Some people think of running as a low-fuss sport. And, for some, this is true. New moms, however, will tell you that nothing is low-fuss with a newborn. Running after pregnancy is no exception. From new equipment to new running terrain, a baby changes everything. And that’s once a new mom gets back on her feet. There are several steps between giving birth and hitting the track. We’ve gathered them here to help new moms get back into running.
Before You Begin Running After Pregnancy
Non-runners like to joke that running is addictive. Runners will tell you that it’s no joke. New moms might ache to get back on their feet, especially if they didn’t run during their pregnancy. But they need to make sure the timing is right. Women who start running too soon after birth put themselves at serious risk. Lacing up their shoes too soon after birth can lead to issues like incontinence, sports injuries, and even prolapse. Most doctors suggest that women wait six weeks between giving birth and returning to their pre-baby exercise routine. Runners might have to wait a little longer.
Why The Rest Period?
Every pregnancy book on the market says that new moms should rest for six weeks after giving birth. No heavy lifting, no running, no cardio. And there is a good reason for this. Giving birth is not easy. That might sound too simple, but few people realize the impact birth has on the human body. A woman’s abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy. This gives the baby room to grow, but it also leaves her ab muscles weak after she gives birth. The woman’s internal organs also shift as the baby grows. This, combined with the stress of actually giving birth, has a huge impact on a woman’s body. Studies show that women post-birth are in much the same condition as women post-surgery, whether the birth was vaginal or through C-section.
Why Do Runners Need Longer Rest Periods?
Women who run should take the six weeks of recommended rest. They should then take two to three additional weeks to condition their abs before they lace their shoes up shoes again. A good running form requires strong ab muscles. And nobody has strong ab muscles six weeks after giving birth. The internet offers many programs designed specifically for new moms ready to run. These programs usually focus on conditioning a woman’s abs as well as her pelvic floor. This is another area that is generally weaker after a woman gives birth. Running also requires a strong pelvic floor. Without one, a woman is likely to pee a little while running. Severely weakened pelvic floors can also lead to prolapse, where internal organs make an external appearance. It is much safer to take the extra time and properly prepare.
What Kind of Conditioning Should I Do?
The general answer is “abs and pelvic floor”. Programs that target these areas will include pelvic floor contractions as well as exercises to strengthen the lower back. Some programs will also focus on breathing techniques. This is because many women report feeling out of breath for several weeks post-birth.
How Can I Tell if it’s Too Soon?
Six to eight weeks is a rough estimate. Some women might need a little longer. There are several warning signs that will let a woman know if she needs more time. If a woman pees or feels pain when she runs or jumps, her pelvic floor is still too weak. Some women also report feeling like their organs are falling out. This is an early warning sign of prolapse. If this happens, the woman should stop running and see a doctor about her pelvic floor. Pain in the front of the pubic bone is another indicator that a runner is back on her feet too soon. And if a woman experiences more side stitches or joint pain than normal, she should wait a few more weeks before running.
What Happens if I Don’t Condition?
Women who skip the conditioning workouts and head right back to their runs increase their risk of injury. Pregnancy floods the body with hormones that make tendons and ligament more flexible. This is great while giving birth. It’s less helpful when running. It increases a runner’s risk of sports injuries like Achilles Tendinitis and Runner’s Knee. Other complications like prolapse and incontinence can also crop up. Some issues, like pelvic girdle pain and pelvic floor dysfunction, can be debilitating. Pelvic girdle pain creates a ring of pain throughout the pelvic bones at the base of a woman’s spine. And pelvic floor dysfunction can make urinary accidents more common as well as cause pain during intimacy. None of these issues are worth it. Runners should give themselves time to heal and properly condition their bodies before they run.
The First Steps to Running After Pregnancy
Rest and conditioning are not the only steps a woman has to take before she can run again. Her next few steps depend on her running style. They also depend on whether or not she wants to take her baby on her runs.
Think About the Baby
Most women hear this over and over during their pregnancy. And they know it doesn’t change once the baby is born. Runners have unique considerations, however. Running strollers have become more popular as more people take up running. But they aren’t safe for all babies. A baby should be at least eight months old with good neck strength before they go along on mom’s run. Moms should also test out their running strollers with a walk before they commit to a full run. A test walk will make sure that the stroller is comfortable to use and that the baby will tolerate it long enough for mom to run. Moms should also prepare for frequent check-in stops. Babies may get too hot, too cold, too thirsty, or too jostled. Check-ins keep everyone healthy and happy.
If mom needs to get out of the house before her baby is old enough for a run, she does have options. Gentle walks up steep hills are a good way to get in a little bit of cardio. Just make sure to stick to smooth surfaces, even when the baby is ready for runs. Some gyms offer daycare services so that parents can hit the treadmills or tracks. And some moms opt to get a home treadmill so they can work up a sweat while the baby is napping.
Check Your Equipment
Swollen feet are a common complaint among pregnant women. Doctors assure their patients that the swelling will go down. They rarely admit that pregnancy may permanently change a woman’s feet. The combination of hormones and pregnancy weight causes some women’s feet to widen. It may also cause their arches to flatten. Some runners may find that they need new shoes or arch-support inserts after they give birth.
Runners may also need to buy new sports bras. There are several companies on the market that sell bras for nursing women. These bras typically have clips on the shoulders and extra padding to prevent leaks. Some women may find that they need larger or more supportive sports bras. Some brands include underwire and broad shoulder straps as well as additional padding. Breastfeeding moms may also find that their nipples chafe more easily during a run. Lanolin cream is an excellent solution to this problem and it is safe for most nursing babies.
Actually Running After Pregnancy
Once a mom is back on her feet, there are a few things she needs to keep in mind. These range from running’s effects on breastfeeding to changes in her personal goals. The key is patience. Patience and listening to her body.
Look Out for Diastasis Recti
We’ve already mentioned that a woman’s abs separate during pregnancy. They usually return to normal a few months after a woman gives birth. In some cases, however, the woman develops diastasis recti. This issue is diagnosed when there is a gap between a woman’s ab muscles between two and three fingers wide. The condition normally causes a belly pouch and may lead to more serious issues if left untreated. Women who suspect they have the issue should consult their doctor as soon as possible.
Posture is Key
It’s common knowledge that weak abs lead to bad posture. But some women find that their posture needs work even after they condition their abs. This is due, in part, to the way women move while pregnant. Pregnancy is uncomfortable and women do what they can to reduce their discomfort. This includes slouching or leaning when necessary. These habits can be hard to break and runners may find themselves struggling with bad posture. A little time and focus should correct the issue, however.
Some women are used to counting calories. Things change if they’re breastfeeding, however. Running moms need to make sure that they’re eating enough calories to maintain milk production. A woman’s body will halt milk production if she is not getting enough nutrients or enough calories. Runners may also find that their calorie sources have to change. Most breastfeeding experts recommend that new moms eat more carbs and fat than they normally would. This may not fit with some runners’ pre-baby diets and they will have to negotiate the new balance as they go.
Post-pregnancy runners often report being more thirsty than they were before they had a baby. This is especially true if a woman is also breastfeeding. Do not ignore your new thirst level! Runners should bring extra water or larger water bottles. They should also stop for fluids more often and make sure that their electrolytes are balanced after a run.
Most new moms will feel sluggish and stiff when they first start to run again. Many runners report feeling slower and more easily winded. This is very common, especially if a woman had to give up running during her pregnancy. Pre-run conditioning may help resolve some of these issues. But the rest can only be resolved with time. Runners must be patient with themselves and listen to their bodies. If a run is too painful, they should reduce their workout intensities. If a gentle workout is still too much, they should consult a doctor.
Runners take up the sport because they like it. Running makes them feel good and does good things for their bodies. And it’s no different when a woman returns to running after pregnancy. Run at a pace that feels good. Be patient with your body as it heals and adapts. Stop when it hurts and give it the fluids or food it needs. Running will always be there, even if it takes a little more time to get back into the swing of things.
So even if you’re absolutely bent on running after pregnancy no matter what, make sure you take the advice that you’ll likely give to your newborn one day: safety first!