This was a post I was planning on writing shortly after my last pregnancy as it’s something I frequently get asked about as a personal trainer, but I never quite got around to it and now here I am after having daughter number two!
As someone who has been spending a lot of time in recent years training postnatal women, this is part of a subject that’s near and dear to my heart; the recovery and rehabilitation of your body after pregnancy. Our modern society has a tendency to encourage us to get straight back into exercise as soon as we ‘feel’ ready, however, this isn’t always the complete picture and isn’t sound advice…
Here’s my guide for returning to running after pregnancy and how to tell if you’re ready for it.
Wait until your body has recovered
Most women don’t ask medical professionals or even fitness professionals for clearance before attempting to exercise again after childbirth. Unless something has required specific intervention for a physical issue, we are often left to figure it out on our own whether we’re feeling ready to attempt running or not.
At the absolute very least I would advise you to wait until your body has healed sufficiently after giving birth to attempt exercise that’s much more than a walk, gentle yoga or stretching. Most doctors and midwives will recommend to wait until at least six weeks after giving birth before resuming exercise activity greater than this; longer if you have had a caesarean section or a complicated delivery.
I would also suggest that if you’re still experiencing postpartum bleeding/lochia this is a sign your body is still healing and you should allow time to continue directing energy towards doing this before loading extra challenge onto it. If bleeding gets heavier or restarts after it has already stopped, this is a sign you’ve likely pushed yourself too hard too soon.
Don’t ignore your pelvic floor (even if it feels fine)
I’ve worked with women – and fitness instructors are particularly guilty of this – who have made the choice to return to running very quickly after having baby. While society has a tendency to applaud them for being supermums, they are actually often putting their body at risk in doing so and inadvertently encouraging other women to follow suit because they will put out the appearance of ‘bouncing back’ quickly.
Remember: Even if you had a textbook perfect birth and recovery process, there has been a lot of weight and downward pressure on your pelvic floor as baby has grown over the course of nine months.
I would highly recommend to all women that you should get your pelvic floor and potential diastasis recti assessed by a knowledgeable physiotherapist or similar professional before heading back into exercise. I have met women in their 50’s and 60’s who felt physically fit following their pregnancies early on in life, then got straight back into running or aerobics without ensuring everything was sound, eventually resulting in a prolapsed uterus around the time of menopause. Too many situps and crunches can slow down recovery or worsen diastasis recti (abdominal separation) which can lead to back injuries further down the track. These are things you really don’t want to have happen if possible, for the sake of giving your body some extra weeks or months of low impact recovery with focus on core stability and rehabilitation.
If you’re having difficulty holding in your wee when you attempt running, your pelvic floor is not ready for it! It can even take months to be ready for this activity. I had an episiotomy with my first daughter and I was only just starting to feel like running was an acceptable activity again when she was around a year old.
Other ways running may affect you
If you’re breastfeeding and begin a rigorous running regime, you may find breastmilk production drops. Some online articles and even medical professionals may say this problem doesn’t exist, but I know women this has happened to; especially if you aren’t getting enough sleep and your nutrition and water intake isn’t sound. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, that you’re eating enough nutritious food, and that you adjust your running routine depending on how you’re feeling that day.
Also, your body can continue to produce the hormone relaxin (the one that loosens your joints to prepare for childbirth) up to six months after milk production stops. Until this point you’re still at greater risk of injury from twisting your ankle, or impact injuries to knees etc., so ensure you have decent supportive running shoes and socks, and ease yourself into it.
A decent low impact, postnatal rehabilitative strength training programme is a great idea to help strengthen core muscles again to support running. Make sure it’s from a trainer or instructor who knows what they’re doing with postnatal exercise as many cookie cutter online programmes that contain a lot of abdominal exercises and jumping/plyometrics aren’t a good idea so soon after baby. As mentioned before, if you don’t have obvious diastasis recti, you can actually worsen it with excessive crunches and situps as those muscles may still be weakened. This can also lead to ‘mummy tummy’ appearance around the lower abdomen; ironic given if we are doing a lot of crunches we are usually aiming for the opposite of this!
Learn to listen to your body
So much change happens to our body during pregnancy it’s very common to feel a sense of detachment from what’s going on with it. Try to get a sense of how your body responds during exercise activities; if something doesn’t feel right, don’t just ignore it. The last thing you need when you have a new bubba is to end up exhausted or with signs of chronic fatigue/adrenal stress.
Give yourself the permission to take it down a notch and try not to get frustrated. Take things slowly and be patient – there’s plenty of time to get back into running!
Image / NZ Real Health