Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
June 27, 2023
Some people love being pregnant. I was not one of those people.
For one thing, I was constantly worried something I did—something I ate, how I slept or didn’t sleep, if I fell, what I did for activity—would hurt the baby. I also just wanted to be active in the main way I knew how: by running.
I blogged about my journey with my first pregnancy for Runner’s World in a column called “Running for Two” and then “Baby Steps.” (My favorite post was when I made my husband strap a 20-pound pack on his stomach and a 10-pound pack around his butt for a run around the neighborhood to see what it felt like to run while pregnant with our sons.)
There were some women I knew who ran up until the day they gave birth and then ran again a week or two after. I wasn’t one of those women, either.
With both pregnancies, and still, with life in general, I had a connective tissue disorder that was exacerbated by pregnancy. My ligaments are loose, and my body shifts out of alignment easily. The loose-ligament issue happens to all women when they’re pregnant. The body releases prolactin, a hormone that loosens ligaments to make birthing that baby easier, but it can wreak havoc on a body.
Postpartum, it takes a while for our hormones to return to normal and help keep our hips and other joints in alignment. Add breastfeeding to the mix, and those hormones continue being produced by the body.
Birthing a human is no joke. Aside from the prolactin, our bodies go through nine/ten months of massive changes on many levels, and then the actual act of childbirth, no matter how smoothly (or not!) it goes, requires serious recovery time and care getting back to activity.
This is where a gentle run-walk program comes in. Not that pregnancy is an “injury,” but it should really be treated as a massive one.
Even the most accomplished runners need to be gentle on their bodies postpartum. Walking can, and should, be considered a great accomplishment in the first weeks post-baby-having. Gentle pelvic floor strengthening exercises are important, too. Do too much, too soon, and a weak pelvic floor can cause all sorts of problems.
Postpartum doctor’s appointments for new mothers tend to be at six-week point, where a doc checks you out to make sure there’s no major damage and send you on your way. (I remember wishing there was an 8-week, a 10-week, a 12-week, etc. postpartum appointment and regular check-ins after that to make sure I was ready to resume the kind of activity I wanted to.)
Most physicians will advise returning to gentle activities, like swimming and walking, long before starting running. Running is usually considered “safe” after 12 weeks postpartum, which can feel like a really long time—and everyone’s different. But the constant impact of running puts a lot more pressure on the pelvic floor and organs than other activities.
Throw in sleeplessness, hunching over to feed and coo over baby, whacked-out posture holding said baby, etc. etc., and a gentle return-to-running program, when you do start back again, is paramount. Walk first! Walk often!
I’ve heard of a couple None to Run members going through the N2R program after each pregnancy, starting with week one as if she was a brand-new runner. How soon after baby they—or you—start the program is an individual matter. Work with your doctor and listen, really listen, to your body and your heart about when starting works for you.
Returning to running can be a great way to take care of yourself while taking care of your new family member. You may crave the alone time and return to baby a happy, healthy mama.
Just take things slowly and be gentle on yourself!