I am of the age where many-many-many women in my life are having babies. I think I have had a friend, family member, or acquaintance give birth every month for the last two years. My little spit-fire, Alora is four already and I will say I am very, very-very-very-VERY, content she is past the infant stage.
Since her birth, I have trained consistently, avoided injury, and included my daughter in my running routine. I have also PR’ed at the 10k, half-marathon, and full marathon since her birth.
In four years, I’ve experienced a lot, made mistakes, did some things right, and learned a lot about running, motherhood, and myself.
I am not a doctor, PT, or any other type of health care provider. This is my experience and what worked for me. But one thing I know for sure is that every pregnancy, birth and baby is different. What one person swears is a magic secret to success for them might be the worst thing for you. I share my story as one example.
Pregnancy and Birth
My pregnancy with Alora was stressful the entire forty weeks. I had a pretty traumatic miscarriage a few months before I became pregnant with her, right at the end of the first trimester. Finding out I was pregnant again was thrilling and scary. At the 18-week ultrasound, we found out Alora was a girl but also that she might have a heart defect. For the rest of my pregnancy I was in my doctor’s office every week to monitor her heart rate, and even had to undergo a fetal EKG later on.
In the end, there was no defect, but rather a new heart trying to figure out how to beat correctly. I ran three to four times per week until 18 weeks, but at that point the baby camped out on my bladder. Stopping to pee every half-mile was annoying and from that point it felt like running was not worth that aggravation. I switched to uphill walking and hiking.
After undergoing a cesarean with my first child, my goal with my second was to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). My doctor, the hospital staff, and my husband were amazing and I accomplished my goal!
The First Postpartum Run
The recovery from the vaginal delivery was smooth and I heeded my doctor’s advice to wait four weeks before reintroducing running. On my 34th birthday, I headed out for my first run in months. I went three miles including a half-mile walk break in the middle. I felt jiggly all over, like my innards were going to fall out through my pelvic floor, but being out and on my feet again was amazing.
At my six-week check up appointment I got a referral for a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor issues. I hated not being able to stop peeing when I went to the bathroom and I wanted to make sure I healed well and as fast as I could. I missed my running friends and was ready to get back out there.
Pelvic Floor Rehab
Prior to my second pregnancy, I ran in the 35-45 miles per week range and dealt with hip and sacrum pain much of the time. I stretched religiously, went to the chiropractor weekly, rolled on a foam roller all to no avail. Of course, I ran despite the pain. Another goal I had after this pregnancy was to not get back into that rut. My PT gave me both strengthening exercises and a sacroiliac belt to stabilize my pelvis while the hormone relaxin was still in my system.
While I admit I wasn’t as consistent with the strength exercises as I should have been as I dealt with my colicky newborn, I wore the belt around my hips, under my clothes day and night for eight weeks. It held my pelvis firmly in place while my ligaments tightened back up. After the eight weeks, I wore it only while running for several more months. My PT’s other advice? No stretching. In the months immediately following birth, a new mom’s ligaments and muscles are overly loose and need to tighten back up. I continue to be a mostly non-stretcher, even four years later.
Keep the Grace
How much was I running during this time? As often as I could. Alora was a screaming, high-intensity baby that no one wanted to watch, save for a few miraculous running friends who braved her shrieking to let me get in runs from time-to-time. Plus I was breastfeeding and sleep-deprived. Some weeks I’d get out two times, other weeks four. Each run, I’d have a different goal. Run a little faster this time, run a little longer this time. But I made sure to have only one goal per run. My mantra was “slow and steady improvement”. This allowed me to celebrate small goals and accomplishments.
Get a Running Stroller
A running stroller will allow you to run even when you can’t shake down a sitter for your colicky baby. A car seat adapter will allow you to take a newborn out as soon as you’re able to begin running again. But even without a car seat adapter you can run with baby within a few months after delivery. Most strollers recommend babies be six months or older, but if your baby has head and neck control at a younger age, you may feel comfortable putting her in the stroller earlier. If in doubt ask your pediatrician.
I started pushing Alora in the stroller at a little shy of four months. Before long, Alora was reliably sleeping for our stroller runs and that pushed me to go a little longer so she could get in a longer nap.
Four years later, and we’re still running together. Over the months, the older she got, the stronger I got. I’d take on more hills with the stroller, and my pace got faster pushing that stroller. Running with her allowed us to spend time together, and me to get runs in and feel like a badass while doing it. Allow me to brag for a moment to illustrate my point: three years of stroller running and I got so strong I logged a 1:15:00 10-mile stroller run PR and a single stroller mile in 6:57!
Be Consistent, but Listen to Your Body
It took me four months of consistently building my mileage before I reached twelve miles for my long runs when Alora was five months old. It was a bit, no seriously, the process was brutal. By that point I was starting to run with friends again, but my pace was relatively and frustratingly slow. I tried to keep the faith that my body would find a new gear when it was ready.
I ran my first postpartum race, a 10k, with my husband and Alora in the stroller when she was six months old, and just being out there was empowering. From that point on, four days a week turned into five days, and my runs became longer, usually between five and eight miles, and longer when I could manage.
Baby Weight, Etc.
I gained around 35 pounds during this pregnancy, but between breastfeeding and running, and bouncing on the yoga ball for hours a day while she screamed, it didn’t take me long to lose it, about five months. I didn’t diet and I tried not to stress about it. It might take you less time or more time, even a lot more time, but as you return to running and your regular active healthy life, it does come off.
I exclusively nursed and was very thirsty and hungry seemingly all the time. Be prepared for that possibility. I made sure to have nutrient-dense snacks and food and water accessible to me as often as possible.
By the time Alora was almost a year, my mileage was back into 50 miles per week range and she was still breastfeeding. I think because of the running and the nursing, my weight dipped to eight pounds lighter than normal pre-pregnancy. I ate like a bottomless pit, but it wasn’t until she started eating real food well, and I stopped nursing, that my weight stabilized.
One to Four Years Later
Between the stroller and a home-treadmill I started to feel ready to marathon train again by the time Alora was a year-old, but because of a freak snow storm, I didn’t run my first postpartum marathon until Alora was 15 months old. I started seeing significant PRs when she was almost two.
Over these four years, I’ve run six full marathons, and finally managed a seven minute PR when she was three and a half. My hip issues have not returned, and I credit pelvic physical therapy with that miracle.
It’s been a journey with ups and downs, but my mindset of slow-steady consistency, giving myself grace, bringing baby along, and celebrating falling back in love with running has made it very fulfilling and successful.
What advice do you have for postpartum running?