Can a pregnant woman race a triathlon? what to do and not to do


Can a pregnant woman race a triathlon? This is a question on which views have taken many meanings and new implications since the start of women’s engagement in sports.

Well, this is a new era and new scientific research has found that exercise during pregnancy is not only okay but also beneficial for the baby. Being physically active is advised if you were physically active before your pregnancy and even encouraged. 

Can a pregnant woman race a triathlon? A pregnant woman can race a triathlon, however, it should be noted an evaluation of how active you were before pregnancy is required.

If you could tolerate high-intensity workouts before you got pregnant, then yes, there is no risk in continuing your training or even racing a triathlon.

Expert opinions haven’t always supported the idea of physical exercise for child-bearing women and for years it was believed that being physically active can harm the baby and even affect the wellbeing of the mother.  For obvious reasons, any strenuous activity can’t be good for the baby or the mother. It was thought to cause preterm delivery, low birth weight, or growth-restricted babies.

There are several athletes who raced in their pregnancy in the Olympics and triathlons and went on to deliver healthy babies afterward.

The most famous being American beach Volleyball champion Kerry Walsh Jennings who did it while being pregnant during the London Olympics. She was five weeks pregnant when winning the gold medal.

Not only her, but Meredith Kessler, who was placed third in the 60th Ironman triathlon also said she was around four weeks pregnant at that time.

Another example is former professional athlete Kym Coogan who was 19 weeks pregnant during the sprint world championship 2018 and drum rolls please, she won that race. 

On a side note, check out my Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budgeting Gear

Pregnant Athlete traininga

Will running a triathlon affect the baby?

Preganat woman

The new studies found out that physical exercise doesn’t affect the birth weight or the development of the baby. On contrary to popular belief, regular exercise helped the fetus in the development of its cardiovascular system and brain meaning it gave the baby a stronger heart and a sharper brain.

While there are some sports that are not supported during pregnancy which include horseback riding and also skiing. It is usually harmless for a pregnant woman to keep competing in sports like bicycling, swimming, or running during their pregnancy, All three of which are the hallmarks of triathlon. 

A research article published in the medical journal BMC pregnancy and childbirth in 2019  states that,

 “vigorous-intensity exercise completed into the third trimester appears to be safe for most healthy pregnancies”

Another research article published in 2018 under the supervision of LEEDS University specifically on the topic of A Risk-Benefit Analysis of Maintaining an Aerobic-Endurance

Triathlon Training Program During Pregnancy concluded that “pregnancy does not require complete cessation of triathlon training and can include each of the three sports. However, maternal heart rate (MHR) should not exceed 90% of maximal.” (Source)

So, it is not harmful to you or the baby to race during pregnancy as long as you take care of yourself and your body’s needs.

Health concerns for racing triathlon during pregnancy

Although, triathlon is found to be safe during pregnancy still, there are some health concerns for running a triathlon while being pregnant. These include overheating, dehydration, or crashing while riding a bike.

Overheating in the first trimester is found to affect the development of the baby so, you would want to keep a pace but not push your body too hard. When your body gives you a signal to stop. You stop! Cool yourself a little bit and then start with a low pace as not to overheat yourself again. This can lead to dehydration and even collapse. It can even compromise your womb environment and put the baby under stress.

Dehydration is a problem well combat with water and minerals. Hydrating gels are also available which keep you hydrated for a longer period. If you are running a triathlon, take your water breaks regularly. This will not only help with staying hydrated but also helps to drop the body temperature to a suitable level.

The most serious concern you should be worried about is crashing or falling. While this is easily avoidable by being extra cautious and maintaining a pace, this is a worrisome problem. You don’t want to crash or take a hard fall during your pregnancy as it can severely affect the baby. If you are familiar with biking and know your way around a bike, this might not be a problem. Though, I would still recommend being extra cautious than normal. 

Babies are well protected in your body. Aerobic exercises won’t risk their health and development if done with care. Your OB/GYN opinion is a must if you want to minimize health concerns and have your own peace of mind.

Things to do if you are racing triathlon during pregnancy

There is a list of things you should consider before racing a triathlon while being pregnant.

  • Ask your OB/GYN. Even if you have an uncomplicated pregnancy and your previous pregnancies were without any hitch, it can’t hurt to have an opinion. Ask your doctor, let them know about your physical exercise status and decide what you want to do.
  • Fill in all your information on the back of your race number including your pregnancy status, emergency contact, and your expected date. It doesn’t hurt to be a little extra careful.
  • Make a hydration plan ahead of time. Make sure you are hydrated before the race and you stay well hydrated during the race. You don’t want to wear yourself out.
  • Wear a heart monitor. Listen to your body and know your limits. You don’t want to stress yourself or the baby so it is better to not push yourself.
  • Carry your phone, even if you don’t want to. Carry your phone on your run and for the bike. This is really important. You should have someone to call if you stress yourself too much.
  • Modify your pieces of equipment: During 2nd and third trimester of your pregnancy, your body undergoes some physical changes. These physical changes include weight gain and change of body shape. Modify your bike to accommodate those changes. It will help you in keeping the balance and also make you comfortable on the road.

When to stop triathlon if you are pregnant?

If you are racing a triathlon or even doing a strenuous vigorous exercise, there are some red signals you should never ignore.

High heart rate: You don’t want to push your heart. High strenuous exercise can temporarily block the blood flow to the baby. While it usually doesn’t cause any permanent damage to the development of the baby, still if you get your heart rate way high up, you should consider relaxing yourself for a bit and wait for it to go back to normal range. Medically your heart rate should remain within the normal limit or 90% of the maximum.

Listen to your body: Your body knows its limits. When your body tells you to stop, don’t question it. There is no shame in relaxing for a bit, taking a water break, or even stop for taking a pee. You want to keep your body comfortable.

-Bleeding: Bleeding from your vagina is a red flag you should never ignore. If you see this sign, abort the race immediately and consult a doctor.

-Pain: Pain in and around the tummy and pelvis is a serious sign. If you start feeling uncomfortable, or you can feel pain in your body, continuing the race might not be the best idea.

-Palpitations: If you can feel your heartbeat getting irregular or otherwise known as palpitations, It is a way for your body to tell you that you should take a break. Relax and wait for your heartbeat to go back to normal or regular. This will help you not only in the wellness of the baby but also maintain your pace if you decide to continue your race.

Final Thoughts

As an athlete, I can understand why most people want to continue their triathlon training and even want to race a triathlon even if they are pregnant.

While most people advise against it, being physically active is not something you should lay off if you get pregnant. Many women start a sedentary lifestyle when they get pregnant because of so many norms circulating around exercise and training during pregnancy but there is no reason why you shouldn’t do it.

If you want to race triathlon, You can absolutely do that. There is medical evidence of exercise, both light and strenuous, being safe during pregnancy. This is one of the reasons why health experts are encouraging women who were physically active before their pregnancy to continue their training during pregnancy.

So to conclude all this and to answer the question. Can a woman race triathlon during pregnancy?  Yes, you can race a triathlon if you are pregnant. You first want to get an opinion of your doctor and set a number of boundaries for yourself. You may not get the personal record but participating in a triathlon while being pregnant is enough of achievement.

sherifjallad

An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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