Running after pregnancy is a big goal for many. You’re ready to get back to the runs you enjoyed before or simply ready to move your body again! And as running coaches, we’re here to help make that happen in a SMART SAFE way.
I’ve had many running experiences over the last 20 years, but one that I can only research is running while pregnant or running postpartum. And while I’ve coached those runners, I think there’s insight that only another mother runner can provide, which is why I am thrilled to have Christine here today.
Christine is not only a running coach, but certified in pregnancy running and has created and incredible course called Bump Runner to help you safely get through the entire experience!
If you exercised during your pregnancy, whether you ran or did other forms, then you know it’s difficult. But in my experience, returning to running postpartum is even harder.
Not only is it physically harder, but it’s very emotional.
We tend to give ourselves grace when pregnant with slowing down, gaining weight, and not being able to go as hard or as fast. But once we have our baby, we expect (or simply want) to snap right back to where we were pre-baby with our bodies and our athletic performance.
We can be very hard on ourselves and get discouraged that things aren’t going back to the way they were or that the weight isn’t dropping instantly. We expect a baby and our bodies to grow for 9+ months during pregnancy but then expect our bodies to snap right back and get frustrated after a short period of time.
For a while now, I have been saying that:
Pregnancy running teaches you humility. Postpartum running teaches you patience.
Why Postpartum Exercise is Different
Your first many runs back PP you may feel clunky, heavy, and awkward. You feel like your body isn’t your own, that you’ve never run before and you convince yourself that you’ll never feel normal again!
I want to tell you that’s totally NORMAL!
Don’t be scared or discouraged if for a couple months you feel this way. I didn’t feel like myself again as a runner, where things just clicked, until 9 months PP at the earliest, but it was probably closer to 1 year PP where I was consistently back to my old paces and it just felt “right.”
Not Relax, but Relaxin
Do you know what Relaxin is? It’s a hormone that is produced during pregnancy to help relax your joints to be able to stretch, move, and grow to support the baby, labor, and delivery.
This joint laxity impacts tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones,
Did you know that Relaxin can stay in your system for up to 5 months after the baby is born?
That means your knees, hips, pelvis, and other joints are moving and stretching in ways that your body was not originally intended and that feels strange and out of place. Give it time, it will return back.
Plus, I think it goes without saying your body has just gone through an enormous change, you’re now sleeping less and your routine has changed.
All of that is going to impact how your body feels when you attempt to run and the energy available to do it with good running form.
Postpartum Running Plan: 9 Keys
A top question I receive is, “How do I return to running after having a baby?” Or, “When can I return to running after having a baby?”
The answers to these questions do vary from person to person in terms of what you did during your pregnancy, if you had any complications from labor/delivery, how your recovery is going, doctor’s approval, etc.
But here’s the gist…
1. Don’t Return to Running Too Soon
I know we’re all anxious to lace back up and get back out there, but many of us return to running way too soon and it can lead to many serious issues if your body is not yet ready.
Why? Well, it can take between 6-10 weeks for the uterus to return to its normal size, and longer with each pregnancy!
You might have heard that it’s okay to resume all types of exercise at the 6 weeks postpartum, but many professionals are now advising that we double that number.
In fact, a 2019 study by renowned UK-based physiotherapists Tom Goom, along with Grainne Donnelly and Emma Brockwell strongly recommends women should wait 12 weeks before resuming running. As rule, we recommend at least 8-10 weeks.
And there are other things to consider as well. If you had a vaginal delivery, bleeding can last for 2-6 weeks. Your bleeding should be completely stopped before returning to running.
Similarly, if you tore or had an episiotomy you have stitches, and they can take a week or two to heal. This needs to be fully healed before running.
We all have unique bodies and go through unique experiences while giving birth, so it’s important to work with your OB-GYN or physical therapist to know when it’s right for you to start running again.
In general, you must be able to walk pain-free before running.
Unless you spent your pregnancy strengthening your pelvic floor and deep core, it is most likely very weak and damaged. If you run with an extremely weak pelvic floor, you are taking a chance of developing prolapse.
Uterine Prolapse is when the pelvic floor muscles are too weak and the uterus slips down and protrudes out of the vagina. This can be very difficult to repair. If you are experiencing any urinary incontinence (leaking when sneezing, coughing, laughing, etc.), then be very mindful of this.
Peeing while running is not uncommon, but can be worked on.
2. Assess Your Pelvic Floor Health
Start by getting your pelvic floor health assessed first to know where you currently are.
Your pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles, tissues, and ligaments that hold up the uterus, bowels, and other organs.
After giving birth, these muscles have to go through a process of healing and repairing so you can return to normal exercise.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause a lot of problems and you should be aware of the signs and symptoms to watch out for. Here’s what to look out for when resuming running after pregnancy:
- Pressure in the pelvic area
- Leak when running, sneezing, coughing, or jumping
- Low back pain or lumbar pelvic pain
- Pain during intercourse
Even if you don’t have these exact symptoms, it’s still important to get your pelvic floor health assessed for underlying or hidden issues that may cause problems later.
Getting checked by a pelvic floor specialist is usually recommended. He or she will examine you for diastasis recti, which is a separation of the rectus abdominis or the six-pack muscles.
These muscles sometimes separate during pregnancy from being stretched. This separation can make a new mom’s belly stick out or bulge for months postpartum.
Getting assessed early on can make sure you avoid any unnecessary complications later.
3. Repair Your Core and Pelvic Floor
For all of the reasons mentioned above, rebuilding and rehabbing your pelvic floor and core are KEY to staying healthy and ensuring your return to running goes as smoothly as possible.
The hormone relaxin that releases during pregnancy can also lead to laxity in the ligaments. This laxity can increase your risk of injuries such as rolled ankles or overextended knees. And so, strengthening your muscles, especially your core, legs, and glutes are incredibly important.
There are many things that tend to be out of your control but doing the PROPER exercises to repair your body is something you can control. Be sure you are taking advice from someone who has experience and adequate knowledge in the field.
The main takeaway to remember with rehabbing your pelvic floor and core, is making the muscle connections.
Going through the motions without the proper breathing and releasing/contracting the correct pelvic floor muscles, will get you nowhere.
It’s highly recommended to learn breathing techniques like diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing fully engages the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm when breathing.
This type of breathing helps while you run and strengthens and heals your inner core and pelvic floor.
It’s imperative you take the time to learn how to recognize and connect your pelvic floor and deep core for these exercises as well as focus on breathing.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
This video is an example of a few exercises from my Postpartum Runner program that work on repairing your pelvic floor and core, all while gaining full body strength.
PIN THE IMAGE BELOW TO REMEMBER THEM!
The key to these pelvic floor exercises is in the breathing, relaxation, and contractions.
You can see with every repetition, my belly inflates on the inhale as I release my pelvic floor and deep core. On the exhale, you want to contract your pelvic floor and wrap your transverse abdominals around as you lengthen the fascia to the top of your head. This should be done with every repetition throughout the full exercise.
4. Let a Coach Guide You
My Birth To 8 Weeks program starts to make these deep core connections right after having your baby so your core is on it’s way to being repaired by the time the doctor clears you for exercise, which is then a great time to start the Postpartum Runner program.
It teaches you the correct way to make these connections, rehab your core/pelvic floor, gain overall strength, and safely build your running base over the course of 12 weeks.
You can learn more all the programs offered by Bump Runner here.
5. Use a Run/Walk to Start
Whether you ran through your pregnancy or not, when you get back out there post-baby, you may feel like you are starting from absolute scratch. The very beginning. Like you haven’t run a day in your life. Try not to freak out or rush things.
A great technique you can use to build your running base and endurance, is the run/walk method.
An example of this could be:
- Warm up: walk 5 minutes, 4 rounds of: run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute, cool down: walk 5 minutes
- Do this workout 3 times a week for the first week and then you can start to increase the intervals to more run time, less walk time, as you feel your body is improving.
Try not to compare yourself to what other moms do.
I understand it can be hard, but just because someone else can go out and run 8 miles at 6 weeks PP (not recommended), and you can’t, does not mean there is something wrong with you or that you are any less of a mother runner. We’re all on different journeys!Pictured here Milestoboston
Checkout our additional tips from 5 Mother Runners on figuring out jogging strollers, handling being tired and more!
6. Think of postpartum running and exercises like a reverse taper
Pregnancy has 3 trimesters and as your progress through your pregnancy you most likely need to alter and modify the workouts/exercises that you do.
You may need to modify from a forearm plank to a knee plank and you’ll need to stop doing supine exercises as you enter your third trimester. With running, you may decrease distance and intensity as you navigate through the trimesters.
Think of your postpartum journey like a reverse taper.
Meaning, you start easy and with the modified exercises and progress to the harder exercises over time. The runs/workouts/exercises would look something like this…
1st trimester > 2nd trimester > 3rd trimester > birth > recovery > 3rd trimester > 2nd trimester > 1st trimester
7. Don’t Be Discouraged by Pace
This one can be difficult. We as runners tend to judge ourselves by the little number on our watch.
Similar to pregnancy running, postpartum running (in the early days especially) and pace do not go together.
Do NOT judge your postpartum running progress by a number on a watch!
Listen to your body. Ease up. It will tell you what it can and cannot take.
And when you think you’ll never ever ever ever (can you sense my eye roll?) get faster, all the sudden you will.
There’s a hump that you climb and climb for what seems like FOREVER and then one day you’ll go out on a run, expecting it to not feel right per usual, and something will click.
You will feel like you are flying at an easy effort. And your stride will feel natural and your heart rate will be low, and you’ll start to get tears in your eyes because for the first time in possibly a year and a half (if you include pregnancy), you feel like yourself again.
So until you get to that point, don’t worry about the pace. Don’t get discouraged if the numbers are slower than what you used to see. It will all come together eventually.9 Keys for New Mother Runners to return to running SAFELY!!! #motherrunner #runchat Click To Tweet
8. Update Your Running Gear
Remember the hormone relaxin we spoke about earlier? Well, it can affect your feet as well causing arches to flatten and feet to widen!
And if that happens, your favorite running shoes may no longer fit right and you might need to head to a running store to get new shoes.
Similarly, your prepartum sports bra might no longer fit right. You’ll need more room and support, so it’s a good idea to get one that’s right for you.
A few places to start:
- Altra running shoes have a much wider toebox
- Hoka running shoes are wider and provide more stability
- Best Sports Bras from other runners
9. Last Reminder: Be Kind To Your Body
Give yourself grace. Have patience. Remember what your body just went through. Know that running will always be there for you. Don’t compare to other mother runners.
Be yourself and enjoy your running after pregnancy journey ♥️
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