Running After Childbirth
Returning to running after giving birth is going to be a very different experience for each of us. For instance, if you were able to run throughout your pregnancy then this is going to influence the amount of running you can do when you return to running. In this post I’ll share my experiences when returning to running after giving birth.
Factors that determine your return to running after childbirth:
The amount of running you did during pregnancy
How long before the birth did you stop running
How long after the birth did you wait before returning to running
Did you have any birth complications and did you have a natural birth or c-section
The needs of your newborn
Your own needs
The Amount Of Running You Did During Pregnancy
This is going to determine the amount of running you can do when you start back. Here’s my advice on what to do.
If you didn’t run at all during pregnancy then I would wait a little longer after the birth before returning to running. Your body is going to be completely de-conditioned from running due to the lengthy lay off. Your muscles, tendons and bones will need time to re-condition as you gradually start back running. You’ll need to progress your running at a much slower rate. I would advise that you treat yourself like a beginner and use a similar programme to the couch to 5k. I would also listen to your body and wait until you feel like running. Don’t force it upon yourself. Wait until it feels right.
How Long Before The Birth Did You Stop Running
Some women run right up to the day before they give birth. I personally stopped about three weeks before giving birth. I did this because I felt very tired and I was listening to my body. It felt right for me. We are all different and I would advise following what you think feels right for you.
Because I had three weeks off it meant that my return would have to be just a little more gradual to allow my body to re-condition after the relatively short lay off. The need for a couch to 5k programme would not be necessary but you still might want to start with some walk – jog – walk for a few days just to ease yourself back in. The rate at which you can build up the running would be much greater than if you did no running during pregnancy but you would still need to be very careful. I think the priority is to focus on enjoying being a mum and being the best mum you can be and so running should fit around that.
How Long After The Birth Did You Wait Before Returning To Running
This is similar to the previous factor. If you took only a few days off and then started to run then your are not going to have lost much conditioning but if you took a few weeks you will have to start much more gradually. Again this will also relate to the running you did in pregnancy and how long before the birth you stopped running. You’ll need to consider all these factors when you plan your return.
Did You Have Any Birth Complications And Did You Have A Natural Birth Or C-section
Not all births are the same and this going to impact on your return. In 2009 I had an emergency c-section and a very poorly baby and so running was so 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 made a quick recovery but due to only weighing 5lbs 9oz I had to feed him every 90 minutes to try to get his weight up. This soon 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 on my objective to keep breast feeding 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 but I didn’t even think about running for a couple of months. 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 couple more weeks. I eventually started up again but it was now around four months after the birth. You can see how personal circumstances and complications can greatly impact on any return to running. With my second child I also had a c-section but there were no complications and after a couple of months recovery from the c-section I was 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. If you follow the golden rule of putting your baby first then in the end everything will work out fine.
The Needs Of Your Newborn
That newborn time is so precious and wonderful and it’s also really exhausting. Your babies feeding and sleep routine is going have an impact on how you feel and when you are going to be able to start running. If you are breast feeding and doing all of the feeds throughout the night you might feel different to a new mum who is either formula feeding or bottle feeding with expressed milk. This is because they might have a helping hand from their partner during the night. For my first born I had to do all the feeds whilst in hospital but when I got home my husband 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 him myself. 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! I found it very comical and didn’t stress about it. Again you can see how you can’t plan any of this. I remember mums saying that it would be ok as you can get Gav to do the nights feeds. This would have been great but it didn’t work out that way. All your ideas before giving birth are just that, they are ideas. The reality can be very different.
The health and weight of your baby will also be a factor and smaller babies often feed more regularly. This will also impact on a return to running. Again don’t worry about it. Just do what you can.
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, overcoming any issues you had and just feeling ready to run again. 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.
I would also keep in mind that running might actually benefit you even if you don’t realise it. Sometimes what you need isn’t always what you feel like. Perhaps a little time out in the fresh air doing some 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 is no brownie points for how quick you can get back. Whether someone takes a few weeks or a whole year, it really doesn’t matter. We are all different and you must do what’s right for you.
Your Return To Running
You can see how all these factors come together to determine your return to running. You might have to consider one of them, some of them, or even all of them.
What’s really important is to focus on your newborn baby. 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 daft, I went and entered the national 10000m championships as my comeback race. It would be normal after childbirth to maybe ease your way back into competition with some low key events first. I would also normally do some warm up races prior to a national championships just to help get me race sharp however due to the quick turn around I had no time to do this. I was straight back in at the deep end. I didn’t think about doing well in that race until about a fortnight before when my training started to improve. It was only during the race itself where I was thinking to myself that I might actually win this. My point here is that I didn’t spend one moment of that newborn time worrying about my running. I simply concentrated on being the best possible mum I could be for my little baby and I let the running play second fiddle to that. My running very slowly came together very slowly over many months. So my advice is to not think about racing or getting really fit with any kind of timescale in mind. Let your baby and your body determine your rate of return. Give all your energy and love to that wonderful little bundle of joy you have just given the precious gift of life to. I think if you do this then you might even find that your running is that much more pleasurable when you get back.
When I run I have always embraced everything that it throws at me. The thrill of running fast on a warm summers day or the challenge of a very steep hill in freezing rain are so different and you approach them differently. My mind is ultimately what allows me to embrace both these extremes positively. If you choose to, you can take control! Likewise with a newborn you could easily fall into the trap of thinking because it is so exhausting you start finding yourself wishing the time away. This is normal at times of discomfort or hardship but it is also detrimental. When I run, by embracing being uncomfortable, I never wish anything away. Through my running I have become good at being in total control of my mind and not letting it control me. It’s amazing what you can achieve just by simply adopting the right mindset. Through my experiences, over many decades of running, I naturally found myself having a more positive approach during my day to day life. To really focus on enjoying the moment that I’m experiencing. With my newborn child I instinctively adopted this approach too, trying to really saviour the precious time when they are so tiny. I knew how quickly this amazing stage would pass. You only have that tiny baby for a few short months so embrace all that comes with it and cherish that time. Sleepless nights, never ending piles of laundry, nappy changes, sterilising, etc…it’s all part of the experience. Before you know it you’ll be on the way to a playgroup and find yourself enjoying the next chapter of parenthood. My point is just really enjoy and treasure being a mum. If you’re a passionate runner you will one day find yourself out running again but let this happen whilst allowing yourself to be a good mum. Don’t wish away anything and don’t miss out on precious moments that you’ll never get back. I learned that by not stressing, by being busy, sometimes very disorganised, and by being a normal mum that not only did I eventually return to running but I had perhaps my best ever year as an elite runner. You can breath new life into yourself simply by letting go and going with the flow a little. Focus on being happy first and I can assure you that so many good things might then flow from that. I really believe that by being a mum I become a better runner and I also believe that running helps me be a better mum too. Running energises, invigorates and refreshes me. This is exactly what I need!
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 me having to take Emily with me on all 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 then when she had finished I would continue the track session. It was quite comical but I 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 anything. A few minutes of disruption to a run or session really doesn't matter.
Another issue you might experience was that whilst I was breast feeding I would often feel very lop sided, which was only a concern when trying to run faster on the track. If I’d fed Emily 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 bouncing too. 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 mid 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 to go. The problem was I was running so terribly! Whilst breast feeding you don’t really notice if you’re just 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 to return to world class level 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. The difference is enormous and way off world class. Yet something really surprising happened to me when I stopped breast feeding. With each track session I just got a little quicker, then a little more quicker 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 race might not be so embarrassing after all! I turned up at the trial race and I just 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 actually gone from a c-section and not being able to walk in early 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 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. I seemed to run particularly bad but once I stopped the return to form was pretty swift. 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 quite full on in the spring. I was running over one miles per week 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 that I never had stress features during my career but after my first baby I had two in my foot.
Relaxin also has an impact on the other joints in the body too, most notably the hip joints, shoulders and ankles. All this can resultant 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 5 on both feet to a 5 one foot and 5 1/2 on the other! My arch seemed to have slightly lengthened in one foot, collapsing slightly. 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 foot 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.
Hope this has been helpful. Remember this is only my experience and advice. You will have your own circumstances. Good luck!