Returning to running postpartum: How to do it safely
Many women are keen to start running postpartum, and I totally get why; it’s such a convenient way to exercise. You just whack on some trainers and a sports bra, shoot out your door and you’re exercising. No equipment. No driving to a gym. No class times. No interaction with other humans (this is the biggest draw).
Just you and the road and OUTSIDE.
It can be a relief to feel our bodies and breathe fresh air when we’re trapped in the house all day with a newborn.
But like all activities, running has risks and rewards within the context of that postpartum period.
I hear a lot of proud statements like “I started running 2 weeks postpartum”. I always ask clients their goals and more than a few times I’ve been told bold assertions like, “I signed up to a half marathon 6 months after the birth. I need to train for it.”
Bearing in mind that you can’t actually do formal exercise until 6 weeks post birth, this is a tall ask. Add to that the fact that your body is recovering, your pelvic floor is still healing, you might be sleeping nowhere near enough and you have to take care of a tiny but demanding little human 24/7, this might not be a realistic goal... and you’re likely to run yourself into the ground.
Which is why, in this Postpartum Running post, I'll cover the following...
Breaking down the risks vs rewards of running postpartum
Layout some conditions that you should meet BEFORE you start running postpartum (and a possible timeline)
Describe what sort of PREPARATION you should do before returning to running
Give you some ideas for implementing running GRADUALLY (rather than going from 0-10K in one run)
How soon after birth can you run?
The biggest concern when we talk about running postpartum is the pelvic floor, which goes through an awful lot during pregnancy and birth. Even in a birth with no tears or episiotomy, the pelvic floor muscles will have been stretched to their very limits. They remain quite stretched out for sometime after, and the entrance to the vagina is quite wide.
This means that there is far less support for your pelvic organs, which have also been through a bit of a whirlwind... your uterus in particular. The uterus weighs over a kilogram at the end of pregnancy (not including its contents which could weigh up to 6 or more kilos depending on the weight of the baby).
After the baby is born, the uterus takes quite some time to shrink, and so while the pelvic floor muscles are still healing from birth, they are having to cope with this additional weight. This is why it is so important to take weight OFF your feet and get your hips at least in line with your chest).
The ligaments holding your uterus up are likely to have also been stretched out a lot, and it will take time for them to regain their tone (again, while dealing with the 10-fold weight of the uterus).
Add to that the fact that you’re still swimming in a sea of hormones designed to make birth easier and make your ligaments more lax. It will take some time for everything to return to pre-pregnancy levels, especially if you are breastfeeding, which prolongs the hormonal shit-show of pregnancy.