Running post-baby can be incredibly freeing—and a great way to bond with your baby—but it can also be dangerous (hello, prolapse!). We spoke with running moms and running pros (who are also moms) to get the deets on how and when to don those jogging shoes.
It’s important to strengthen your core, including your pelvic floor, before returning to high-impact activities like running, says Dannan Siano, runner, mom of three and owner of Viva Physical Therapy, which specializes in women’s issues related to pregnancy and postpartum.“If you don’t give your body enough time to build up a strong core after having your baby, you may experience lower back pain, pelvic girdle pain, urinary incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction or even pelvic organ prolapse,” she says. Siano recommends that before running, women do a pelvic floor and core strengthening program (this typically involves exercises like pelvic floor contractions, lumbar strengthening, abdominal strengthening and breath work.) A run/walk program can also be a good way to transition back into running post-baby, as it will ease your body back into this type of movement. That’s what Jacquelyn Baston, a certified personal trainer, 10-time marathoner (she will be doing her 11th marathon in November of 2018) and mother of one did after her son was born. She started strength training and swimming six weeks postpartum, and resumed running at six months with a walk/run interval routine on the treadmill. “Mentally, I was very excited to be active again,” Baston says. “Physically, I couldn’t believe how different my body felt. “I am still a breastfeeding mom, and the feeling of extra-heavy boobs bouncing around was very exhausting. My legs also felt like dead weight.” It took Baston three weeks of running three days per week to go three miles (about 5 km) without stopping.
Chicagoan and author Kathleen Dragan gave up running 27 weeks into her pregnancy because she felt too awkward and slow to keep going. But as soon as she was six weeks postpartum, her doctor gave her the go-ahead, and she was back. Sorta. “On the one hand, running felt great afterwards because I had missed it so much, but I was also much slower, and got winded easily, which was frustrating at first,” she says. Megan Farley, a pediatric physical therapist in Illinois, says she also waited until six weeks to get the all-clear. When she took her first few runs, she felt like she didn’t have much abdominal strength, and her organs didn’t really seem like they were in the right places, she says. But within two-to-three weeks, she was back to her pre-pregnancy normal, though not her pre-pregnancy speeds. “Aside from being absolutely exhausted, I powered through all the strange initial sensations of going back to running without a baby on board because I wasn’t going to not go back to running.” Symptoms like fatigue, slowness and stiff joints are pretty typical after a long absence from running but if anything feels really off, don't push through and make an appointment to see a doctor ASAP.
Your body will give you clear signs that you re-joined the running world too soon, says Kendra Fitzgerald, a mother, postpartum corrective exercise specialist, personal trainer and yoga teacher. These include: peeing when you jump or run, any pain when you try to run, feeling like your insides are falling out when you jump or run, pain in your pubic symphysis (front of the pubic bone), repeated side stitches, knee pain, hip pain, neck pain and things just feeling wrong or out of place, Fitzgerald says. “None of this is normal,” she says. If any of these happen, decrease the intensity until you don’t feel the discomfort anymore, Fitzgerald says. For example, walk at a brisk pace or at an incline, and book an appointment to see a pelvic floor physical therapist. “As you go through treatment, you can gradually increase the intensity of your walking until you work back up to running pain-free,” she says.
If your baby is a challenging daytime sleeper, then use your running time to lure your baby into a sweet slumber. Or, if they’re awake, they can sightsee, Fitzgerald says. But first, take the baby out for a walk in your jogging stroller (Fitzgerald loves the Bob Revolution) before you gear up for a full run to test the waters. “You don’t want to get excited and ready for your first run only to find out your baby doesn’t tolerate the stroller for more than two minutes,” she says. Your child should be at least eight-months-old to be out for a run, and have good head control. Lauren Collins, a mother and co-founder of SISSFiT, an online fitness community for women specializing in HIIT-based training for the full body and programs to improve running, says she started running at eight weeks, after doing a six-week postpartum program to make sure her body was ready for exercise. She suggests running on the treadmill while the baby naps, or walking steep hills with your baby in the stroller (she uses the Joovy Zoom 360 Ultralight) until he’s big enough to go for runs. As he gets bigger, she says to stick to smoother surfaces. And dressing him correctly is essential. “Just because I’m running and sweating doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s warm enough for him,” Baston says. “I also stop frequently to feel his hands and cheeks to make sure he’s not too hot or too cold.”