You’ve finally had your baby and you’re chomping at the bit to go out for a run. But before you lace up your running shoes, make sure you’re truly ready.
One of the first questions I asked my doctor after I gave birth to my first daughter and again after I had my twins was, “How soon can I start running?” I chose to ignore his exasperated looks and started counting down the days until I could hit the pavement.
Because I’d exercised up until the day I gave birth to my eldest, I got back into running quite easily after she was born. But after I had my twins, my first run just didn’t feel right. That’s when I decided to slow down and follow my doctor’s advice. I also did some research and the information I uncovered surprised me.
1. No matter how fit you are, you shouldn’t run until at least six weeks post-partum
You may feel fine, but your body has just been through the hardest workout of your life. You need to give your uterus time to shrink back to its original size and ensure your pelvic floor and core muscles are strong enough to withstand the impact of running. Otherwise, you could end up with a painful uterine prolapse (where the uterus slips down into or protrudes out of the vagina), a hip or pelvis injury, or a range of other ailments.
Research even shows that the six-week benchmark is probably too soon to return to running (sorry!). A study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal found that women’s fitness was still quite low six weeks post-partum, but had improved significantly by 27 weeks.
2. You need to strengthen your core and pelvic floor first
You should spend the first six to eight weeks focusing on strengthening your pelvic floor and core muscles with adequate exercises. Avoid crunches, sit-ups and other exercises that push your abdominal muscles outwards in the post-partum period, particularly if you have diastasis recti (abdominal separation) because they could make the separation worse. You really need to invest the time in working on your deep core and pelvic muscles first. It’s not exciting but unfortunately, it’s a must if you want to run again without ramifications.
If you’re unsure how to go about it, consider seeing a physiotherapist who will give you a series of exercises that will help you build back your core muscles from the inside out. I saw one for my ab separation after my twins and it was the best thing I ever did – my squishy core felt solid again in no time.
3. Take it slowly
It turns out that you shouldn’t go from zero exercise to a 20-minute run at a brisk pace like I did after I gave birth for the first time. Once you’ve received the all-clear from your doctor to exercise, start with a run-walk program. Alternate one minute of running with one minute of walking for as long as you feel comfortable (20 minutes is a good start). Progressively increase your running over the next few weeks until you’re running for two minutes and walking for one minute for a total of 30 minutes. Then, progressively drop the walking until you’re running for 20 minutes non-stop.
It’s so hard to be patient when you’re a running fiend, but take your time and be kind to yourself. You’ll be back at your pre-pregnancy fitness level before you know it.