Congratulations on your bundle of joy! Childbirth is no easy task, neither is recovery. It may take a while for you to settle into your daily life as a new mom because you need to ease your way into things (no matter how many children you’ve had before). The biggest question women have postpartum is “how long will it take before my life goes back to normal?” Your OBGYN will tell you that it varies per mother but ultimately you dictate the course and pace of your own healing — before you can run again.
Your body will never be the same after giving birth and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, pregnancy and giving birth has its setbacks but you need to remind yourself that your body did something amazing and selfless — you brought life into this world. Giving birth is no easy feat! The whole process of pregnancy is complicated in itself. Recovery is a whole other journey — baby steps before you run. Everyone experiences childbirth differently which means that all mothers heal differently, some faster than others. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not up and running when you hit the six-week mark. In fact, most mothers take time off from running for several months before they feel like they’re comfortable enough to get up and go.
Postpartum recovery is an entire industry. In this day and age, there’s a solution to (most) of your post birth pains. However, these symptoms don’t go away overnight. It takes time for you to heal. No matter how you give birth, whether it be normally or through cesarean, there will always be a recovery period because postpartum is the transition between growing a baby inside of you to actually taking care of your baby. The key to recovering from these symptoms is to accept them as they are — proven and tested. You can’t magically make these symptoms go away, but if you eat healthy, get enough rest, and avoid stress, you should make a full recovery and get back to your regular scheduled programming.
Your body needs time to reset itself after giving birth and hormonal imbalance is to be expected. During this time, your emotions will be all over the place, your maternal instincts will kick in and all your attention will be focused on your baby. It’s natural to feel guilt when you need to spend time apart from your baby, but you need to know that it’s alright to set aside time for yourself. You’re the only person who dictates the pace of your healing, and that includes the emotional aspect of it. You need to set time apart for yourself to cope with the stress of adjusting to a new life, both physically and emotionally.
Delayed weight loss
Upon childbirth, you lose six to twelve pounds depending on the size of your baby, however, your weight loss will slow considerably during postpartum. During pregnancy, you gain about 25 to 30 pounds on average and it may take several months or sometimes even a year to lose your pregnancy weight. You need to remind yourself that it took you nine months to gain that weight and you won’t lose it in a matter of two weeks. This weight gain is often discouraging for new moms and it takes a toll on their mental health. Additionally, aside from the emotional toll it takes on a new mother, it also becomes harder to run, physically. After childbirth, your body tends to hold on to the pregnancy weight. For some women it goes away naturally, but others need to put a little more work into it. We want to stress that you shouldn’t change the way you feel about yourself no matter how you look and if you want to go running, do it for your health.
Being a new mom is hard enough! Couple it with how your body is changing inside (and out) and all the work you have to do to keep your baby healthy, you’re bound to be tired all the time. If it’s not delayed weight loss or hormonal imbalance that’s affecting your drive to run, it must be how tired you are all the time. Fatigue is the occupational hazard of becoming a parent. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming you don’t have time to take care of yourself anymore. All your time is your baby’s and it will be like that for a while until they’ve reached a certain level of self-sufficiency.
Aches and pains
The biggest hindrance to your running will be your battle scars. Again this will vary depending on how you gave birth and what the circumstances were. If you’ve had a normal delivery, you’ll most likely experience perineum soreness and postpartum bleeding. C-sections are self-explanatory, you underwent a major surgery and it will take a while for your scar to fully heal. Your OBGYN will suggest that you avoid vigorous exercise and excessive movement while your stitches are healing up. Aside from that, your breasts will be sore from nursing — making it nearly impossible to walk up and down the stairs let alone run.
After giving birth, many new mothers experience swelling under the skin, notably in the extremities and face; this is called postpartum swelling. During pregnancy, the body retains extra water — particularly around the belly area to support the baby as it develops in her womb. The water is gradually released through sweat or urination. After bearing a child, your body needs time to recover. Eating correctly, resting, and sleeping more than usual will help the body to return to a healthy state. You may think that consuming plenty of fluids sounds counter-intuitive but staying hydrated can help with losing water weight. Dehydration forces the body to hold on to any extra water, causing a person to bloat. Additionally, staying hydrated helps push waste out of the body and flushes it from toxins making it easier to recover after giving birth.
Assuming your doctor cleared you for exercise and physical activity, what should you do first?
Give yourself time, all women heal differently.
Before anything, put yourself in the right headspace. Don’t feel bad about not doing the Ironman six weeks after giving birth because frankly, it can’t be done. Give yourself time to get ready. It’s all in the head. If you’re in too much pain today, take a seat and try again tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that you’re giving up. You’re just listening to your body and what it needs for the time being. Try your best not to compare your journey with another mother’s journey. You may all be traveling towards the same destination but you’re all taking a different path.
Take it slow
Work your way up from a walk. Put it in this perspective: when your baby is born, do they come out walking? No! Some of them can lift their heads but that’s about it. Would you rush your baby into walking? Also, no! Then why would you do it to yourself? You may not be crawling around but getting up and walking around the house is a good start. If you eventually want to run a half marathon, you can start by walking around the block once, and then twice, and eventually until you’re tired. After that, you can think about running.
Don’t set time goals for yourself
We have to keep stressing that all women heal differently and if you set time goals for yourself, you’re putting unnecessary pressure on your body and mental health. There is no clock attached to healing, so don’t set any deadlines. What you can do instead is think of milestones you want to accomplish. It could look something like this:
You get the picture. Think of postpartum recovery as a series of accomplishments as opposed to a setback in your running career.
If you’ve made it to this part, then congratulations! You’re starting to get the hang of your baby and your new body. Before you run, there are still a few things you need to keep in mind.
Strengthen your core
Over the course of your pregnancy, your abdominal muscles were slowly disengaged every day until they were barely used. This is understandable given you were growing a baby inside you. Talk with your OBGYN or pelvic floor specialist about exercises you can do to strengthen your core to prepare you for running. Core strengthening exercise must be done before running so you can feel your abdominal wall tightening as you run, and it promotes good posture while you run. Unlike other exercises, core work can be done every day! It means you have as much time as you want to strengthen your abdomen. Just don’t overdo it.
Invest in a supportive running bra
A side effect of pregnancy and childbirth is engorged breasts. In preparation to nurse your baby, your breasts start to produce milk. This can sometime cause soreness if you are unable to nurse or if your baby doesn’t know how to latch. What you need is a comfortable running bra to support you while you run. Lactating is unavoidable, blame the hormones. So, look for one that is focused on new mothers. Aside from being supportive, it should also be absorbent — in case of leaks.
Focus on your health from the inside out
It’s normal for you to want your old body back, but we want you to know that it’s also normal for your body not to bounce back right away. Before you go running, identify your goals. Are you doing it to achieve your pre-pregnancy figure? Or are you doing it for your internal health? If your answer is based solely on the first answer, then you need to re-evaluate your goals. Remind yourself that you brought life into this world, that on its own is a beautiful feat. Your body will follow.
While this may serve as a helpful guide, it’s best that you consult with your OBGYN about exercising postpartum. But other than that, take it slow and heal at your own pace. Enjoy your running!