Running habits of competitive runners during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Sports Health. 2015 Mar;7(2):172-6. doi: 10.1177/1941738114549542.


Background: Running is a popular sport that may be performed safely during pregnancy. Few studies have characterized running behavior of competitive female runners during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Hypothesis: Women modify their running behavior during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Study design: Observational, cross-sectional study.

Level of evidence: Level 2.

Methods: One hundred ten female long-distance runners who ran competitively prior to pregnancy completed an online survey characterizing training attitudes and behaviors during pregnancy and postpartum.

Results: Seventy percent of runners ran some time during their pregnancy (or pregnancies), but only 31% ran during their third trimester. On average, women reduced training during pregnancy, including cutting their intensity to about half of their nonpregnant running effort. Only 3.9% reported sustaining a running injury while pregnant. Fewer than one third (29.9%) selected fetal health as a reason to continue running during pregnancy. Of the women who breastfed, 84.1% reported running during breastfeeding. Most felt that running had no effect on their ability to breastfeed. Women who ran during breastfeeding were less likely to report postpartum depression than those who did not run (6.7% vs 23.5%, P = 0.051), but we did not detect the same association of running during pregnancy (6.5% vs 15.2%, P = 0.16).

Conclusion: Women runners reported a reduction in total training while pregnant, and few sustained running injuries during pregnancy. The effect of running on postpartum depression was not clear from our findings.

Clinical relevance: We characterized running behaviors during pregnancy and breastfeeding in competitive runners. Most continue to run during pregnancy but reduce total training effort. Top reasons for running during pregnancy were fitness, health, and maintaining routine; the most common reason for not running was not feeling well. Most competitive runners run during breastfeeding with little perceived impact.

Keywords: behavior; health; postpartum depression; pregnancy; running.