So, you’ve made it through three long trimesters of pregnancy and your little one has arrived. Congratulations! It is normal to not feel like yourself and want to get the parts of your life that make you feel most like ‘yourself’ back, but if running is one of them, don’t expect to jump right back in as if nothing happened.
A lot has happened: Your body just experienced major trauma, even if you had the most peaceful birthing experience. Because of all of the healing ahead, getting back into exercise is going to be a process. You may just be reading this to find out exactly when you can run again, but unfortunately, the answer isn’t as black and white as you may hope.
“Obviously, there’s a huge range of birth experiences, so the recovery time is going to be very individualized,” shares Sarah Canney, a mom, coach, co-founder of the Rise.Run.Retreat and the voice of Run Far Girl. “It’s important to remember that there’s no cookie-cutter answer, but I can say from experience that a more conservative approach will always serve you better long-term than jumping the gun and getting back to exercising too soon.”
There are a few rules you should follow when returning to running postpartum — especially during those three months after giving birth, now known as the ‘fourth trimester’ — to make sure your return to the sport is both healthy and happy.
WHEN IT’S OK TO START RUNNING
The first consideration to make when resuming physical activity after giving birth is the type of delivery you had. With a vaginal delivery or a cesarean section (C-section) you are able to walk fairly soon. However, if you have a C-section, you will need assistance from a nurse the first few times you get up to move around the hospital. This is, of course, only if you had a birth free of complications.
“If [you have] an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, [you] can start with walking right away,” confirms Dr. Octavia Cannon, president of the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists and co-owner of Arboretum Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Light jogging is reasonable after 2–4 weeks, but [you] should check with [your] doctor first. If the [you had] a cesarean section, [you] should take it more slowly. [You] can start with walking and work [your] way up; nothing heavy, prolonged or strenuous without first checking with [your] doctor.”
Though Dr. Cannon says you can start light jogging a few weeks after giving birth vaginally, she adds that patients thinking about more strenuous workouts — such as rejoining a boot camp — should wait until after they’ve discussed it with their doctor at a six-week visit. That is when most doctors will clear you for light exercise and activity. With a C-section, you are often not cleared to lift anything heavier than the baby and car seat before that visit, so your wait to return to the sport will be a bit longer.
WHAT IF YOU RAN DURING PREGNANCY?
Women who were more active and maintained an exercise routine during pregnancy will have an easier time returning to running. A few weeks postpartum is not the time to start a new running routine if you have never run before or begin a rigorous marathon training program if you were active during pregnancy.
Though a return to running will be easier for those who were active during pregnancy, you still want to return gradually by first walking, then jogging and then running. There are other exercises you can do to make the transition easier, as well.
“My experience was that gentle pelvic floor exercises and physical therapy were [a] great place to start, even in the first few days after giving birth,” says Canney, adding that you can seek out a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health if you don’t know where to start. “That type of low-intensity, low-impact routine is a great place to ‘hang your hat’ for four weeks or so before you progress to more intense exercise.”
If you have yet to hear about the pelvic floor, you are sure to learn about it during pregnancy. Many women reference it when experiencing urinary incontinence after giving birth. Though you may want to run again, exercising the pelvic floor is actually the place to start because those muscles experience the greatest impact during a vaginal delivery. For women who had a C-section, though the muscles haven’t been affected in the same way, they have still experience a lot of pressure and shifting.
“Your pelvic floor — yes, this includes your bladder — and your abdominal muscles have been stretched and are quite weak,” confirms Dr. Shayna Mancuso, DO, an osteopathic obstetrics and gynecology specialist at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. “I encourage patients to focus on exercises that strengthen the abdominal muscle group, back and pelvis first and foremost.”
LISTEN TO YOUR DOCTOR
It may be tempting to get back to vigorous exercise quickly if you are feeling up to it soon after giving birth, however, your doctor’s guidelines should be taken seriously. No matter how good your body may be feeling, there is plenty of healing going on internally.
Remember your doctor has your best interest at heart. Though it may be tempting to push yourself to see what your body’s new limits may be, holding off until your doctor has cleared you is important.
“I do wholeheartedly understand the desire to exercise at 100% once again, but your body does need to heal completely first,” acknowledges Dr. Mancuso. “Be kind to yourself. There are so many demands on our body after giving birth. We have an array of fluctuating hormones, breastfeeding challenges, sleep deprivation and overall new mom worries. The body has been through so much! It is best to give yourself a small break and let your body re-equilibrate.”
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Even if you have been cleared, if you notice any changes such as increased bleeding, it may be a sign you are doing too much and need to decrease activity to let your body continue to heal.
According to Dr. Cannon, some things to look out for include: “any increased pain (anywhere on your body), vaginal bleeding that seems heavier than normal lochia (the six-week course of bleeding after vaginal or cesarean delivery), breast pain … or just not ‘feeling right.’”
Should you experience this, unless there is an emergency, reach out to your doctor and schedule another follow-up appointment or discuss a revised set of guidelines for returning to physical activity.
Taking care of your body is vital during those first few postpartum months. If you are rundown and pushing yourself too hard, it will be harder to take care of your new baby.
“I think that it’s important to remember to drink a lot of water and continue taking your prenatal vitamins; it is important for breastfeeding and overall maternal health,” adds Dr. Cannon. “Also, don’t deprive yourself of sleep. The baby/babies will take care of that for you.”
READ MORE > 10 POSES TO AVOID IF YOU’RE PREGNANT
HOLD OFF ON THE JOGGING STROLLER AT FIRST
If you are without childcare and plan on taking your baby with you when you run, it is best to wait. Even with a running-specific stroller — many of which have infant car seat adapters — you want to make sure your baby has enough strength in their head and neck before you take them out on a run.
“A stroller specifically made for jogging/running is always ideal [as they] provide great shock absorbency, ultimate stability and better wheels for you and your bundle of joy,” shares Dr. Mancuso. “It is best to wait until your baby is 6–8 months of age and has full head and neck control before bringing them on a run with you.”
Getting out for walks in their first months is a great way to get back to physical activity and help stimulate your child as they take in the sights, sounds and fresh air. However, it is best for both of your bodies to build strength before going for your first postpartum run together.