There are so few resources on running (or maintaining a high-level active lifestyle) while pregnant. This is something that frustrated me during my entire pregnancy. As soon as those little two lines appeared on the test, I immediately took to Amazon to start searching terms like “pregnancy running,” “running while pregnant,” and “waddling to the start line” (the last one may be a bit of an exaggeration – but not by much). What I quickly discovered was that most of the books were geared toward the more casual runner or books where the information was significantly outdated.
But for as few resources as there are about pregnancy running, there seems to be even fewer about postpartum running (or postpartum recovery for runners). Even worse is the fact that the message that society inundates new moms with is generally revolting. Women can easily learn “how to get their pre-pregnancy body back” or “drop that baby weight.” We can search Facebook or Instagram and see stories of superwomen who somehow just weeks postpartum are racing marathons and throwing down PRs – all while looking amazing with six-pack abs untouched by diastasis recti or C-Section scars. While that may be the story of some women (and if it is AWESOME – you go mama) it is a far cry from what most women experience and pushes new moms into a line of faulty thinking and unrealistic expectations. As runners, most of us are breathlessly waiting for the doctor to finally give the “all clear” to return. But once you have the all clear – then what? We are goal driven. We like to have a plan. It’s often not good enough to know that we can run again – we also want to know when we can start competing (and what we can expect when doing so).
So herein lies the truth. The first few months postpartum are extremely exciting, but can also be very difficult. And that’s ok. It seems that nobody wants to talk about the “ugly” side of postpartum running. The fact that being allowed to do something is very different than being able to do something. In reality, many of us hot mess of emotion who are running on very little (if any) sleep. During this same time, we come to realize that our bodies are no longer recognizable. We realize that we no longer own a single sports bra that fits. We have no idea how to plan a long run around breastfeeding a newborn (now where’s the instruction book for that?). Even if we are fortunate enough to have family or friends who can stand in and watch the baby while we go out for a run, we are often faced with guilt and feelings of selfishness, like it’s something we shouldn’t be doing.
Sometimes it’s giving up on how you thought something should be that’s harder than the thing itself. As women, we must let go of the expectations we set for ourselves and learn to be patient with the process. We have to learn to be our own advocates. We have to know that taking care of ourselves is not only okay, but necessary. There is no single truth in the postpartum experience. The truth is what’s true for you.
Admittedly, it used to drive me crazy when I asked for other women’s experiences and I’d be told to “give myself grace” and “be patient” with myself. I didn’t want to give myself grace or be patient. I already was patient for nine months – all I wanted now was to PR again! I was fortunate enough to have been able to run up until the day before I gave birth (6 miles on the treadmill) so I had it in my head that I would be one of those super women who was running 4 weeks after baby and would be able to bounce right back into my training. The only difference would be coordinating childcare with my husband — totally doable, right? I quickly realized how wrong I was. Notwithstanding my stellar running while pregnant experience I ended up having to take off for over three months postpartum because of a battered pelvic floor.
So, straight from the school of hard knocks, this is what every woman should know about postpartum fitness:
1. Care for those pelvic floor muscles like it’s your job! Even though it’s common to experience urinary incontinence after having a baby, it’s not normal. Pelvic organ prolapse is also a real thing (that nobody wants to talk about). While admittedly I am a J.D. and not an M.D., I strongly believe that most women can benefit from consistently strengthening their pelvic floor muscles. There are many apps you can download specifically focused on the pelvic floor (the one I swear by is in the Baby2Body app). If you are experiencing symptoms, don’t resign yourself to it being the “new normal” and seek assistance from a physical therapist who specializes in women’s issues.
2. Even if you ran and worked out your entire pregnancy and felt great, there is no guarantee your recovery will be easy. If it is – great. If it’s not – figure out why and do everything you can to address your deficiencies. Addressing any issues sooner rather than later will make your long-term recovery more successful.
3. Even if you weren’t able to run or workout during your pregnancy as much as you expected (or at all) it doesn’t mean your recovery will be hard. While you may have lost your fitness, it will come back! If your body is strong and healthy you can slowly rebuild.
4. The impact having a baby has on your body is not over once you give birth and the non-physical impact of being a new mom (hormones, sleep deprivation, stress) are all very real things that will also play into your recovery. Even when you are completely cleared to run and train at the level you desire, remember to pay attention to all of the external factors that may impact your running as well. If you are feeling more fatigued or weaker than you normally would, remember that running does not happen in isolation. If you are breastfeeding, not eating enough, or sleep deprived, all of these factors could impact your workouts. It takes months (or even years) after giving birth for both your body and lifestyle to stabilize. This doesn’t mean you won’t get back to where you were (or better), but it does mean you have to work within the new normal.
5. It’s all about you. There are no black and white answers. Go to nearly any postpartum message board and you will see the same question over and over “how soon can I really start running.” You will see antecdotes from women who seemingly gave birth and somehow ran a BQ marathon the next day. That may be you. It may not be. Throw your expecations out the window and look at where you are at this moment. Then plan your comeback.
So ladies, I challenge you all to tell your postpartum story. There is strength in solidarity. Allow yourselves to embrace the process for what it is — because running will still be there when you’re ready to get back to it.