The postpartum running experience
When it comes to postpartum running the more information there is the more confusing it seems to be. Your story may sound very familiar to this: You find out you're pregnant, you continue running for a while, then the nausea and all the wonderful pregnancy symptoms hit you and by the time you feel the urge to run again you're too uncomfortable. So you stop.
Fast forward and it's now six weeks post birth of your baby and your provider gives you the green light to start exercising again. You can't wait to get home and lace up.
The next day you get out and you feel like absolute crap during and after the run. Your hips ache, your feel like your pelvic floor is heavy and you have the urge to pee all of the sudden. So you continue.
Sounds familiar? Many mamas run postpartum with pain and discomfort thinking that this is the new normal or that it will eventually go away on its own. What they don't know is that they could be hurting themselves even more.
The postpartum body can be fragile. In many cases the recovery period should last a lot longer then the six week marker. In the great scheme of things six weeks is a very short time and doesn't, for most people, allow for enough recovery time. Of course there is the exceptions, some pro athletes, lifelong experienced runners who have done it before and the occasional every day person that just happens to be feeling physically ready. But for most of us, the six weeks doesn't allow for adequate recovery.
So how do you know where you fall in this? Well, always assume that you need more time to recover. Yes, the only time in life where assume doesn't make an a** out of you and me is the early postpartum period. Assuming that you need more time puts your recovery at the forefront and will give you time to prepare for when you eventually go back to running. There are multiple steps that I suggest you take before you lace up for the first time after you give birth.
One of the first things that I want every woman to do is seek out a women's health physical therapist. Many countries around the world include a physical therapy assessment as a part of the care a woman receives postpartum .The PT ( physical therapist) can asses pelvic floor health, abdominal wall ( core) health and hopefully be able to give you a good idea of where you are in your recovery. The PT includes in the screening process a check for POP ( pelvic organ prolapse), incontinence, perineal tissue health ( especially if tears or episiotomies occurred) , DR ( diastasis recti or abdominal separation) and so much more. They are also able to tell you if running is something you get back to or if you should hold off until you fully heal. Many times they will have you come in for therapy and give you homework for optimal recovery. So don't be surprised if you have to wait another 6 weeks to get back on the road. Try to stay patient, your body will thank you!
Once you are ready to go back the preparations and the recovery post runs should become your holy grail. Weeks before you start running you should take a look at your nutrition and hydration. Now, if you were not a runner and have just had a baby and are not looking to go back to running I would say, just eat and don't worry at all (survival is key). However, a new mama who is most likely sleep deprived, possibly breast feeding/pumping can run low on many important nutrients. Add running to the mix and you will run your body (no pun intended) into the ground. It is the perfect storm for injuries. Nut butters, whole wheat toast or bagels and bananas can be great to fuel you for your run and a spinach and cheddar omelet really hits the spot for post run recovery. I als love a bone broth in the winter post runs to warm me up again.
So nutrition is key! Nutrient dense whole foods, proteins, carbohydrates and fats will give you fuel for your runs and provide an optimal platform for recovery.
Make sure to drink plenty of water before your runs and after your runs. I love refilling my Nalgene bottle which has the oz markings on the side and I can easily see how much I've had.
If you are a nursing mama make sure to feed or pump before your runs. This prevents you form having discomfort while running. You can also breastfeed your baby right after runs if you want to, the breast milk is perfectly fine for consumption for the baby.
Before your runs make sure to take some time to warm up your body 5-10 minutes should be a good amount of time. Equally, stretch post workout and possibly foam roll if you have one ( I highly recommend a foam roller). Recovery starts the moment you take your running shoes off.
One thing that often gets overlooked is strength training. This is important for every runner but even more important for new moms. Work on glute strength, core strength and overall mobility and flexibility in your hips, knees and ankles. I could go on and on but finding 30 minutes a few times a week will be so helpful to be a strong runner with a healthy body. Many injuries happen to runners due to muscle weaknesses. The body tries to compensate and that becomes the perfect storm. If working with a coach or a personal trainer make sure that they are very familiar with postpartum bodies so they can best help you get ready for your runs.
Recovery and sleep may sound like a joke to a new mom. I know, it's the hardest. So I'm just going to touch upon it. Do your best, take it easy and don't set huge goals that you know deep down are not realistic. Take it one day at a time and skip the run if you feel tired and low on energy. Recovery can be this magical tool to make you become a great runner. Going hard all the time won't make you a great runner it will make you an injured runner.
Get to know your body and it's limits and try your best to figure out what your body can and can't do on that day. If you slept two hours the night before and the baby fed six times that night, a run may not be a good choice that day. However, I do have to say that for many of us the run becomes the mini therapy session needed to feel rejuvenated again so in that case go out and do a very easy short run then come back and try to take a nap or rest on the couch while the baby sleeps. There are many gray lines here and we can't paint every mama with the same brush. But these are just some of my suggestions as someone who's been there before.
One last thing that I find incredibly important is to note the mental health aspect of this. I have heard so many times from moms telling me that they run for their mental health. Getting out the door becomes a treat where you get to be you and not mom, mama or mommy. You can make your to do list in your head, have a pretend talk with your partner on a subject you are yet to discuss or just work through some things that happened that day. That is absolutely why I love running and the running community. It is good for your physical and mental health. This is why I said in the previous paragraph that I think sometimes being tired and exhausted is for some a good reason to go out and run because they know when they come back they will have more energy, sleep better and simply be better for themselves.
In conclusion, get out and run postpartum if you love it as much as I do. Remember that the postpartum body is tender and needs a longer recovery than you may think. Be gentle to it and it will reward you with the best feel good runs!