Recently had a baby? Looking to get back to running postpartum? Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a newbie looking for aerobic exercise, running can be an appealing choice postpartum. Running postpartum can be a great way to improve both mental and physical health. It also requires minimal equipment and a short amount of time for a good workout – just lace up and go! However, it is important to approach running postpartum with caution and take the time to prepare your body for the high-impact demands of the sport. Consider the following questions before returning to running postpartum:
#1. Before running postpartum – how long has it been since delivery?
Whether vaginal or cesarean delivery, recent guidelines recommend against returning to running postpartum until at least 3 months after delivery. Delivery is a very physically taxing event! Just as you would after a goal running race, it is important to take time for rest, recovery, and healing following delivery. This allows your muscles time to prepare for the demands of high-impact exercise again. Running is a particularly high impact sport. Studies show running can result in impact forces up to 2.9 times a person’s body weight! Consider lower impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, spinning on a stationary bike, or swimming if you feel ready for aerobic exercise before the 3-month mark.
#2. Before running postpartum – have you had a pelvic floor muscle assessment?
Pregnancy and delivery, whether vaginal or cesarean, place significant stress and stretch on the muscles of the pelvic floor and abdominals. It has been recommended that all postpartum people be offered the opportunity for a comprehensive abdominal and pelvic floor assessment. A physical therapist specializing in postpartum populations or pelvic floor physical therapy can perform this assessment. At your appointment, they will assess your muscle strength, tension, and coordination. The therapist can then provide exercises to further support your postpartum healing journey.
#3. Before running postpartum – do you notice any abnormal pelvic floor symptoms?
Do you notice urine leaking when you sneeze, cough, or lift your baby? Pressure through your pelvis when you head out on a walk? Pelvic pain while playing with your kids? Any of these could be signs of pelvic floor dysfunction and should be addressed by a pelvic floor physical therapist before running postpartum. Your therapist can help with exercises to provide adequate pelvic floor support to minimize these symptoms. Doing so will help your muscles withstand the load of childcare, return to work, and exercise.
#4. Before running postpartum – are you fit to run?
Are your muscles strong enough to support you through the impact of running? Because running is such a high-impact sport, you need adequate baseline strength to start a running program. This will help to prevent injury and, especially for running postpartum, support the pelvic floor. Many postpartum people report taking time off from strengthening exercises as their pregnancy progressed. If you have done the same, give yourself adequate time to build back strength before heading out the door for your run. Muscle strengthening can take 6-8 weeks!
Running specific strengthening work should include the calves, quadriceps, glutes, and core muscles. A general exercise program might involve heel raises, squats, bridges, and planks. See this blog post for more information! If you are unsure what exercises might be right for you, reach out to your physical therapist for a more personalized assessment.
#5. Before running postpartum – do you have enough energy to run?
Have you been waking up frequently to feed your baby through the night? Too busy taking care of the kids to eat a full meal yourself? Feeling sad or lonely? Making sure your basic needs are met is key before returning to running postpartum or to any exercise program. It is important to prioritize sleep, adequate nutrition, and mental health to limit risk of injury with any new exercise program. Your body needs adequate energy to participate in exercise. Follow up with your doctor or physical therapist with any concerns.
#6. Before running postpartum -have you considered your breastfeeding schedule?
Breastfeeding can affect your energy and hydration levels throughout the day, which can impact your running as well. Timing breastfeeding or pumping shortly before a run may help to prevent discomfort from overly full breasts during running postpartum. It is important to note that returning to moderate or vigorous postpartum running will not negatively impact breast milk or infant growth. However, it is also important to ensure good hydration and caloric intake is maintained if adding exercise to the demands of breastfeeding. Finally, ensure you have a sports bra that fits any changed shape or size of breasts during the postpartum period.
By taking the time to prepare your body and address any underlying issues, you can safely return to running postpartum. Remember to listen to your body, be patient with yourself, and enjoy this new journey! If you have questions, or aren’t sure where to start your return-to-run journey, schedule an appointment with one of Agile’s running team members for individualized guidance to help you get back on the road!
About the Author: Megan Faucher received her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Northeastern University in Boston, MA, and went on to complete a Women’s Health Physical Therapy Residency at Agile. As a therapist, Megan loves opportunities to combine exercise, athleticism, and pelvic health. A native of Boise, Idaho, she is a lover of the Western US and all things outdoor adventure. In her spare time, you can find her running, cycling, or hiking on her local trails.