Six weeks after a vaginal delivery (likely longer for a cesearean section), most women are cleared to return to regular exercise activities. But does that mean it’s ok to jump back into your old running routine? That answer is not so clear.
Postpartum Training is Different
Even if you were able to run throughout your pregnancy, you will likely be unable to run the same speeds and distances as you first return to running after having your child. After all, your body went through nine months of changes—you gained weight; saw a change in your posture and center of gravity; your joints became looser; your pelvic floor muscles were taxed; basically, everything changed. And while the birth of your child is the beginning of the return to your former self, it is not a fast process. Which means, the return to your pre-baby running routine shouldn’t be a fast one either! If you run too fast or too far too soon after baby, you may end up exhausted and unable to exercise, at best. At worst? You may leave yourself with a serious running injury!
So how should you get back into running shape after baby?
The key is moderation: ease yourself back into a routine. Instead of setting out to run three miles each week, make it a goal to walk that distance first—and break your training up into several sessions over several days, with rest periods between outings.
Over the course of the next few weeks, gradually build up your distances. That’s when you can start thinking about taking some of those walking session at a slow jog. But don’t expect to run three times a week: for at least a month or two after a vaginal delivery, you may well be dealing with exercise-related incontinence, decreased strength and stamina, and a heavy dose of fatigue that can mess with your training.
Talking to Your Doctor about Post-Baby Exercise
Before creating a training schedule, it’s a good idea to check in with your feet. Make sure that your old sneakers are still fitting you correctly: feet are known to change size during pregnancy. A gait analysis may also be beneficial, as your posture and stride can also change when you’re carrying a baby.
Cross training will also become your friend, as you work to rebuild the supportive muscles that may have weakened from lack of use as your workouts tapered off towards the end of your pregnancy.
Perhaps the most important advice we can offer? You MUST listen to your body and take a pause if you experience any pain or fatigue during or after a training session. Runners are in it for the long game, and rushing a return can ultimately set you back for weeks, months or even years. If you’re determined to train hard right after baby, consider a bike or aquatics program that will place less impact on your body as you regain your former strength. Being patient with your body—and your runs—will help make your post-partum return to running as safe and painless as it can possibly be.