As runners and as women, we certainly know what it feels like to push our bodies to the limits. We are no strangers to the idea of enduring pain in order to better ourselves or reach a desired outcome.
However, after becoming a new mom, postpartum running often feels like an unsettling change of pace.
Returning to running after pregnancy is often difficult.
Not just physically, but emotionally as well. After years of running followed by 9 months of pregnancy, enduring the physical changes and a drastic lifestyle change usually leaves us craving the normalcy and safety of our old routine.
Many women find themselves itching to get back to running after having a baby, leading them to make one of the worst mistakes: returning too soon or too strong.
Postpartum running is an entirely different experience for runners – whether this is your first baby or your fourth. Just as each pregnancy is different, every postpartum experience is as well.
However, these few guidelines can help you structure a solid return to running, safely get moving again, and keep things in perspective during this postnatal period.
A Guide to Running After Pregnancy: 8 Tips to Return
Wait until you are cleared.
The question that just about every runner has during the postpartum period is:
“How soon can I return to running after having a baby?”.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Just as each pregnancy is different, each woman is different. Our bodies rebound and recover at different speeds, depending on a variety of factors.
In general, it seems that most women get the all-clear from their doctors at their 6 week postpartum appointment, but this of course may vary depending on your own recovery.
While 6 weeks may sound like a long time to wait, this time period of rest is critical for your body. After experiencing a trauma as dramatic as giving birth, your body needs time to heal and rest – whether you believe it or not.
Even if you’re miraculously feeling great by 2 weeks postpartum, don’t begin any sort of routine until your doctor clears you. Spend those initial weeks bonding with your baby, relaxing and getting as much rest as possible.
Running will always be there for you when you’re ready to return – but return too soon, and you might find yourself sidelined due to an injury again shortly thereafter.
When you’ve been running consistently for years, or even months, and are suddenly forced to stop, it’s hard not to feel anxious about returning.
While it is certainly important to set goals for yourself during the postpartum running period, it is also important to set these goals based on your current ability level.
Although you’ll most likely return to your previous fitness baseline rather quickly, those first few weeks of running after having a baby will look quite different. Plan to start small with your training by scheduling shorter, less frequent runs.
The key to a safe, healthy return to running after giving birth is taking things slow and being okay with starting out small.
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Make up time with walking.
If you’re used to hour long runs during the week, heading out for just a mile at a time now will feel like a big adjustment.
Rather than pushing yourself to immediately return to your previous schedule, make up the extra time by walking. Follow a slow, gradual training plan to help you build your running base, and if you’ve still got energy leftover after your schedule miles, add in a little walking.
Spend 20 minutes walking with the stroller after your mile long run to fit in 30 minutes of exercise. Use this postpartum period to vary your training as much as possible to prevent injuries or excessive stress on your body.
The run-walk method is a great way to slowly rebuild your running endurance while still conquering longer distances.
Walking is a great way to bond with your baby, expose them to fresh air, and set an example for them by showing them the joy of exercise. As your running mileage increases, gradually decrease the time spent walking until you are back to your usual training routine.
Reduce your running expectations.
There is nothing more discouraging than heading out for a run expecting to run a 10 minute pace, only to find that you’re running a 12 minute pace and are already feeling out of breath.
Reducing your expectations during the postpartum running period is key to maintaining motivation and keeping up with your training for the long-term.
Remind yourself that your body has just undergone significant trauma. Not only has it recently undergone labor and birth, but it spent 9 months stretching and expanding while keeping another human alive. Recovering from this sort of trauma is no small task.
Incorporating physical activity is a great way to improve your mood, reduce stress and manage your health during the postpartum period, but overdoing it will only make things worse.
Remember that it took 9 months of changing to successfully birth another human, so it’s probably going to take at least 9 months to fully return to normal and recover afterwards.
Get rid of your old expectations for running and head outside with the goals of getting yourself moving, staying healthy, and listening to your body. Forget about old paces and distances, and instead, base your running on the cues your body is giving you.
If you’re ready to return to running after having a baby, remember that not only will you need to do so slowly, but you’ll need to do so safely. Safely navigating postpartum running means cutting your body some slack and prioritizing the activities that most of us dread: i.e., recovery.
Taking time to stretch, warm up, cool down, foam roll, and take rest days is crucial to your success with running postpartum. Whether you decreased your mileage during pregnancy or ran right up until delivery, your body has still had significant time off from the sport.
Allow your muscles time to readjust and readapt to the activity of running by helping accentuate their healing, promoting healthy gains, and reducing as many potential risks for injury as possible.
Whether you love to stretch or hate it, it’s important to make it a priority during this time. The more time you dedicate to different recovery measures now, the easier it will feel to get back to running.
Implement regular cross training.
As much as we’d love to think that we didn’t lose any fitness during or after pregnancy – we did. It might be hard to admit, especially if you led an active pregnancy, but giving birth and the few weeks after can really derail any fitness progress you made during pregnancy.
However, that’s not to say that your old fitness will never return. And luckily, if you kept up some activity during pregnancy, it likely won’t take too long to come back.
But even so, if you’re planning to return to running after having a baby, it’s important to schedule in multiple cross training days each week.
As you begin your postpartum running journey, you’ll be running far less frequently and far shorter than you were pre-pregnancy. The decreased mileage will leave extra time to fill with other activities.
Maintaining various different types of exercise is key to avoiding injuries, as well as both mental and physical burnout when returning to running. Cross training can involve anything from a walk around your block, to a trip to the gym, some postpartum core exercises, or a simple yoga routine.
Find a few cross training activities that make you feel good and be sure to add them in to your training plan as you return to running.
Find a purpose.
There’s no sugar-coating it: maintaining motivation to keep up with running postpartum is hard. Between the lack of sleep, loss of any daily schedule, the pain of recovering from childbirth, and drastic life change – the last thing on anyone’s priority list during those first few weeks and months is usually their own self-care.
However, making time for yourself and fitting in some fresh air and exercise is a great way to stay sane and navigate the many physical and mental changes taking place during this time.
If you are choosing to return to running after having a baby, remember why you are making that choice. Remind yourself that this is something for you, and take some time to really determine your purpose.
Having a purpose makes getting out there every day that much easier. Without a clear purpose, it will be all the more tempting to skip or give up after a particularly rough night, stressful day or any other obstacle.
Remember why you fell in love with running in the first place, set a few (reasonable) goals for yourself, and channel that purpose each day as you choose to make yourself a priority.
Set a positive example.
Making time for ourselves is not only important for our own well-being, but it helps us care for those around us in the best way possible. Although your baby may be young, it’s never too early to start setting a positive example for them as they grow.
Your baby will be aware of everything you do, especially as they get older, and will start to imitate your habits and hobbies before you know it.
Now is the perfect time to demonstrate that exercise is fun, help them see it in a positive light and promote an active lifestyle.
Postpartum running is a challenging journey, but it is well worth the struggles that come with it. Most runners understand just how difficult it can be to take forced time off from running. After months or years of completing an activity, taking it away can really leave you struggling to feel like yourself.
As you return to running after pregnancy, expect things to feel a bit harder than you remember. Remind yourself what your body has endured, and cut yourself a little slack as things ramp up.
Ultimately, there is no better time to embrace the struggle than during this postpartum period. Take your time, go slowly, and enjoy the endorphins.