Running After Childbirth
The Joys Of Breast Feeding
As I have discussed, with my first born, Jacob, I was able to express milk with a breast pump. With Emily this was not possible as she would not accept a bottle. This led to a period of time when I had to take Emily with me on some of my training runs. Gav would come along and look after Emily whilst I ran and then if she needed a feed I would have to stop, feed her, and then carry on. In the build up to my gold medal in the 2014 European Championships I would often be doing a really important track session but then have to stop part way through to feed Emily. I would feed her by the track and afterwards continue my track session. I found this quite comical and had a very relaxed approach to it all and just felt I would do what I could and that was all that mattered. I think this is the best approach when it comes to breast feeding on the run, to just go with the flow (excuse the pun), put your babies needs first, and don’t stress over it. A few minutes of disruption to a run or session really doesn't matter that much.
Another experience during breast feeding was that I would often feel very lop sided, which was only an issue when trying to run on the track. If I’d fed from one side it would be empty but the other might be full of milk. I would often wear a couple of crop tops to control the lopsided bouncing! I found all this really funny although it was a little awkward when trying to run fast round the bends!
I breast fed Emily up until the middle of April 2014. When I stopped I wanted to have an attempt at making a return to the British Athletics team. The national championships for the 10000m were extremely early in May and so when I stopped breast feeding I had around four weeks or so until the race. The problem was I was running so terribly! Whilst breast feeding I don’t really notice how well I was doing when out on a normal training run, it’s not too bad really. However, when your at the track trying to run the times you know you need to run then it’s a completely different story. My reps on the track were way off what was needed. For instance, I would be running 1000m reps in 3:15 to 3:20 instead of 2:50 to 2:55. It really was a huge gap to close. Yet something really surprising happened to me when I stopped breast feeding. With each track session I got a little quicker, then a little quicker again, until I found myself running ok again. It was such a sudden and massive shift. I still wasn’t back running quick enough but in the final two sessions I ran reasonably well and I thought this comeback race might not be so embarrassing after all! I turned up at the race and I thought to myself, what will be will be. I’ll just give it my best shot! The gun went and I felt really good and so I went to the front and decided to just keep pushing the pace. It was extremely windy so qualifying times looked difficult but to my surprise I won the race and achieved the time I needed. It was May 2014 and my last track race had been the Olympic 5000m final in August 2012. I was so thrilled. I’d gone from a c-section in September to a national champion eight months later. It all felt a bit crazy. A month before that race I was running so poorly in my sessions that I didn’t really think I would be anywhere near the front, yet it came together just in the nick of time.
I’m describing all this because I want to point out that breast feeding is so different for everyone. It effects some people much more than others. I could run at an easy pace for miles and miles but trying to run fast reps at the track just didn’t happen. Once I stopped the return to form was pretty dramatic and it showed that even though I had been running poorly I was still benefitting from the hard work. So my advice is to just crack on with training as best you can and ignore how well you’re running. Don’t worry about your times just focus on running.
I never had any concerns with not producing enough milk even though my training became pretty hard in the spring. I was running lots of miles in a week and doing lots of quality work but this didn’t seem to effect milk production. I did worry a little about breast feeding during a session as I felt there might be a higher concentration of lactic acid in the milk. Researchers have found this to be the case and the only real concern is the taste of the milk. Both Jacob and Emily drank the milk normally during a session and so I can only assume it presented no significant issue.
When you become pregnant your body will start to release the hormone relaxin. This hormone enables your pelvis to expand during the birth. It does this by increasing the laxity, or looseness, in the ligaments located around your pelvis.
Whilst relaxin is beneficial for the birth it does present a few issues for some mums postpartum. This is because the effects of relaxin can include increased mobility in joints such as those in your feet. The pubic symphysis and sacro-iliac joints can be adversely affected which can often lead to pelvic and lower back issues. Personally I experienced problems with my feet. It’s interesting to note that I never had stress fractures during my career but after my first baby I had two in my feet!
Relaxin also has an impact on the other joints in the body too, most notably the hip joints, shoulders and ankles. All this can result in increased ligament laxity and perhaps some level of hypermobility, both of which can have long lasting effects.
I noticed a few issues although I don’t think my biomechanics were particularly effected. Interestingly after my first child I went from a size five on both feet to a size five and a half on one of my feet! My arch seemed to have slightly dropped and therefore lengthened in one foot. This means I now have to wear two different sized shoes! You may or may not notice any effects from childbirth but I believe my stress fractures and arch issues are as probably too much of a coincidence and likely a result of childbirth.
Your pelvic floor will be affected both during your pregnancy and during the birth of your child. I addressed this post birth with pelvic floor exercises. As I was aware this might be an issue I had also prepared myself during pregnancy by doing regular pelvic floor exercises.
Your aim should be to start Pelvic floor exercises during your pregnancy and then continue after you have given birth. As a runner these exercises are a great part of your strength training and so even when you return your pelvic floor to normal I would recommend you continue with the exercises.