Fair warning: This post is for my women readers! Sorry gentlemen, you can read if you want, but there’s nothing here for you.
Disclaimer: If you are considering running postpartum, no matter how soon after giving birth, always check in with your doctor before starting any exercise program. I have some tips below that worked for me based on my experiences, skills, and knowledge. I also read a TON and I am a personal trainer, certified RRCA Run Coach, and a high school coach. I am NOT a doctor or nurse.
Right before I became pregnant with Layton, I was running about 20-30 miles weekly, 5-6 days a week. I was right at the end of coaching the 2018 Cross Country season and was in pretty decent shape. During pregnancy, I had a really hard time running. Mostly, I was just tired and didn’t have the energy, but I also didn’t like the feel of my belly from the impact of running and didn’t want to invest in a belly support strap, so I took to the elliptical and walked a lot.
When Layton was born I was super eager to get out there and run again! I missed it. I missed being active. I missed the joy and relaxation of a long run. I missed putting on music and running along the creek by myself. I missed trail runs and the sounds of the trees and the birds. I missed the feeling of my heart pumping and my legs working hard.
I went for my first run just under four weeks postpartum. Yeah, it was a little ambitious, but I was feeling relatively good (and had doctor’s permission). I started my run shortly after my doses of ibuprofen and Advil were on board and right after feeding my little one.
Holy moly; that mile was hard.
Yes, one mile.
But it was oh so wonderful…and not pretty at all.
Let me paint you a picture… My running clothes didn’t fit anymore so I wore Ben’s shorts, my shoes had holes in them because they were old but stretchy enough to fit my wider feet, and I couldn’t figure out how to move my new, stiff body. I probably looked like Pheobe from friends (if you know, you know).
I started running a couple days a week, slowly building up the miles. I felt like I had a whole different body that belonged to someone else, a body I didn’t know how to work. My joints we stiff, my core was weak, and my feet hurt! Not to mention my endurance was gone. There were so many things going on with my body that it surprised me!
No one talks about pregnancy, birth, after birth or all the gross, uncomfortable things that go with it. It’s such a faux pa to talk about it all with those that haven’t gone through it (and even those that have) and when it comes to something less common like RUNNING postpartum, there’s even less info out there and people to learn from.
So here’s to hoping this post finds someone that needs to hear it.
Here are 7 things I didn’t know about running postpartum:
1. I didn’t know my breasts would hurt when I ran. Or that they may leak too.
Okay, in all fairness, this may only apply to me and a low number of women. I was “gifted” with small breasts. When I got pregnant, they grew…. and then they grew again when I started breastfeeding. I had no idea how painful running with larger breasts was – seriously, don’t you laugh! Cue the double bra or the super tight one that you can barely get on. Then you feel like you can’t breathe, nevermind trying to get out of the thing when you’re done! UGH! It was a serious conundrum for me to figure out. Some women have already solved this problem before children, but if you’re like me….
Tip 1: Invest in a good sports bra (or two). Seriously, go get a better bra. It’s worth it. Due to my small size pre-pregnancy, I had a ton of cheap Walmart brand sports bras that worked just fine for me at the time. Postpartum, they were not strong enough. The one sports bra I did own that minimized the impact was a challenge to get on and off, it was so tight, and I couldn’t breathe!
I recommend trying Handful Bras. They are chafe-free, quick-drying and they look good too! I have The Closer which is great for high impact activities. Because you need more support for running, and sometimes with that comes a tighter fitting bra, The Closer zips up the front, making it easy to shove the new milk sacks into a bra. It’s also relatively easy to breastfeed with!
Tip 2: Go for your run right after you feed or pump! Get those suckers as small as possible so that you can minimize the pain and chance of leaking.
2. I didn’t know my joints would change. Pregnancy comes with a whole bunch of new hormones and bodily changes. One of those new hormones is relaxin, which allows your hips to become a little bit looser in order to birth that watermelon. It also affects ALL of your joints. Unfortunately, you don’t go back to normal as soon as your bundle of joy pops out, so you’re left with a bunch of weak, loosey-goosey joints and your muscles are taking more impact than normal. And it doesn’t feel great.
Tip: Stretch! All of your joints are still getting back into place, your muscles are going to need a bit more recovery than normal. Whether you were an avid stretcher before baby or not, now’s a good time to make stretching post-run a good part of your routine. This will help your muscles recover while your joints are still “healing” and getting back to normal.
3. I didn’t know my feet would change. Before pregnancy, I had very narrow feet and wore narrow shoes. Once baby Layton was here, my previous shoes no longer worked for my feet! My feet are now wider and splay out a lot more.
Tip: Go get fit for shoes at a running store. Go through the whole process, even if you’ve done so in the past. Have them watch you run and use all their fancy gadgets and do-dads. Let them give you recommendations on the type of shoe you need and try not to assume or revert to your old shoe. Then, try them on and go for a run! Most stores let you at least run around the store and some let you run outside. A lot of stores have generous return policies if the shoes just aren’t working for you. Take advantage of those things to get in a good pair of shoes for your “new feet.”
4. I didn’t know my gait would change. When I first returned to running postpartum, I could not run with good form to save my life! I tried, oh boy did I try, but I literally felt like my muscles were not listening to my brain. This is due to all of the above… your stretched out joints, your new feet, your weak core…it’s all making your running form go to shit.
Tip: Start training your core as soon as you can (i.e. as soon as your doctor says it’s okay. This is one thing you should make sure you’re not starting too early). Depending on the type of birth you had and whether or not you have diastasis recti, pending doctor’s orders, start training your core again. I waited five months before doing any real ab exercises and yoga postpartum, per doc’s orders. I noticed a huge change in my gait once yoga was a regular practice in my routine. Your core is your powerhouse and all movement originates from your center. Once your core gets stronger again, your form will return back to normal.
5. I didn’t know that it’s super challenging to run with a stroller. I love running with Layton in the jogger! I couldn’t wait until the pediatrician said it was okay to take him on runs with me! But I do remember my first run with the jogger; It was way harder than I thought it would be – especially up the hills! And RACING with the jogger is a whole different ball game as you add in more people to avoid!
Tip 1: Switch sides/hands often. Since you have to hold on to the stroller, your form tends to be altered when one arm isn’t swinging. Your foot strike also tends to be a bit different. When the sidewalk is wide enough, I actually run off to the side a little bit, switching hands and sides every once in a while. Running off to the side allows for a more natural footstrike and switching hands makes sure you’re not developing an imbalance on one side of your body.
Tip 2: A jogging stroller doesn’t have to be expensive! I got the BabyTrend Expedition jogging stroller and it came with my car seat for only $130 (and by “I got,” I mean, my Mom gifted it to us…THANKS MOM!)
And for the love of your baby, use your safety strap! My friend told me a horror story of him chasing his stroller down the hill! (Shudder) I’m terrified this is going to happen to me!
6. I didn’t know it would feel like I have never run a day in my life! It really did. My first run postpartum was only a mile but it felt like 100 miles and my lungs felt like they were on fire!
Tip: Ease into it slowly! If you were running 50-mile weeks before baby, you should probably start off with a wee bit less. Remember that first training advice you ever got? Yeah…start slowly! The 10% rule is real (only increase your weekly mileage and/or your long run by 10% each time).
7. I didn’t know HOW hard it would be – mentally. I did really well with getting out for runs the first few months postpartum. I ran a few races too, but as I got back to work more and more, and Layton got older (i.e. didn’t just sleep all day), I’ve found less and less time to get out for runs – even with him in the stroller. Part of that is the winter weather but I also work full time and do not have child care during the week. When I do get out for runs, I’m pretty much starting at ground zero every time since it’s so long in between. It’s HARD to stay motivated and keep up a fitness regimen when your only free moment is after baby goes to bed and you just want to watch Netflix.
Tip: Don’t be hard on yourself! Believe me, I get it, it’s hard not too! I am on the struggle bus myself to get a weekly running plan going. If a running buddy motivates you to meet up for a jog, do it, here’s my kick in the butt to reach out to your BRF (best running friend). If a race motivates you, sign up for that half marathon! If the scale kicks your butt; use that!
But above all, go easy on yourself; after all, your body MADE a baby; you GREW a human being! And you did squeeze something the size of a watermelon out of your body. So there’s that.
Extra – Things that didn’t happen to me, but I have heard happen to other women postpartum:
1. You may pee when you run. I didn’t, but you might.
I only add this one because all my friends joked about it with me. This is all due to your pelvic floor and the muscles being stretched out.
Tip: You know the drill: pelvic tilts, squats and yes, Kegels.
2. Mom guilt is a thing. Some women get it, some women don’t. For some, it’s really hard to take time for themselves, feeling guilty leaving the little one at home (even though they are with someone else). I get it! You want to be there all the time and be the source of comfort if something goes wrong and you feel like you do it best.
Tip: Remember YOU are a person too! I know everyone now only asks about your baby and comes over to see the little one, but YOU are still a human being and you deserve a few moments to yourself. KNOW that you are not less of a mother for getting out for a run!
And don’t feel guilty about not feeling guilty.
Happy trails to all your running moms out there! I hope your journey is fun and not too challenging.
I want to hear from you! What was your biggest challenge of returning to running postpartum? Comment below!