How to Safely Return to Run Postpartum

Let me tell you a story of two women who have nothing in common other than – they were both 6-week postpartum! Ashley was running 6 miles daily for most of her adult life all the way till week 33….she loved running and was itching to lace up post baby. Veronica enjoyed leisurely walks and hiking with her friends and exercised if and when life allowed. She stayed active in pregnancy with neighborhood walks and an occasional yoga class. Both Ashley and Veronica had a 6-week check up after birth and were given the green light to “ease back into exercises.” Same advice to two entirely different moms meant two very different things!! Veronica went for a walk that day for 5 mins longer than her previous walk and Ashley went for an “easy” 3 mile run ! 

Easing back means different things to different people and for years it has bothered me that we are failing our new moms when it comes to postpartum exercise advice. Giving all moms the same advice even though they are all very different in their athletic ability, birth story and circumstances is putting them at risk for injuries. However, in 2019 that changed with an excellent piece of research based advice published in the UK for postpartum return to running. Running is a moderate to vigorous impact exercise and with that in mind read along for some postpartum return to run advice.

Two women running on a trail indicating mom runners

Take your time to return to run postpartum..

Whether you are signed up for your next marathon or you are a 2 mile run on a good day kinda mama, It is important that you understand how running impacts the pelvic floor before you return to run postpartum. Running produces ground reaction forces that need to be managed by our body’s internal pressure management system. Our abdominal and pelvic muscle team has a very efficient intra-abdominal pressure management system. However, after having a baby your abdominal wall and pelvic muscles might get weaker or injured.These muscles might need time and slow progressions to safely resume their duties.

Often in the clinic when I tell my postpartum runners to take it slow, I can see the disappointment in their face. I get it! You are itching to return to your trails for many reasons but for mostly feeling like yourself! The reward of a good run is just too tempting for many of us and yet I promise you- you will thank yourself later for taking it slow! After 15 years of working with pregnant and postpartum athletes I have never heard someone say, “I wish I had done more”. Unfortunately I have seen many moms regret doing too much too soon after a baby! Excessive forces on a healing postpartum body are often associated increased risk of injuries and pelvic problems such as prolapse, urinary incontinence and pain

So….How long should I wait to return to run postpartum?

Depending on your specific situation the answer varies. However, in most cases the minimum period to wait after birth is 12 weeks. Some runners are outliers and can safely return to running sooner provided they have been cleared by their pelvic floor physical therapist. 

If 12 weeks feel like a long time to wait for running, please start working on strength exercises focused towards running preparation. Don’t know where to start? Let’s chat

Common struggles of mom-runners..

At the risk of stating the obvi..life is different after a baby! Gone are the days when you just lace up and head out the door. It takes planning.. Planning the nap..planning the feed…and the list goes on.

Whether your baby is new or a middle schooler…there is always something your mom brain is planning and that is not going to change anytime soon! So my advice, embrace the uncertainty. Some runs will have to be cut short and some postponed..that’s how it goes. Baby is teething? Mom-runner might see that reflected in her post-run fatigue. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to improvise your run-schedules, change the plan and on some days ditch the plan!

The second common struggle I see is pelvic problems. Some women feel urine leakage while some get a sense of pelvic heaviness and at other times there is pain. Pelvic problems are not the new normal for your mom-bod..it is fixable.. Go see a pelvic PT. These problems have better outcomes the sooner you intervene so before you start with “I will do that one of these days..” hear me say- DO IT TODAY! Call a pelvic PT and set up an appointment. Taking care of yourself is the best way to take care of your family. Because you and I both know, running is way more than exercise for all runners but definitely mom-runners. 

Things you need to watch for as you return to run postpartum

Avoid BLAH …to make sure you are not over extending yourself

List of symptoms you need to watch for ,

  • Bleeding – Vaginal bleeding during or after a run
  • Leakage – Leaking urine during a run
  • Heaviness– Vaginal or pelvic heaviness or pressure
  • Aftershock– If you feel disproportionately tired after a run you might be overdoing 

Level up mama..

Use this Quick Check-List to see if you are ready?

  • Can you do unbroken single leg squats from a chair at least 8-10x without any pain / pressure/ leak?
  • Can you jump in place for a minute on both legs and single leg without any pain / pressure/ leak?
  • Can you jog in place at a reasonable heart rate ( read heavy breathing) without any pain / pressure/ leak?
  • Can you hold a plank for a minute without any pain / pressure/ leak?
  • Are you well rested and well nourished to add an endurance sport to your current daily routine?

The Takeaway

After a baby your vagina might not be run-ready even if you are. This Is not forever and taking it slow gives you an opportunity to do it right!

Urine leakage, pelvic heaviness and pain are symptoms of treatable postpartum muscle issues and need to be addressed by a skilled professional read Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist.

Need an expert to guide you through? Let’s chat.

A woman ( Darshana- author ) standing with running race gear at finish line

Namaste,

Darshana

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