Pregnancy No Longer Means Pausing One’s Athletic Pursuits, Particularly Among Elite Athletes

Track and Field: USA Championships
Alysia Montaño competing at the 2014 USA Outdoor Championships

Athletes are always pushing the boundaries – doing and accomplishing things that most others would not try or even think of doing.

When Alysia Montaño was considering whether to compete in her fourth straight USA Outdoor championship in 2014, she made a decision to do so – a daring decision considering she was 8 months pregnant!

This link, which shows a list of athletes who competed in the Olympics while pregnant, is filled with names of people who were 5-months pregnant or less. I wrote about the famed Flying Dutchwoman, Fanny Blankers-Koen, who was three-months pregnant when she won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics. Today, it is more and more common to hear about athletes competing while pregnant.

But Montaño race at 8 months was eyepopping. She was not out to win the 800 meter competition at the USA Outdoor Championship. In fact, she completed her race 35 seconds off her personal best. Her objective, as she related in this CNN interview, was to show the world what it looks like for a pregnant woman to be working, even as late as 8 months.

I recognized it was unlikely for people to see a pregnant woman running, in general. I wanted people to recognize that fitness and pregnancy is a really good thing, and this is what it looks like being a professional woman, whether my profession happens to be a professional athlete, or a businesswoman who has to go in an office and work 9 to 5. This is what it looks like for me as a professional athlete and wanted people to see that.

Of course, everyone wonders, is it safe? And Montaño has explained in many interviews that she did consult with her doctors, who not only said it was safe, it is a very good idea for women who are pregnant to exercise. Montaño explained that the immediate concern in running is not to fall. But like walking down the street, when a pregnant woman’s center of gravity is different from when she is not pregnant, she has to always remember to keep the posture upright. Montaño concentrated on doing so during the race.

In Montaño’s interview with ABC News, Senior Medical Contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained that “pregnancy is not a disease,” and “we have to remember, pregnancy, labor and delivery – we have to train for them.”

As explained in this article, only one out five pregnant women exercise according to a study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee, and that “The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for women with uncomplicated pregnancies (although contact sports, scuba diving, sky diving, hot yoga or activities with risk of falling should be avoided, reads the organization’s opinion).”

Said Dr. Raul Artal, who co-authored the report, “pregnancy should not be a state of confinement but rather an opportunity for women to continue an active lifestyle or to adopt an active lifestyle if they were not active before.”

Amber Miller
Amber Miller competing at the 2011 Chicago Marathon

Amber Miller certainly didn’t confine herself. At the age of 27, while 39 weeks pregnant, Miller ran in the 2011 Chicago Marathon. It was not publicized, but when people realized she was pregnant, she got a lot of double takes and words of encouragement, as noted in this New York Times Well blog post.

Miller finished the race three hours off her personal best, in 6 hours and 25 minutes, mixing in walking with running. But then after the marathon, she embarked on a second one. While running she experienced contractions. Eight hours after completing the marathon, she gave birth to a baby girl. Which of the two was more difficult? “I don’t feel anything from the marathon, but I do feel what you’d expect after giving birth,” she said the day after.

So for all the mothers who have toughed it out, by just having children, Happy Mother’s Day!