5 Strategies for Returning to Running Postpartum

Congratulations: You’re ready and excited to be getting back into running after having your child. After three pregnancies and now three return to run journeys, I have 5 general thoughts for other moms returning to running. These are: Pay keen attention to nutrition and hydration; Have patience with your body and your running progress; Invest in good equipment (sports bras, shoes); Plan and prepare for sidetracks; and Treat yourself gently.

1. Nutrition and Hydration

Fuel and Hydrate yourself beyond what you normally think is needed. This means extra calories and extra water. I wrote more about this topic in this recent post

2. Be patient with your body

Returning to running is more than waiting for the 6 week doctor check most American women get. A strong body of evidence suggests waiting much longe: 12 weeks at minimum to let your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles heal. The 3-6 month to return to running is supported by extensive research and you can read the full guideline and patient checkpoitns published in 2019 here.  Remember that these guidelines are for healthy vaginal deliveries – C-sections, severe diastasis recti, obesity, tears, and other factors also affect how you return to activity after delivery. 

Me, post-run. Not sure what is going on with this photo, but it’s colorful!

This doesn’t mean don’t exercise. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. Pelvic floor exercises can be started shortly after birth and walking, yoga, and strength training can begin to progress from there. If you were able to have an active pregnancy, that puts you well on your way to a strong recovery. I highly recommend seeing a pelvic PT for some post-birth check up and rebuilding. If possible, go see one during your pregnancy as well – get the knowledgeable help that can support your healthy return and recovery. You can search for one on google, or here on APTA, or ask your OB/GYN or midwife for their recommendation/referral.

3. Invest in good equipment: bras and shoes

Your body changed during pregnancy, and hopefully you changed your bra selection during pregnancy. If you’re nursing now, you may experience yet more changes as nursing progresses over days, week, and months. My biggest advice: work with new, supportive sports bras. I’m partial to ones that clip in the back and ones that have adjustable straps. I would never have given that style a second glance pre-children, and now I wouldn’t wear anything else! Spend time to find ones that fit you well – be prepared to try several on before you get the perfect one. 
The same goes for shoes: your foot size may have changed during pregnancy, and you definitely have looser joints thanks to the relaxin hormone that kicked in during pregnancy. Your body hangs onto that hormone during breastfeeding, so it’s a good idea to refresh your shoes with ones that fit your (potential) new size, are supportive, and comfortable. 

4. Be prepared for setbacks or sidetracks

Your  new baby may not sleep, you may have urinary incontinence, loose or painful joints. You may feel suddenly less confident in your strength or you may experience anxiety when you go to leave your child. You may be making great progress when you  hit a sleep regression and suddenly are unable to get sufficient, needed rest for a week or more. These (and countless other sidetracks and new concerns) are all normal.

Returning to running is deeply personal and should be “planned” with a light touch and an eye to the long term. As you progress, it’s the most exciting and wonderful process; but remember, post-baby running is a completely different process than prebaby. Be prepared for a roller coaster with highs, lows, and warp speeds.

Prepare your responses and inner dialogue for when things go off the rails. Just as you practice using mantras for racing and hard workouts, practice mantras to help you when you get stuck in the weeds of a postpartum running sidetrack.

More sleep, less running.

5. Be gentle with yourself

You have done an amazing job. You’ve borne a child! You are a new person: a mother. Whether it’s your first child or your sixth, your change deeply with each addition. Each child is different, just as each pregnancy is different.

It makes sense that each return to running will have it’s own unique twists and turns. Try not to compare to previous pregnancies, those of friends or family, or those you see on social media. When you get tired, rest. Have a snack. Don’t beat yourself up because you opted to prioritize sleep instead of pushing to get an early morning run when you’re starved for rest. Laugh at yourself when things go wonky (they will), and remember that your running should support, compliment, and encourage your whole life. 

Have fun! Forgive yourself for your stumbles, and learn from them. Move forward wiser, stronger, and more resilient.

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