Running with baby on board? At 30 weeks pregnant with our son, I can remember receiving a few disapproving glances as I ran my regular 4-mile route around our neighborhood. The recommendations for exercising during pregnancy seem to be all over the map, and even expert obstetric physicians’ opinions conflict with what is “safe” or “best” for you and baby. In the end, you and your physician will agree on the right exercise prescription, based on factors such as your medical history and pregnancy progression. The good news is that there is a growing body of evidence to support exercising through pregnancy and the benefits to both mom and baby are significant.

Here are a few examples:

Benefits to MOM

  • Maintain muscle, fitness level, and active habits to make labor and post-pregnancy weight loss easier.
  • Less likely to gain excessive weight.
  • Better sleep, more energy, better mood, prevent/treat gestational DM, may relieve constipation, back pain, bloating, swelling.

Benefits to BABY

  • Stronger fetal & lower heart rate (which continues after the baby is born)
  • Lower rates of overweight/obesity as a child
  • Easier labor on you which makes a safer delivery for baby

The benefits of exercise are clear, so if you got the green light to run, how do you fuel for two during pregnancy & beyond – i.e.: breastfeeding? Let’s face it; there are some barriers to running during pregnancy.  The first trimester might bring nausea in which running is the last thing you feel like doing, and in the third trimester, those 20 extra pounds take a pounding on your body (and bladder) and the extra weight might simply be too uncomfortable. For those reasons, pregnancy is an ideal time to put down your intensetraining diary and PR goals and pick up your food diary. Focus on a nourishing diet that will fuel running and more importantly, your growing baby.

If you follow these 3 key tips: RUN which stands for R: Regular, balance meals; U: Up the fluids; N: Nourish with microNutrients, you will cross the finish line of pregnancy and breastfeeding with a PR in nutrition!

R: Regular & balanced meals

Eating often during pregnancy and breastfeeding helps with:

  • Nausea and feeling too full
  • Adequate weight gain. Recommended weight gain should be agreed upon between you and your doctor, but can be based on current BMI (body mass index)

Here is a summary of weight gain guidelines for a single baby based on your BMI:

If your BMI is less than 18.5: Gain 28 to 40 pound

If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9: Gain 25 to 35 pounds

If your BMI is 25 to 29.9: Gain 15 to 25 pounds

If your BMI is 30 or greater: Gain 11-20 pounds

  • Strong workouts and avoidance of low blood sugars that can occur during exercise

Never exercise on empty stomach. A carb-rich snack ~30 min to 1 hour before your run and carb + protein rich snack post run will help you recover and provide important nutrients to growing baby.  My favorite pre run snack is a slice of whole-wheat bread with a thin spread of peanut butter, and post run is a slice of raisin toast with low-fat cottage cheese & cinnamon.

  • Adequate calories for lactation and optimal nutrients – you are the sole source of nutrition for your baby. Some research has shown that a diet with less than 1800 calories will not provide enough energy for you and baby…and this does not include the extra calories for running!

U: Up the Fluids:

Upping the fluids during pregnancy and breastfeeding is vital! Fluids needs increase to assist with:

  • Prevention of overheating for you and baby
  • Increase in blood volume that occurs with pregnancy
  • Provision of enough fluids for breast milk production

How much? The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about 10 cups of fluids daily and women who breastfeed should consume about 13 cups of fluids a day. These recommendations do not account for fluids lost during exercise! Runners will need to drink extra water to compensate for the fluid loss. An extra 1.5 to 2.5 cups of water should suffice for short bouts of exercise, but intense exercise lasting more than one hour requires more fluid intake, and most also should include some sodium to assist with water balance.

Plain water is preferable, but coffee, tea, milk and juice count toward your fluid requirements, too. You’ll know you’re fully hydrated when you’re urine is pale yellow.

N: Nourish with microNUTRIETNS:

Certain micronutrient requirements increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding and require a pre-natal vitamin be consumed for nutritional insurance. However, a supplement will never replace the benefits you receive from eating WHOLE food sources of these nutrients.

Here are key nutrients of focus:

  • Folate: necessary for the development of fetal nervous system and prevention of neural tube defects

Sources: fortified grains/cereals, leafy greens, beans, lentils

  • Iron: needs nearly double during pregnancy to make blood for baby, athletes also have higher needs due to high turnover and hemolysis (foot strike).

Sources: Beef, poultry, pork, beans, spinach, tofu, fortified cereals

  • Calcium: development of fetus and protection of mothers’ bones

Sources: milk, yogurt, fortified non-dairy milks, tofu, leafy greens

  • Choline: like folate, also important for fetal nervous systems and baby’s ability to learn and remember, and may protect against certain mental illnesses

Sources: egg yolks, spinach, potatoes, meat, fish

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s improve your baby’s eye and brain growth and early development. Taking in enough omega-3s can lower your baby’s chances of getting asthma and other allergic conditions. They also may lower your risk of giving birth too early, and of having depression after you have your baby (postpartum depression).

Sources: Fatty fish such as salmon or trout (avoid tuna during pregnancy), nuts, flaxseed, chia seeds

  • Vitamin D: If you have low levels of vitamin D, you will pass those low levels on to your baby. Lack of this vitamin in pregnant women has been linked to diabetes and increased rates of caesarean section births, and babies can be smaller than average. Depending on which resource you reference, vitamin D needs can reach 1500-2000 IU per day during pregnancy, and vitamin D levels are often unmet through food.

Sources: Eggs, milk, fortified cereals, salmon, and UV exposed mushrooms

While these foods provide vitamin D in the diet, and you can also get vitamin D from the sun (esp. in the summer months) most women, however, need to take a supplement to optimize normal daily vitamin D needs.

In summary, this is a precious time in your life and one that will be gone in the blink of a 5K! If you take the time to nourish yourself, and be patient with your changing body, your energy can be allocated to your new bundle of joy and not the scale or your next PR.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.