Returning to running after pregnancy was incredibly frustrating at times. I was NOT the person who was posting Instagram selfies about how awesome it was to return to running in just six weeks. I was NOT the person who was training for a marathon in the first year. And I was not the person who was celebrating a running routine that rebounded quickly. That wasn’t my story. I did NOT rebound quickly.
Maybe it’s my age (late 30s), but my return to running was slow, with ups and downs, setbacks and tears. I was frustrated and discouraged. I can’t count the number of times that I told Tommy that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to run the same way again. Instagram did NOT help as I saw multiple women who had babies after me running further, faster and presumably, pain free. But that was not my journey.
I don’t share this to be discouraging or negative. I truly HOPE your return to running is easier than mine. Truly, I do. But if it’s not, I want you to know that you’re not alone, that it CAN and WILL get better and that I understand and empathize with you. Truth be told, it wasn’t until about eight months postpartum that running even remotely started to feel normal, without pain and discomfort, most days. Even at 10 months PP, I still saw a physical therapist every 1-2 weeks. My son is now 22 months old and only in the last few months have I resumed my usual base mileage of 30-40 miles per week but I have to be cognizant about stretching and strength training, more so than before I had Thomas.
But, I’ve come a LONG way and I have to be grateful for where I am now. I hope that sharing the reality of my journey helps you give yourself a little more grace than I gave myself. And remember, my return to running will be different from your journey. And your journey will be different from mine. DO NOT COMPARE. Unfollow people if it makes you feel like you “should” be able to do more. You HAVE to honor your body.
How to Get Back into Running After Pregnancy
So, after that intro, I’m going to share how to return to running after pregnancy and some lessons I learned along the way. I hope it helps you.
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I wasn’t sure what to expect with postpartum running, but I thought I’d be okay considering I’ve run for 20+ years. I kept running while working 80-hour weeks, while traveling cross-country regularly for work, while on vacation, while pregnant and, of course, I’ve always run through “normal” phases of life! However, nothing was as challenging as returning to running after pregnancy. I’m pretty well-versed in running injuries and returning to running after an injury, but runs postpartum were a different ballgame. There are some obvious reasons returning to running after pregnancy can be hard.
Your body has undergone childbirth which causes so many changes in your body (physically and emotionally). Your hormones are changing (sometimes raging) and you’re exhausted. And there are some less obvious challenges when returning to running after pregnancy like the mental challenge of being “out” of running for a while, postpartum anxiety and depression, childcare logistics, urinary incontinence, timing around breastfeeding and/or pumping, not wanting to leave your baby, etc. In this article, you’ll find statistics for women returning to running and the struggles they deal with – you’re likely not alone with some of what you’re feeling! (It’s also a helpful resource to understand how your pelvic region changes due to pregnancy.)
Okay, let’s get into some tips.
1. See your OB-GYN
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Talk to your OBGYN before you resume any exercise. You’ll have a standard post-delivery check-up at six weeks and make sure you talk about exercise at that appointment.
Be sure to let them know your history and goals with running so they can help you evaluate what’s realistic given your situation. Exercising too soon after giving birth can cause a lot of issues, and new moms typically need extra time before getting back to high-intensity activities, including running. And if things still feel off after you get cleared, schedule a follow up appointment. I saw my OBGYN three times in the first four months since I was having so many issues.
I think I expected was to be able to start running as normal at the six week mark, especially since I ran throughout my entire pregnancy. NOPE. I wish I’d thought about this as “Yes, you are good to start training again and you should train as if you’ve never run before and want to avoid injuries so train smart.”
2. Wait at least 6 weeks before exercising
The below information was provided by a sports MD who specializes in postpartum care. (I saved the information from a previous partnership with Novant Health so I’m re-sharing here!)
How you recovery from labor depends on how you had your baby. If you delivered vaginally, then you’ll likely need to stick to walking until the 6-week postpartum doctor’s visit. With your doctor’s OK, you should be able to start running again at the 6-week mark.
Keep in mind that the 6-week marker is highly dependent on your age, your body, your labor, and your pre-labor exercise. So again, check with your doctor. It’s also not a bad idea to work with a pelvic floor specialist before diving into your old workout routine, especially if it’s high impact activities, like running. Pelvic floor dysfunction is common, and it’s helpful to be proactive.
If you had a C-section, remember that this is major abdominal surgery. In most cases, you should do absolutely nothing except push the stroller around the neighborhood for at least TWO weeks after surgery. But again, check with your doctor for even that. Full recovery can take up to 12 weeks. Between the 2 and 12 week mark, you might be able to walk or swim. For the majority of women, running will be off the table until at least the 12-week mark. But don’t beat yourself up if your body takes a little longer to recover. Again, your doctor will help you make the best decisions for YOU.
(Note: I’m not going to dive into diastasis recti in this post, but that’s another thing you want to be careful to take care of. You can have your OBGYN evaluate you at your six week appointment.)
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3. Wait and be patient
In retrospect, I wish I’d waited to even try to attempt running until ALL of my discomfort was gone, even though my OB-GYN cleared me for exercise. I wanted to get back into running so badly, to feel like my “old” self, to get some of my normal morning routine back, that I ramped things up a little too hard and fast. That ultimately led to other injury flare-ups that force me to take another break from running.
Even though I started with walk-run outings at 6 weeks, truly, I wish I’d waited until at least six months to attempt running It took until about 10 months postpartum until I was feeling normal again in my pelvic floor area. If you want to start running but things just feel “off”, please try to wait until you actually feel ready. In the grand scheme of a lifetime of running, three/six/nine months isn’t that long. The goal is to wait until running feels good, or at least not bad.
And something I always try to remember is that I’d rather run long term than run today.
4. See a Pelvic Floor Specialist
I scheduled an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist when I was having a lot of pain and discomfort when I resumed running at six weeks (but it took me nearly another month to get in since she was so booked up!). So, I’d recommend seeing a pelvic floor PT while pregnant. Don’t wait until afterwards. Having an established relationship can help you be more proactive in your care since they may be able to advise you in advance on some basic things to work on post baby delivery, like breathing. (This is a free resource about breathing + pelvic floor function that’s great.)
And remember to DO YOUR PT EXERCISES. (It’s not just kegels!!) If you want to get things back to the way they were, you have to re-train your body how to work properly. Cut your workout five minutes short to make time for your exercises if you feel crunched by the clock.
Laura Caudle of PelvicFloorCore is an AMAZING online resource for pelvic floor rehab for runners. She helped me even more than my in-person PT! (She’s a friend so we’d chat regularly and she’d refer me to some of her videos for more visuals.)
5. Don’t accept pain and discomfort as a “new normal”
Pain and leakage is common but not normal. If you have pelvic floor issues postpartum (even if it’s been years since you had your kid(s)), see a pelvic floor specialist. You’ll be amazed at the progress you can make in short amount of time, but you also need to be patient since it can feel like a rollercoaster at times! Making sure your body feels comfortable and strong is so important.
6. Act like you’re a new runner
Once you are cleared by your doctor to exercise remember to take it slowly – both in pace and distance. Rebuild as if you are a brand new runner, even if you ran throughout your pregnancy like I did.
Think about it – you wouldn’t expect to go run as normal after a marathon right? Now imagine you ran an ultra marathon and then couldn’t get a full night’s rest afterwards for weeks on end (hey newborn!). Would you expect to run normally just because a doctor told you that you could try? Nope!
If you need the structure, consider hiring a running coach who specializes in postpartum.
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7. Start with walk/runs
Take note of what that says. It says walk/run…NOT run/walk and NOT just running. Walking should be the majority of your time when you first start out. Here’s how I did it.
- I started with walking for 5 minutes and then running for 15-30 seconds and I repeated that until I’d been out for 15 minutes. I did that 2-3x a week.
- The next week, I added on 15-30 seconds of running, but kept the walking amount the same until I was running 2 consecutive minutes.
- Next, I gradually reduced the walking time.
- Then, I gradually added a bit more running time.
- Eventually, I was running non-stop for 15 minutes.
- Then, I worked on increasing the amount of time, up to 20 minutes.
- THEN, I gradually increased the number of days a week I was running.
When you add all that up, it took a LONG time to get back to running 4-5 miles at a time. Before my son was 9 months old, I still hadn’t run more than 6 miles and hadn’t run more than 20 miles in one week. That’s a big difference from my usual 6-7 mile loop and 40-50 miles a week that I ran pre-pregnancy.
Every time I tried to skip a step and increase running too quickly, I was set back. Learn from my mistake and be overly sensitive to what your body is saying and be gentle on it! Walk-running really helps this. I also recommend taking your child with you on your walk/runs! We have the Thule Jogging stroller and it’s AMAZING. Read my review here!
I fell in love with the Peloton while pregnant, and I’m so thankful for it. It helped me stay sane by giving me a good sweat without the impact of running. However, my pelvic floor and OBGYN advised that I not ride the Peloton until 12 weeks postpartum because of some factors I was dealing with as a result of my labor. (I was in the hospital for five days.)
At first the Peloton was fine… over time, I started having pain while riding due to some muscle imbalances I hadn’t fixed. So, I worked with my health care team to figure out how to address it and took time off from the Peloton and focused on strength training instead. (My coach was pretty cute. 😉 )
The type of cross-training that works for you may change throughout your postpartum journey. Listen to your body and keep in touch with your health care providers.
9. Figure out what you love about running
While I was waiting on my body to recover, it was hard at times to know I couldn’t do what I used to. So I tried to remember what I loved about running that I could still do.
I love being outside when I run, so I made sure to take walks outside (with Thomas!) and work outside so I could still enjoy that.
I also loved the alone time. So I scheduled time in my day for just me, even if it was reading for just five minutes.
I missed seeing my running friends, so I scheduled walks with them! I also started playing golf weekly for a run outdoor outing with friends.
You get the idea. Find ways to get the joy of running in other ways.
10. Give yourself grace
I can say from experience that returning to running postpartum is a journey, and a discouraging one at times. Sometimes I’d get frustrated that I couldn’t run at the same pace I used to and I couldn’t run as far. And other times, I was absolutely AMAZED at what my body had done and how far I’d come. And honestly, if I had to, I’d give up running entirely because having my son is the best thing that ever happened to me. But thankfully, I don’t have to. Instead, he just comes along for the ride!
If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment – I’m an open book since I truly want to help others moms!
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