Running After Childbirth
Becoming a mum is such a wonderful experience and running was not really at the forefront of my mind. The most important thing for me was to enjoy that lovely newborn time, and to try to get through all those sleepless nights! Eventually there will be a moment when your mind does turn to running and you might find yourself wondering how on earth do I start back? Here are some of my tips based on my experiences and the approach I adopted
Getting Back To Running
There are a few factors that will determine when to start back and how much running you can safely do.
If you didn't run at all during pregnancy you will have lost your conditioning and so will have to wait a while before you can start running. You'll also have to take a much more careful approach to your return and ensure much more gradual progress. If you were able to run during pregnancy then you'll be able to start back a bit sooner, do slightly more and progress your training more quickly.
If you did have a lengthy time without any running during your pregnancy then I would treat yourself just like you're a beginner. I would use an approach similar to the couch to 5K that involves walking and jogging and then gradually increasing the running. I prefer a more flexible approach to fixed schedules and the important thing is to listen to your body and respond appropriately to how you feel ion a given day and any niggles you might have. You don't want to blindly follow schedules and try not to force anything you're not comfortable doing. If you're in no rush I would take some extra time off with your new born and then when you're ready try a walk and jog return to running with plenty of rest days! Consider adding some extra rest days to help you to cope with the lack of sleep too.
For those that ran throughout pregnancy then your approach to your return still needs to be cautious due to the many changes taking place to your body and your reduced sleep. Whilst you can run more than those that had a compete lay off I would still takes things very slowly at first. I think a walk and run approach is still the best option although this would only last for a week or so. You would then quickly return to a similar amount of running that you did during the latter part of your pregnancy. However, make sure you factor in all the time you took off during the birthing period and graduate your return accordingly. So if you missed only a week, take the first few weeks really easy. If you missed three weeks or more then take a much longer period of easy running, perhaps a month or so. The important thing is to listen to your body and go with how you feel.
Not all births are the same and this going to hugely impact your return. In 2009 I had an emergency caesarean and a very poorly baby and so running was very far from my thoughts. I was only thinking about my lovely little baby boy and spending every second devoted to him. Fortunately after a blood transfusion he recovered but due to only weighing in at 5lbs 9oz I had to feed him every 90 minutes to try to get his weight up. Thankfully after a few weeks this became 2 hours and then 3 hours but it was exhausting. I breast fed throughout but then had my own complication as I was hospitalised with mastitis. I felt very poorly for a few days but I was determined to continue breast feeding. It was extremely painful but I got through it. I was then really pleased to be able to continue breast feeding my son beyond six months.
All of this delayed my return to running for a couple of months but I didn’t stress about it at all. When I started back I did so very cautiously and really took my time. However after a month or so my son was admitted to hospital with bronchiolitis. He was very seriously ill and struggling to breath. Thankfully he pulled through and bounced back. After almost another month missed I started running again but it was now around five months after Jacob's birth!
You can see how personal circumstances and complications can greatly impact on any return to running you may have planned. My only thoughts were for my son and running would just have to wait. With my second child, due to my personal risk factors I also had a caesarean but thankfully this time there were no complications and after my recovery from the caesarean I was soon back running. Both births were so different and impacted very differently on my return. You can’t plan any of this, you just have to go with the flow and do the best you can. Just make sure you follow the golden rule of putting your baby first.
The Needs Of Your Newborn
The newborn time is so precious and wonderful, and it’s also really exhausting! Your baby's feeding and sleep routine will influence how you feel and when you are going to be able to restart your running. For instance if you are doing all the night feeds you're probably going to feel extremely tired and this will have obvious implications on your ability to recover from a run. You will have to include more recovery days and easy runs in your schedule. If you are bottle feeding, or you're able to express breast milk, then you might get a helping hand from your partner during the night and this can make a big difference. For my first born I had to do all the feeds whilst in hospital but when I got home my husband Gav could help with some bottle feeds of expressed milk. However this didn’t go quite to plan as my son had severe reflux meaning we lost lots of the expressed milk and so I would have to feed Jacob myself. Gav or I also had to sit with him between feeds to keep him at just the right angle so we didn't loose the milk. I grabbed the odd hours sleep here and there as best I could. Jacob had reflux for his first year and after a few months we put books under the legs at one end of his cot to tilt it which really helped. With my second child Emily, although she had no complications, I still had to do all the night feeds as she refused to take expressed milk from a bottle. They really don’t make it is easy for you!🤪
Emily would chew the bottle teat, which I found very cute and comical! I didn’t stress about any of this and just did the best I could under the ridiculous circumstances.
You can see how you can’t plan newborn stuff! I remember a few mums saying that it would all be ok as you can get Gav to help with the nights feeds. This would have been perfect but it didn’t work out that way! All your clever ideas before giving birth are just that, they are ideas, in the end the reality can be very different. So my advice is to have a plan but if it all goes wrong, have a laugh and just do what you can! I believe the best thing to do is resign yourself to your lot and muddle through as best you can. Try to embrace whatever situation you're confronted with and not stress about it. Find fun in the silliness and embrace fully the joys of being a new mum. If you do what you can when you can eventually it all works out fine. It might not be as quick and as smooth a return as you hoped for, but that's not really too bad, so long as plug away you will eventually find yourself back running.
Your Own Needs
Remember that you matter too! You may have had some complications with the birth or just feel extremely exhausted all the time. If so my advice is to focus on being healthy in body and mind, before even thinking about running. Give yourself the time you need for the huge adjustments that having a new baby brings and allow yourself time to recover from any issues you might have experienced. Your mental well-being is important too and it's all about feeling ready to run and not forcing yourself when you're not yet ready. You might find your raring to go a few days after the birth but equally you might need a month or so. It really doesn’t matter and there are no hard and fast rules. Running should never be endured or a chore, the whole point it that it should be something you enjoy!
If you are mentally struggling then be mindful of the fact that going for a run might benefit you even if you don’t realise it. Sometimes what you need isn’t always what you feel like. Even when feeling really tired a gentle run in the fresh air might help to re-energise you. So maybe venture out and see how it goes. Don’t worry if you start back running only to stop again, it really doesn’t matter, there are no Brownie points for how quickly you can get back! Whether someone takes a few weeks or a whole year, it really doesn’t matter.
After both births I had no thoughts at all about any timescale or targets. When I had Emily I wasn’t stressing about getting back to full training, I just took each day at a time and very gradually I got back into my running. It was only a few months later when I was running every day that I then started to have thoughts about races. I next did something that might be considered a bit bonkers and entered the national 10000m championships as my first comeback race! A few months later I was running towards the finish line at the European Championships in total disbelief that I was perhaps going to win!
Further advice →
I really hope this has been helpful. I understand some of us have very different experiences of both childbirth and becoming a new mum. Premature births, illness, disability or postnatal depression all present very different circumstances and I've only covered those areas that I personally experienced.
If you are recently returning to running after childbirth then I wish you all the best. Good luck and remember to have fun!