So you were a runner before you were pregnant, and your growing belly slowed you down. Now that you’re six-week post-labor, your doctor is giving you the green light to resume all activities. What thrilling news. Running is a fantastic way to build cardiovascular capacity and strength, lose weight, and have some well-deserved “me time.”
But wait… It’s also a high-impact sport that involves your entire body, and you may want to give yourself a little bit more time to heal before lacing up and heading out. To help you understand why, here is the truth about running postpartum, and what you can do to get ready for your first postnatal run:
- Pelvic floor weakness is common.
What is it about? Both pregnancy and birth weaken and stretch the pelvic floor -- the sling of muscles that supports your bladder, bowel and uterus. Having a weak pelvic floor makes it harder to squeeze the muscles at the bottom of your bladder, and if you exercise before shaping it back up, you may find that you leak a little wee.What can you do about it? In France, pelvic floor rehabilitation is mandatory and covered by insurance. It isn’t the case in the US, but you can (and should) do exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles soon after birth.
- You may have diastasis recti.What is it about? Diastasis recti is the separation of the abdominal muscles and the thinning of the tissue connecting them. This condition, which can result in a gaping hole, is common among new moms. It needs to be checked for, and you should bring those muscles back together to prevent further separation. What can you do about it? Your personal trainer, doctor or midwife should check for the condition. If the space between your left and right belly muscles is ½-finger wide, it isn’t severe. If it is 4-finger wide, your core is weak, and you may be at risk for developing hernias. One very effective exercise to strengthen your transverse abdominis (the deep core muscle) is “imprinting,” as you would do in Pilates. Or check out these core exercises.
- Your breasts can feel heavy or sore.What is it about? Whether you are nursing or not, your rib cage and breasts are larger and heavier than they used to be. The up-and-down bounce of running can make this condition worse. What can you do about it? Now more than ever, you want to invest in a good sports bra. It should provide support, be easy to put on and off, and allow for nursing, if needed. If you are breastfeeding, it should be breathable to prevent mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue that can occur when you sweat and compress your breasts and nipples. Here are our favorite bras: Title Nine , Shock Absorber , and Moving Comfort.
- Irregular bowel movements happen.What is it about? New moms are notoriously plagued with constipation, and running can help loosen things up. But it can be difficult for your gut to adjust to the running motion, and you may end up having that infamous run with “the runs.” What you can do about it? Make sure not to eat too much and wait a little while before pounding the pavement. You’ll also want to fuel up on foods that are easy to digest and that can rev up your engine. Try to snack on a banana, toasts with peanut butter, or oatmeal.
- Postpartum can come with flat feet and swollen lower legs.What is it about? With a baby born, come swollen legs and a different shoe size. The weight that women gain during pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on their feet and can cause the arch of the foot to flatten. What can you do about it? The good news is, it’s a great excuse to go (running) shoe shopping. Before you start running again, get fitted for a good pair of running shoes with ankle and arch support.
Congratulations on running again. It’s such a great way to relax and get back in shape. But remember, getting back on the trail is a marathon, not a race. So take a few precautions, and you’ll get your groove back in no time.
Photography by Justin Borucki for Well Rounded NY.