You may have recently heard in the news about a woman named Amber
Miller. She made headlines around the world for giving birth to a
healthy baby girl just hours after completing the Chicago Marathon. When
I first heard the news I wondered why it made the headlines in the
first place... then I heard the news presenters and callers - many of them
shocked-that Miller put herself and her baby at risk by running a
marathon at 39 weeks into her pregnancy.
It all made sense why the story captured the attention of many people. To some, they couldn’t understand why anyone would run a marathon whilst heavily pregnant. The common perception is that pregnant women should rest as much as possible until their baby is born as any movement or activity could harm both the baby and mother.
There is some validity to this…however, only if the mother has serious health conditions that prevent her from exercising or suddenly starts a strenuous workout routine without any previous physical conditioning.
Society in general – pregnant women included – need to stay active to remain healthy and reduce the risk of hypokinetic diseases and other associated ailments. Now I’m not saying that you should run a marathon or workout like your life depended on it…especially if you haven’t run since you were 10 years old and now at the age 50 (or 30 weeks pregnant), you want to dive headfirst into rigorous endurance exercises. Common sense and a clearance from your doctor or health professional is always recommended.
In fact, Miller got the green light from her doctor who gave her permission to run the Chicago Marathon. Why would a doctor do such a thing you may ask? Well, Miller is in excellent shape, she’s fit, exercises and runs all the time, ran before and during her pregnancy and seems to follow a healthy routine. The real question should be: Why can’t she run a marathon while pregnant?
In this article, James Pivarnik, a professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at the University at Michigan State University told the L.A. Times: “Generally what we say is let the woman’s symptoms and history dictate what she can do…She is obviously just one of those freaks who was able to do it. Most people wouldn’t want to.”
I couldn’t agree more with him. Even though running marathons during pregnancy isn’t what some people may consider normal, it doesn’t necessarily make it unsafe for the mother and her unborn child.
I’m convinced that the more active a woman is before falling pregnant and how she maintains at least some level of physical activity during her pregnancy, determines not just the health of her baby but also the labour process.
Being your average guy, I understand that I’m hardly qualified to comment on labour and birth. Nevertheless, from a physiological perspective, giving birth can in itself feel like a marathon for some women. Essentially, it’s a form of exercise whereby the contraction of muscles, along with the cardiovascular system and hormones all play an important role in helping the mother deliver her baby.
Like any exercise, if the mother is healthy and is used to some form of physical activity and has even some form of fitness, she’ll be able adapt easier to the situation and reduce the stress of childbirth for the benefit of both her and her baby. You can read more about the benefits of exercising during pregnancy here.
Of course there are some guidelines which should be followed before starting any exercise program, especially if you’re pregnant. Everyone is different so be sure to get the all clear first. However, if you use common sense and get advice from your doctor or health professional, you’ll no doubt be increasing your health as well as that of your baby.
By the way for those of you who are interested, Miller ran the first half of the marathon and walked the second half. She crossed the finish line in a time of 6 hours, 25 minutes and 50 seconds. She even finished ahead of her husband who also took part in the race!