Running after Baby

Michelle Tucker, pre/postnatal trainer

How to ease into running after having a baby? Just do kegels, right?!

So many moms are or become runners. Why? Running is free (mostly), it can be done anywhere, it is an effective cardio workout for minimal time needed, you can take your child with you in a stroller (if needed), the outside time is therapy, and lastly, “anyone can do it”.

Did you know that most postpartum women who end up injured, injury happens in the first few months AFTER pregnancy?!…Running and other intense exercise can often be part of the reason.

Running sounds doable, right? What happens at 6 weeks when the doctors says you “can resume all normal activities”? We are left with very little clarity on what that means and misinformed about the needed progression back in to “normal activities” so we don’t injure ourselves. Prolapsed pelvic organs, joint injuries, and damaged spinal discs can all result (and have) for moms who enter back into high impact activities before their bodies are ready. I don’t want to scare moms but I do want to help you progress back into your activities the right way so you don’t regret now or years later!

So how do you ease into running after having a baby? Below I have narrowed down my tips to my essential “dos” for running postpartum. Please feel free to reach out if you have more questions after reading this:)

  1. Do give your body enough time to heal after birth: 6 weeks is not usually enough time for any mom’s body to be ready to run again. If you have had a Cesarean birth you need to let the incision heal but also make sure your abdominal muscles are responding. If you have had a vaginal birth you need to give the pelvic floor enough time to heal from the trauma of deliver. Ideally waiting 4-6 months postpartum helps ensure the pelvic floor muscles have regained more integrity to handle the load of running. But don’t fret if that seems too long. There is a lot to do until then to get the body back to running condition!
  2. Do make an appointment with a pelvic floor therapist in your area: These professionals are very knowledgeable and such a wonderful tool to help you recover well from birth. Your appointment doesn’t have to be due to an injury or symptom. Just let your OB and the therapist know you want to be seen to ensure everything is healing well and that you can use your pelvic floor muscles correctly. When training clients, I watch to make sure the right muscle is activating. PF therapists do the same thing to help the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor such an important muscle group that doesn’t just keep you from peeing yourself. They add stability to the spine and hips, support the core, and hold up our organs!!
  3. Do start a core program appropriate for postpartum: This should include activating and strengthening the pelvic floor, the inner abs (transverse abdominus), the paraspinal muscles, and glutes. A really good core program will teach how to breath while doing your core exercises, which helps a lot in “reactivating” muscles that can turn off or become weakened/lengthened during pregnancy. Strengthening your core will protect your spine and joints while running. For more help with this check out my program “Mom Core Challenge” which has helped many moms regain core strength after having children.
  4. Do follow an appropriate strength training program for postpartum: A program that strengthens muscles needed for running and proper form will go a long way in preventing injury but also making you a better and stronger runner. Ideally this program would include one-legged and balance work to mimic the stresses of running.
  5. Do start with interval run/walking and increase slowly: There are great apps available (Couch to 5k is one) that are helpful for interval running. The idea is that you jog for a certain amount of time and have intervals of walking in between. Start with a 1:3 ratio (1 min of jogging followed by 3 min of walking) for about 15-20 min. Then as you feel stronger you can lengthen your jogging time and shorten the walking intervals. This is a simple concept but so important to allow the body (especially the pelvic floor) periods of rest so it isn’t over fatigued.
  6. Do allow the body rest day(s) between running sessions: When you start out running, allow yourself a non-running day after you jog. That will give you a chance to let your body rest and tune in to evaluate any concerning pains that indicate a risk of injury. This schedule (when starting out) will help you know if you need to back off at any point.
  7. Do stretch and release tight muscles after running: Okay, I get it, who has time to stretch?! I get the eye roll as a trainer often when I ask my clients if they stretch. But seriously, much damage done to the body is preventable and even treatable by proper stretching! The power of releasing muscles and ligaments in the body is underestimated often. So before you walk back into your house and enter the loud, crazy that is your life, give your calves, glutes, quads, back and hamstrings a nice stretch session. Only 5 to 10 minutes is needed. Foam rolling is really effective too!
  8. Do invest in a good running shoes and a supportive sports bra: Good running shoes don’t just save your feet, they support the spine and joints during the impact of running. Having a properly fitted pair for you that addresses how you move is really helpful. Having a good bra is especially important if you are nursing.

A quick note of caution: If you finish your run and have a heavy, dragging sensation in pelvic floor that doesn’t go away after resting then you need to back off on the running and reassess how much your body can handle.

Remember, while you are nursing, your ligaments and muscle tissue is looser due to hormones. Be gentle and mindful of your body in this season. Also, drink plenty of water to ensure you can keep up your milk supply while exercising.

Running is a wonderful exercise and can be beneficial on many levels for people. Respecting your body and allowing the proper time it needs to transition into this high impact will go a long way for you life-long! I love supporting women getting back into activities that they love and helping them balance the stress of motherhood (not to mention keep them moving and healthy). Keep running, mamas!