This article isn’t going to go through how long you should wait after giving birth before your first run, or through the aspects of sleep and recovery. That is a full topic in and of itself! But suffice to say the general guide is 3 months postpartum and of course when you feel like you and baby are sleeping well enough so that you have the energy to run. (Goom et al, March 2019)
This article is going to outline some of the less talked about considerations running postpartum throws up. So if you are at the point where you are thinking of either returning to running or want to start running after having your baby, then read on.
How to start running after birth?
1. Start with your pelvic floor
Even if you have no symptoms of a dysfunctional pelvic floor, you don’t know what you don’t know! Let your local women’s health physio be your eyes on the inside.
It is better to get the all clear rather than start running and find out later that you had a weakness or a dysfunction, such as a prolapse, that now causes a set back. There are various degrees of prolapse and you might not feel the prolapse initially.
If you do start running and have any of these symptoms please see a WHP:
Hip pain/pelvic pain/lower back pain
Pressure in the pelvic area
Pain during sex
You can also download to my running info sheet
to see if you can check off the things you need to before returning to running.
2. Check in with your body alignment
If you have had children then you’ll know that your body doesn’t just “bounce back”. But did you know that it can take around 7 months for your spine to go back to its pre-baby alignment? When you are pregnant your pelvis starts to tilt forward and the baby bump grows. This creates a greater sway in your lower back.
This tilt and sway is not ideal for running because it puts a lot of pressure on the lower back and means the transverse abdominal muscles may not be working properly - hence the back pain or hip pain.
The fix? You can start by stretching the hip flexors and rebuilding your core from the inside out. Check with your local MumSafe trainer for more advice on how to do so.
3. How are your hips?
Following on from #2, tight hips can make you feel like you are plodding along when you run and unable to lift your knees up.
Again, this is due to the changes your body needed to undergo to carry your baby and give birth. Allow time for the recovery and re-alignment to happen. But in the meantime stretching and strengthening the hip flexors will help.
I personally found hip mobility exercises a great help to regaining my range of motion. This then translated to me feeling lighter on my feet when running and more in control.
4. Why am I getting a stitch?
It depends on where the stitch is. But if it feels like it is up high/in your diaphragm, then it could be cramping because your rib cage is stuck. This happened to me.
If you place your hands around the side of your rib cage and breath in, you should be able to feel your rib cage expand as your lungs fill. If they don’t you may then also notice that you have trouble taking a deep breath in.
While this may not impact you so much day to day, it will when you are running. You have a much higher oxygen demand and will need to breathe deep to get enough in. So if you are struggling to get the oxygen you need you may get a stitch as a result.
5. If the shoes fits…
Relaxin is responsible for relaxing your ligaments in preparation for birth. It stays in your body for about 3 months after birth or until you have finished breastfeeding. Because of the relaxing effect it can also widen your feet!
So don’t be surprised if your existing running shoes no longer fit. In order to run consistently you need to have comfortable shoes that fit you. So it is worth investing in a new pair of shoes that fit properly.
6. Why the stroller may not be your friend
While the stroller is a great aid if it means you can get out for a run when you don’t have anyone to look after your baby, a word of caution. Stroller running can change your natural stride. The fact that your abdominal muscles may be in a weakened state can mean your running form changes to compensate.
So consider putting this off until you are further postpartum and have done some strength work first.
If you do run with a stroller:
Start with walking and on the flat
Walk up hills rather than trying to run - you’ll end up pushing the stroller up and leaning into it rather than running
Try to run as normally as possible - holding the stroller with a relaxed grip and with one hand can help (unless circumstances dictate otherwise)
Don’t hold the stroller too far away from you and don’t over stride so that your foot hits the stroller.
The final tip!
Remember consistency is the key with any successful running endeavour. So start slow and steady and with a frequency that your new family life can sustain. Running is for the long term, even if you have short term goals. But pushing too hard, too fast, too soon will only lead to injury or burn out.
Karori, Wellington, NZ