8 Tips for Returning to Running After Pregnancy

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During my third pregnancy in 2014/2015 I approached running during pregnancy very differently and used these guidelines for a much healthier pregnancy and a quicker return to running postpartum.

I've returned to running after pregnancy three times now and each time I come back faster, but that's not before a few bumps (err…should I say leaks) in the road. Returning to running after pregnancy is dependent on the individual, but there are a few guidelines that are applicable to everyone. Here's what I've learned:

My first race (BIg Lake Half Marathon, NH) after having my daughter, Sophia (now 4).

My first race (BIg Lake Half Marathon, NH) after having my daughter, Sophia (now 4).

Take it Slow.

I was incredibly eager to return to running after the birth of my son Jack. My labor had been natural and uncomplicated and I believed I was ready to run at 4 weeks post-partum. It turns out I was not. I had deemed the suggested "six week" recovery time period was antiquated and not applicable to me, someone who is "fit". But I really did need those six weeks and maybe even more, before I got back into running. Give yourself time to heal and recover completely from whatever type of birth you have. Focus more on strength training and give the high impact cardio a break. It was six months before I felt like I could start training the way I wanted to, which is when I started track and tempo workouts.

See a Pelvic Floor Specialist.

If you want an accurate assessment of your pelvic floor health see a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehabilitation. They will help you determine if you're ready to run or not. Seeing a pelvic floor specialist gave me the tools I needed to help rehab and repair the damage caused by labor and delivery. Once I had a specific exercises I was able to work on strengthening areas that were weak.

Don't Set Time Goals.

If you're competitive setting time goals can force you to push past what your body is ready for. Try setting goals on how you want to "feel" vs. paces that you want to run. While I was still pregnant I set a few time goals that were also time sensitive: after having a baby in September I wanted to run a 18 minute PR in a spring marathon. That is asking a lot. Are there some women that do it? Yes. Am I one of them? No. And I don't have to be. And neither do you if it's not right for you. For at least the first six months postpartum keep your goals related to how you feel. Keep them realistic and achievable without pushing yourself to much.

[Tweet "Setting time goals #postpartum can set you up for injury. Consider other goals when returning to running after baby. #fitpregnancy"]

Be Willing to Back Off.

Most runners love to push themselves, to put in the work and see the results. But when your coming back after having a baby it is more important to listen to your body than push it. I was always willing to back off when I ran while pregnant, but once I gave birth I wanted to be back in that place where I could run hard and push myself to do my best. My body wasn't ready to do that until about six months after my son was born. Wait until your body has fully recovered from delivery, your pelvic floor is strong and you're getting the sleep you need to start running hard workouts.

Cross-train and Strengthen Core.

There will be no running if you don't do these…or at least the running won't be very pleasant. A weak pelvic floor and core can cause issues ranging from leakage to pain. It is essential to strengthen the muscles that were stretched and weakened during pregnancy and delivery. Most typical core workouts utilize the major muscles in the abdomen, make sure you target the smaller supporting muscles with little movements too. Your hips, core and pelvic floor are key. Here's a some suggested core exercises.

core pelvic floor runfargirl

core pelvic floor runfargirl

Give your Body a Break between Runs.

If you're anything like me you may be eager after pregnancy to get back to a daily running routine. But hold off on those back to back runs for a while. Your body and more importantly, your pelvic floor needs time to recover between runs. The impact from a run can cause muscles your working on strengthening to become strained and weekend, take a day off and allow those muscles to firm up again. Running consecutive days in a row can compound stress to the pelvic floor and lead to injury.

FullSizeRender (10)

FullSizeRender (10)

Know your Hormones.

Immediately after birth your hormones levels are a bit crazy. And if you opt to breast feed, chances are your hormone levels won't return to their normal monthly cycle until a year or so. Your hormone levels affect the "laxity" of the pelvic floor. I've noticed this to be true even now, nearly 13 months postpartum. After spending the spring strengthening my pelvic floor and core I had no issues (as in leakage) or injuries related to the pelvic floor or hips during a summer of pretty hard training. But just this last month as my period returned for the first time since becoming pregnant with my son in January of 2012 I've noticed laxity and weakness. After speaking with my physical therapist she attributes this to yet another hormonal change in my body and advised that once things regulate back to a normal monthly cycle the issues should clear up. Be aware of the affect hormones have on your body, and know when to back off because of it.

Todd's Trott, NH 2013. My first race after having my son, Jack. Six months postpartum.

Todd's Trott, NH 2013. My first race after having my son, Jack. Six months postpartum.

Take a Break from Social Media.

It can be hard to see others continuing with their running and racing while you are pregnant or recovering postpartum. It's like being "that kid" who has the cast on all summer and can't go swimming with all the other kids. It can be hard. There are a lot of motivational mother-runners out there who are training and racing well, watching them can be inspiring. I know it is for me. I feel that watching them push to be their best helps me to push to be my best. That is one of the positive attributes of social media, we can help inspire each other. But if you're not careful that positive pressure can push you to go beyond your readiness, especially if you're still recovering from giving birth. Take a break from social media during those first few months postpartum or at least check your motives before you rush out to bang out an amazing run.

[Tweet "Sometimes the healthiest thing for your #postpartum return to running is to lay off social medai"]

Have you returned to running after having a baby? What is your tip for other mother-runners?

--Sarah

* I am not a medical professional and the advice in this article is based on personal experience. You should always consult your physician before returning to physical activity postpartum.

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