Many of you have been there… new baby in front of you, your last run a few weeks or months behind you. There are so many questions… how do you come back, where should you start, how long is it going to take to be yourself again.
Returning to running postpartum. This is a tricky one to discuss because it varies so much, not only person to person, but also pregnancy to pregnancy. Being fit prior to, and during pregnancy generally makes the return easier, however, the biggest contributing factor is your birth experience. I have worked as a postpartum personal trainer, but I am not a medical expert. I’m providing some general advice and sharing my own personal experience. Please make sure you discuss your own return to exercise with you health care provider!
The 4 important things to remember are;
1. Listen to your body
2. Listen to your health care provider
3. This is YOUR journey… Do not compare your selves to other mums and do not allow yourself to feel pressure into returning before you’re ready.
4. Don’t be hard on yourself. It can be tough. Lack of sleep, hormones, and feeding can all play havoc on you. Be patient, you will get there.
The general guidelines (in Australia anyway) is refrain from any strenuous exercise for 4-6 weeks. This is to allow your body to recover and repair. However the hormone relaxin (which is the one that allows your bits to stretch) can take 4-6 months to return to normal, during this time you are more prone to injury due to reduced support from all you ligaments, so you need to be careful about how hard you push yourself. Looking after a new born is challenging enough without adding an injury to yourself.
It important to have a full check up before you return to exercise, including an internal. Returning too early can increase the risk of full or partial prolapse and increase ‘mummy bladder issues’ which can range from serious issues requiring surgery, to simply adding minutes to your race time due to additional ‘pit’ stops requirement. If you’re having any difficulties in any of these areas, even if it’s been years since you gave birth, please see a women’s health physio!
I have 2 wonderful boys…. I’ll share my return to running experiences;
I have always been pretty fit, I was an elite gymnast as a kid and have been super active my whole life. I always imagined I’d cruise through pregnancy and bounce back straight away. Off to a good start, I played Oztag Nationals when I was 6 weeks pregnant, but it all went downhill from there. I spent the next 30 weeks on strong medication because without it I spent all day crawling between the couch and hanging my head over the toilet. Fun times! Anyway despite how fit I was, I developed sudden onset severe preeclampsia, had an emergency c-section and spent 48 hours in intensive care.
For me it was 12 weeks before my blood pressure stabiled and I was able to do more than walk. I joined a mums and bubs gym class and slowly regained strength. However it wasn’t until 6 months that I felt up to running. Even then I ran 5km park run and added over 10 minutes to my standard time. Initially I was pretty disappointed in my efforts. Stupid, I know. But as a competitive, tired, emotional new mother, I felt like a bit of a failure. After a few runs I set my targets on PBPBs.. or post baby personal bests. At the time this helped me feel good about my achievements. From there I improved slowly and started feeling back to my own running self when my son was around 18 months. I was running well for a couple of months and fell pregnant again.
Thankfully for me the second journey was much smoother. I only threw up twice a day for 17 weeks so was able to run more through most of my pregnancy. Despite having preeclampsia again (thankfully not severe this time) I was able to enter and slowly walk a 10km race (with OB approval) at 5 weeks.
I started walk/ running again at 6 weeks and have built up from there. This time around I have made a real conscious effort to NOT focus on time. I ran just to be out there, I ran with people who I knew were slower than me to force me to just run and enjoy, I started doing a lot more trail running and just switching off and being absorbed by the environment.
I’m currently enjoying running more than ever. My youngest (and last) is now nearly 2.5 and my running has not only given me the strength and head space I need to be a good mum, but given us a great excuse for family adventures. I’m even about to embark on a running adventure of a 100km trail race which I wouldn’t have contemplated before kids.
Another parting (pun intended) piece of advice; Sit ups are not your friend in the early days. Focus on core instead. Years ago I was working as a personal trainer in London, one of the members there was amazingly fit, she was a small frame and jumped straight back into exercise immediately after having her twins, she worked super hard because she wanted her 6 pack back…. it came back. The only problem was she hadn’t waited for her body to recover and return to its natural state before she started. So she now has a 6 pack with an inch and a half gap down the middle.
In many ways, I think the more active you are, the more pressure you will feel from others and yourself to get back out there. It important not to rush, your body has just achieved something miraculous. Appreciate what it’s been through, be patient and enjoy the journey.