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Returning to your running routine after having a baby can be a daunting prospect. Your body has been through a lot and it may be difficult to know how and when to get back to your former fitness schedule. Here we share a few tips and a plan to get back into running postnatal.
First Stop: Medical Clearance
The very first consideration ahead of returning to physical activity after giving birth is to be cleared by your doctor and/or physiotherapist who can evaluate your individual recovery process. The timing of this will be dependent on how you gave birth and whether you had any surgery during the process. For those who required a Caesarean delivery or needed any sutures after a natural delivery, the recovery time is longer.
If you feel like you’re experiencing any pelvic floor issues (poor bladder control, a feeling of heaviness or instability in your pelvis area or back pain), check out our article here for more information. It’s important to ensure the pelvic floor muscles are ready to take on the load of exercise after the strain of carrying a pregnancy. Sometimes this means spending some time with a physiotherapist to strengthen your entire core.
A group of renowned physiotherapists and doctors recommend starting slowly and with low impact exercise such as walking for the first 3 months of the postnatal period. A return to running is only recommended between 3- 6 months postnatal, at the earliest. They also highlight the importance of having a pelvic health assessment and professionally guided pelvic floor rehabilitation ahead of starting your exercise program.
Yet another consideration around returning to a running regimen is breastfeeding. You might need to feed or express before heading out to avoid painful or leaky breasts. Also keep in mind extra hydration if you’re still feeding and starting an exercise schedule. Invest in a good quality, supportive sports bra too.
Running Too Soon
What you if feel good and are itching to get out for a run but it’s before you’ve been cleared medically? The danger here is that even though you feel OK, you might do some long term damage. During and after pregnancy your muscles, joints and ligaments experience increased laxity, meaning they are loose and possibly unstable. This is due to the pregnancy hormone relaxin which helps the pelvis be able to expand during childbirth. The effects of this hormone can be present for up to 6 months postpartum and may be present even longer with prolonged breastfeeding.
Progressive Postnatal Running Programme
Once you’re ready to go, it’s good to create a progressive plan to build up your strength and endurance. The recommendation from one of the few physiotherapist/doctor groups outlining a programme is as follows:
- Weeks 0 – 2: pelvic floor and core exercises (more info here), walking
- Weeks 2 – 4: continue rehabilitation of the pelvic floor, increase walking time/distance, add exercises like squats, bridges, lunges
- Weeks 4 – 6: try low impact exercises (exercise bike cycling, cross-trainer)
- Weeks 6 – 8: power walking, small increase in low impact exercises, light weight lifting to continue strengthening your core and legs
- Weeks 8 – 12: swimming, exercise bike/spinning
- Weeks 12 +: slowly start your run programme, increase time and distance gradually before trying to increase intensity/speed
Don’t forget about getting enough sleep to support your body during this transition from giving birth to returning to an exercise routine. This can be a major challenge with an infant but according to a study, sleep deprivation can increase your risk of injury. Getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep is optimal if possible. One way to sneak in a few more zzzs is to nap when your baby naps.
Reminders and Tips
As a recap, the keys to getting back into running and avoiding injury are:
- Make sure you are fully recovered before starting your post-natal exercise routine. This means getting checked by your doctor and a physiotherapist and doing any rehabilitation necessary.
- Once you’re feeling ready to go, start slowly. Since running is a high impact activity, a solid foundation of fitness is required before easing back into it.
- Walking and other low impact exercises are a great way to build up your fitness again.
- Staying hydrated is super important for any exercise routine but is especially vital for those still breastfeeding.
- Get enough sleep to support your recovery.