I’ll admit it. I am one of those people who started running before their 6-week postpartum checkup. To be fair, it was only a few days before, and I listened to the midwife when she told me “absolutely not” at my 2-week checkup. By 6 weeks I felt good enough to give it a go. I strapped on my running shoes and two sports bras, and out I went to plod around the block.
Despite running late into my third trimester, running postpartum was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I couldn’t engage my core, my legs felt like concrete, and everything jiggled. In hindsight, I realize I didn’t actually feel “good enough” to run; I was just flying high on feel-good hormones. But I went for it and I don’t regret it. For the five minutes that first run/walk lasted, I could not stop smiling. After weeks of giving my time, energy, and my body to baby, I was doing something solely for me.
I’m now 10 months postpartum and have been running regularly through body changes, breastfeeding, and fatigue. Here are a few practical tips that have helped me get back into running.
Tips for Postpartum Running
Snacks are #1 on this list, and #1 in my heart. When I first started running again, I was getting up 2-3 times per night to feed baby. I made sure to use one of these trips out of bed (generally the 3 or 4am waking) as a chance to fuel for my morning run. What worked best for me was a granola bar smothered in natural peanut butter, plus a big glass of water. Or try some of those no-bake energy balls you see all over Pinterest.
And speaking of water…
Even if you’ll only be running for a few minutes, bring a water bottle. This is especially important if you are nursing/pumping, but all mamas need to be hydrated. Do you have time to deal with a dehydration headache later in the day? Of course you don’t.
Don’t expect your old running gear to fit right away, or possibly ever. YOUR BODY LITERALLY GREW A PERSON/PERSONS. You may have noticed your feet grew during pregnancy, and they may not shrink back down once baby comes. I bought a pair for pregnancy running/walking that were a size large and a size wider, and I’m still wearing them now. Same goes for your pre-pregnancy running clothes – don’t expect them to fit. You might need a bigger size, a higher waistband, or a different style to keep you comfortable. Hit the clearance racks if you don’t want to spend too much money. I held out for too long thinking that I’d be back in my regular running clothes. But hey, what a great excuse to get some new gear!
IMHO, this is the most important piece of running gear. Make sure it fits! Your ribcage and cup size may have increased. If you are nursing/pumping, your breasts may be heavier and appreciate more support than you are used to. I sized up in my regular running bra and wear a second sports bra over the top for additional support. If you need quick access for nursing, consider a nursing sports bra or a bra with adjustable Velcro straps (like the Brooks Juno or the SheFit). If you have a larger chest, check out UK-based companies (like Bravissimo or Shock Absorber) who tend to carry a much wider variety of sizes.
IF YOU ARE NURSING/PUMPING
Go back and read the parts about sports bras and hydration again. In addition, consider trying to run right after feeding or pumping so that your breasts are emptier. If you’re joining scheduled group runs or races, consider keeping a small hand pump in your car so that you can pump a little right before you run.
A strong core is important for good running form, and pregnancy and childbirth can really move things around. Find postpartum-specific exercises online or visit a professional with expertise in postpartum exercise and pelvic floor rehabilitation. Current recommendations suggest that doing some gentle exercises such as pelvic tilts and breathwork can begin as soon as a mom feels ready. Since I was nursing a newborn when I started running, I used those endless feeds as a chance to sneak in some Kegel exercises or seated breathwork. I moved on to exercises like modified planks and dead bugs, and am working my way up to more intense core work. Take it slow.
Keep in mind that relaxin, the hormone that relaxes joints in preparation for childbirth, is still circulating in your body after birth. Carve out five minutes to do some gentle warm-up exercises to make sure your muscles are ready to support you. This might include walking and dynamic stretching. My tip? Take the first few minutes to walk, then stop somewhere safe to do some dynamic stretching. I found that if I tried to warm up in the house or nearby, it was harder to disconnect from being “on-call” as a mom and to focus on myself.
MIX IT UP
Feeling bummed you can’t complete your usual neighborhood loop? Pick a different, shorter route, or try a local trail. Annoyed that you can’t keep your pre-pregnancy pace? Ditch the watch and focus on perceived effort. Feeling totally disconnected from your body after such life-altering experiences as pregnancy and childbirth? Focus on your breath and putting one foot in front of the other. If anything doesn’t feel right, talk to your health care provider.
Lastly, ENJOY IT. Enjoy the fresh air, the time alone, and feeling like YOU again. If you don’t enjoy it or it doesn’t feel right for your body, running will be there for you when you are ready.
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