Workout Wednesday Vol. 3: Postpartum Running

Welcome back to Workout Wednesday! Here is a reader question on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, especially right now, as I recently had a baby– postpartum running.

Q: When is a good time to start running after having a baby?

A: The short answer is, whenever your doctor or midwife clears you for exercise. This is typically six weeks postpartum if you gave birth vaginally or six to eight weeks out if you had a C-section. Please note, my advice is NOT intended to be a replacement for a visit to your doctor’s office. Always consult a physician before beginning an exercise program.

I hate short answers.

If you still have any bleeding, even if you’re at the six week mark, you are still healing and should hold off on running or any other vigorous exercise (also, let your healthcare provider know what’s going on). The reason you bleed after you have a baby is that your placenta has separated from your uterus, creating a big old wound. As the wound heals, your bleeding lessens. The more you rest in the initial post-partum weeks, the easier the wound will heal. Even if you feel great, if you keep jostling the healing tissue around with unnecessary activities like power walks, running, jumping, and/or schlepping the baby around (ugh, carrying those god-awful carseats!?) it will take longer to heal. For the first six weeks, order whatever you need online or send someone to the store for you! Everything else can wait.

Allowing your body time to rest in the early postpartum weeks will be beneficial not just for the short-term (quicker, easier recovery) but also long-term. All your organs got moved and scrunched while they were making room for your baby. After you have the baby, they need to find their rightful homes again. Doing too much right after you have the baby keeps them from doing this and may set you up for problems like a prolapsed bladder when you are menopausal and gravity becomes your enemy. At least that’s what my midwife told me, and I’ll tell you what, that scared me into agreeing to a whole lot of rest!

I admit I had the luxury of family helping me and my husband taking a significant amount of paternity leave (some vacation time and some unpaid) after the birth of each of my girls. If there’s any way you can make it happen, the more help you can get, the better. I love this article that talks more about the unrealistic expectations our culture places on new moms.

So, let’s say you’re no longer bleeding and your provider gives you the green light on exercise. Start out slow and easy, and most importantly, listen to your body. You can always add speed and miles later. Initially, go at a relaxed pace that allows you to hold a conversation and take breaks to walk when you need to. Limit your first outing to 20-30 minutes. Listen to your body. If you’re uncomfortable because you’re breathing harder than you want to be at a pace that’s slower than you’re used to, or you’re tired after just a mile or two when you used to bang out seven miles, no problem, accept that that’s just how it’s going to be for a while. If you keep after it, you’ll get back to where you were pre-baby  (and maybe even beyond, as was the case for me, after Sweet Pea was born).

If you’re uncomfortable because any of your organs feel like they might fall out (I’ve heard this feeling described as the feeling of a tampon being halfway out), you have soreness in your public bones, pain at your c-section scar, pain at your perineum/vagina, pain at the site of any tearing and/or stitches, soreness or aching at your hip joints, or any other pain or discomfort I failed to mention pertaining to your baby-having parts, pay attention. This is your body’s way of telling you to back off.

When I started working out after I had Sweet Pea, I struggled with pain in my hip joints. Despite the pain, I trained for and raced a 5k run, a sprint triathlon, and a four mile run before the baby was five months old. (I think I forgot I was 33, not 23). I was frantic to get the pain under control, scheduling visits with my physical therapist, experimenting with my gait, and scratching my head, wondering why this was happening to me, when I was so fired up to run after a long break. I finally took a couple of weeks entirely off from running. My hips were back to normal after that break, at which point, the baby was nearly six months old. In hindsight, it’s obvious that I jumped back into running too abruptly. I can’t believe that I didn’t see it at the time, but at least I’ve learned from that experience.

This time around, I’m trying to be more respectful of my body’s signals. Since Lady Bug was six weeks old, I have been exercising about five times a week, running (with some walking mixed in) a few times a week, and also doing indoor cycling, hiking with Lady Bug in the Ergo carrier, and swimming. It’s now been just over three weeks since I’ve been exercising again and I’m noticing that if I run/walk beyond about 30-40 minutes, my pubic bones feel sore. Since I’ve noticed this, I have limited my run/walks to a maximum of 30 minutes. Meanwhile, I have no choice but to run slowly because I am nowhere near my normal fitness level. I can’t say exactly how slow I run outside because I haven’t worn my Garmin, but I run 5.7-6.0 mph at a 0% incline on my treadmill.

I’m happy just to be running at all, at this point. I stopped running in the first trimester of my pregnancy because it was making me unreasonably short of breath. I continued to swim and bike (inside) up to the 38th week of my pregnancy, at which point, I decided simply living and taking care of my toddler were hard enough. I preferred to save my energy for the work of labor. I have no regrets about that!

With Sweet Pea at 4 mo old, after the 2012 Boulder Sprint Triathlon.

With Sweet Pea at 4 mo old, after the 2012 Boulder Sprint Triathlon.

I share my experience just so you know what worked (and hasn’t worked!) for me and so you know where I’m coming from. Your experience may be very different!

What postpartum fitness/running advice would you give to new moms? What has been your experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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