Running After Childbirth
Becoming a mum is such a wonderful experience and running was not at the forefront of my mind. The most important thing is to enjoy that lovely newborn time, and to try to get used to those sleepless nights! Eventually there will be a moment when your mind turns to running and you might find yourself wondering how to get 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 during pregnancy you will have lost a lot of your conditioning to running 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 process things more gradually. If you were able to run during pregnancy then you'll be able to start back a bit sooner and do slightly more.
If you had a lengthy time off running during pregnancy then I'd treat yourself just like a beginner and use an approach similar to the couch to 5K. The important thing is to listen to you body and not force running upon yourself. So takes some time out and then use couch to 5k or something similar. Walking and running to begin and plenty of rest days is really going to help you to cope with the lack of sleep and reduce of the risk of injury.
For those that ran throughout pregnancy then your approach to your return still needs to be cautious due to the changes taking place in your body and the reduced amount of sleep. Whilst you can run more than those that had a compete lay off I would still takes things very slowly at first. You might not need a couch to 5k approach and you could perhaps start back with a similar amount of running that you did during pregnancy. However, make sure you factor in the time you took off during the period of the birth and graduate your return accordingly. So if you missed only a week, take a few weeks really easy. If you missed a fortnight or kore then take a much longer period of easy running, perhaps a month or two. 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 impact on 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 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 really focused my mind and eventually got through it. I was then really pleased to be able to continue breast feeding my son beyond six months.
All of this of course 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 ill and I stopped running for a few more weeks. Thankfully he pulled through and bounced back. I eventually started up again but it was now around five months after the 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 have to wait. With my second child, due to 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 gently. Both births were so different and my return to running was therefore very different. 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 is going have a huge impact on how you feel and when you are going to be able to restart your running. If you are doing all of the night feeds you're probably going to feel very tired and this will have huge implications on your ability to recover from a run. 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 huge difference. For my first born, Jacob, 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. I also had to sit with hime between feeds to keep him at just the right angle so we didn't loose the milk. Jacob had reflux for his first year and after a few months we put books under the legs at one end of his cot 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 just chew the teat of the bottle, which I found very cute and comical! I didn’t stress about any of this and just did the best I could.
You can see how you can’t plan any of this 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 great 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 smile about it!
Your Own Needs
Finally, try to remember that you matter too! You may have also had some complications or just feel extremely exhausted. My advice here is to first focus on being healthy, both in body and mind, before even thinking about running. Give yourself the time you need to adjust to having a new baby and the time to recover from any issues you might have had.It's all about feeling ready to run again and not forcing it 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 want to do and enjoy doing.
You also want to 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 tired perhaps a little time out in the fresh air doing some very gentle exercise might help to re-energise you. So maybe venture out and just 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 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 then did something that might be considered a bit bonkers and entered the national 10000m championships as my 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. If there is any advice you have then please let me know and I'll post some more advice. I haven't covered any areas I don't have experience of here including premature babies, twins or multiple pregnancies, congenital abnormalities or life limiting illnesses. I know that these present a whole different set of circumstances. I'd love to hear from any parents who have experience of these. I would be so grateful if you wanted to share you experiences and I could perhaps post it here or link to your blog.
Finally, I am an ambassador for Dreams Come True, a wonderful charity that supports children with a life limiting illness. If you'd like to find out more about this charity then please have a look at their website.
If you are recently returning to running after childbirth then I send you all my best wishes, I hope you are really enjoying that wonderful newborn time and good luck!