, contractions, shortness of breath, feeling faint or dizzy and a decrease in movement from the baby.
She noted that “what you can do at 12 weeks and 20 weeks and 36 weeks varies.” Fatigue and a lack of endurance are factors early on, and particularly between 16 and 20 weeks.
During that period, Nelson said, the body goes through its greatest changes in lung capacity, blood volume, circulation and cardiac output. Bladder capacity also decreases.
In the third trimester, there are more likely to be musculoskeletal issues when relaxin, a hormone secreted during pregnancy, relaxes the joints, including the pelvic bones. Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as walking, yoga, swimming and spinning, might be easier to keep up later in pregnancy, Nelson said.
During her pregnancy, Powell ran 6 to 8 miles most days during the week and longer runs of 10 to 13 miles on the weekend — about 50 miles per week, one-third less than usual.
She paced a half-marathon training group running about 9 1/2 minutes per mile, dropping back to 10 minutes per mile as she got further along in her pregnancy.
Powell’s weight gain and the weight of her baby were all normal during her pregnancy. She stopped running in late April because it became too uncomfortable. She gave birth in early May to a healthy girl, nine days before her due date.
Powell said running is important to both her mental and physical health.
“It’s great stress relief,” she said. “Once it becomes part of your daily routine, if I miss a run, it’s almost as if I’d forgotten to brush my teeth.”
Powell knows it will be harder for her to get out for a run with an infant to care for, so among the purchases she made before her baby was born was a treadmill.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that “recreational and competitive athletes with uncomplicated pregnancies can remain active during pregnancy.” It notes benefits include improved sleep and help in preventing or treating gestational diabetes.
The organization says safe sports during pregnancy are walking, swimming, aerobics and cycling, although women further along in their pregnancies may want to stick to a stationary or recumbent bicycle, as a larger belly can affect balance and make them prone to falls.
It says running, strength training and racquet sports are all safe for women who have done them before pregnancy. The organization’s list of sports to be avoided include contact sports such as ice hockey or basketball, downhill skiing and scuba diving.
The following are the organization’s general guidelines for exercising during pregnancy:
-- After the first trimester of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercises on your back.
-- Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
-- Wear comfortable clothing that will help you to remain cool.
-- Wear a bra that fits well and gives you lots of support to help protect your breasts.
-- Drink plenty of water to help keep you from overheating and dehydrating.
-- Make sure you consume the daily extra calories you need during pregnancy.
-- While you exercise, pay attention to your body. Do not exercise to the point that you are exhausted. Be aware of the warning signs you may be overdoing it. If you notice any of these symptoms, stop exercising and call your doctor.
Photo: Kristy Powell runs in early April at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. She gave birth to a girl in early May. Photo by Robert K. O'Daniell/The News-Gazette.