I remember my first run after my daughter was born. I cried.
I ran during most of my pregnancy so I hadn’t been away from running for that long (or so I thought) and I got back out there and it was painful, uncomfortable, exhausting, and a huge reality check. It was emotional (or was it my fluctuating post pregnancy hormones?) for me to face everything my body had been through, while at the same time feeling motivated to overcome a traumatic c-section and achieve my first realistic post-pregnancy fitness goal (running the Philly 10K).
Side note: I was 7 months postpartum for that race versus my first unrealistic fitness goal to run the Broad Street 10-Miler at 3 months postpartum, which I ended up deferring.
Running can seem like an ideal form of exercise for a new mom, but there are a few things you should know before lacing up your sneakers-the first being, you might need new sneakers. If you don't have "running shoes", or wore the same pair frequently during pregnancy, or maybe your feet are larger than before, then go get fitted for a proper pair.
1. Consider safety...
MEDICAL CLEARANCE: Although for some women it can be safe to resume physical activity even just days after having a baby, running is a high-impact activity and I recommend using the 4-6 weeks before your postpartum exam to strengthen weakened muscles, rather than run. Your doctor can then assess whether you have diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominis muscle-decent image and explanation found here) or whether you have pelvic floor concerns. Both of which, in addition to your core strength, should be taken into account before beginning to run or perform any vigorous exercise activity.
RELAXIN- that’s a hormone that increases during pregnancy to relax your ligaments in order to prepare you body for the growth of the baby and childbirth. This hormone can hang around months postpartum, meaning your joints may remain unstable, malaligned and prone to injury. Combining weak core muscles, stretchy ligaments and the impact of running, could be a recipe for injury. Make sure you start at a low intensity and gradually increase the distance and speed when you’re sure your body is ready.
HYDRATE-this is true for everyone when exercising, but especially true for women who are breastfeeding.
FATIGUE: if your baby still isn't clocking regular hours and you're feeling fatigued, high-intensity exercise like running may not be the best option. Physical activity should help repair your body, not make it feel worse.
2. Consider Comfort...
BREASTFEEDING (curious about the impact of exercise on breastfeeding?) -in addition to the advice to nurse or pump before you run, you should also upgrade your sports bra. Chances are your bra won’t fit like it did before pregnancy or provide adequate support for breastfeeding moms. Make sure you wear a high-impact bra that fits snuggly. I’ve heard of moms wearing both a nursing and sports bra. Not sure if that's comfortable, but I'm interested in knowing if you've tried it (comment, please). If you have a bra you love, please add your recommendations to the comments! Lastly, if your nipples are irritated, try Lansing cream or nursing pads to manage the rubbing and friction.
BLADDER-you may have temporary nerve issues or loss of muscle tone making it hard for you to feel the urge to urinate or increasing the urge. Make sure to empty your bladder before your run.
Side note: Incontinence may be common, but it doesn’t mean its normal. If you are regularly leaking during a run, follow up with your physician and consider seeing a physical therapist that specializes in pelvic floor dysfunction.
GEAR FOR C-SECTION MAMAS-high-waist running tights with a wide band might be a more comfortable option to avoid friction on the scar while running. Speaking of friction, make sure you are massaging your scar daily to avoid the build up of scar tissue. You might feel some tugging as you begin a more vigorous fitness routine.
3. Consider the Benefits...
BRING BABY-with the right stroller, you can bring baby and not worry about childcare (I love my B.O.B.). Manufacturers will recommend the appropriate age for this, so don't be too eager.
IMPROVE MOOD-fresh air and endorphins might be just what you need to boost your mood
SOCIALIZE-join a run club or sign up for a race with friends
ROLE MODEL-start setting the example now for your children that health and activity is important
Ready or not?
If you’ve determined you’re ready to run, I like the idea of 30 second intervals, alternating walking and jogging). If you're unsure that your current fitness program will prepare your body for postpartum running, or your first run felt miserable like mine did, consider Stronger After Pregnancy small group or personal training. The program will help you recondition your core, realign your body, strengthen muscles weakened by pregnancy, and gradually progress to a more vigorous fitness routine.