by Linda Purves in Stories

The Come-Back Trail: returning to running after childbirth

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When I had to give up running at only three months pregnant, it was a real psychological blow and I was tempted to just give up on everything and allow myself to wallow in morning sickness, rocky-road ice-cream sandwiches and self-pity for the next six months. As it was, my decision to keep fit and active by alternative means of exercise paid dividends when I cruised through labour and only just made it to the hospital in time for the arrival of my beautiful baby boy – in fact, things had moved along so quickly that I still had my socks on when he was born!

Much as I’d enjoyed my ante-natal dog walking sessions, I was really looking forward to getting back to running. My running friend who popped her first baby out as if it was just another part of her circuit training class had continued on much the same vein with her return to running:
…station five – give birth, station six – active recovery, station seven – 10k run…

Many elite female athletes have returned to competitive running within a few months of giving birth and Paula Radcliffe won the New York Marathon when her daughter was only nine months old so I couldn’t wait to get home from hospital and into my old running shoes.

General medical advice on returning to exercise includes the following:

  • Provided there have been no complications through pregnancy or the birth itself, there’s no reason why a female shouldn’t return to familiar, pre-pregnancy activities as soon as she feels able
  • Gentle, low-impact forms of exercise are recommended until after the post-natal check-up at around six to eight weeks after the birth
  • The female body is unavoidably changed through the process of pregnancy and labour so allowances must be made for common residual effects such as weakened pelvic floor muscles and lax joints
  • This isn’t the time to take up base-jumping or free-diving – unless that’s what you did before! – and common-sense must prevail; remember to listen to your body

“If you set a goal for yourself and are able to achieve it, you have won your race. Your goal can be to come first, to improve your performance, or just finish the race, it’s up to you” – Dave Scott, Triathlete

I wasn’t intending to line up on a start-line next to Paula at any time in the near future but I was planning to compete as soon as possible – that’s the problem with being competitive, I could turn running a bath into a competitive event – and my goal was quite simply to get back to pre-pregnancy hill racing fitness.

Well, if I’m honest, I suppose secretly I was hoping to improve on my pre-pregnancy performance. After all, I’d heard other competitive mums talk about a mysterious hormonal surge that gave them a real post-partum boost and saw them beating previous personal bests left, right, and centre. I couldn’t wait – still waiting! But, I did eventually achieve my goal of regaining race fitness and I just had to get my head around a few little unexpected side-effects of being a new mum.

A few tips to help you along the come-back trail:

Do your pelvic floor exercises

These exercises are so simple to do that it’s easy to believe you don’t really need to bother with them. My advice to you is to get started on them as soon as you can. You can do them sitting in your hospital bed and then keep doing them every day…when your washing the dishes, watching television, changing the baby…

Choose your underwear carefully

Now is not the time to worry about a visible panty line. Wear your biggest Bridget-Jones- style-big-pants and go for comfort every time! Big pants are also better for concealing the never-as-discreet-as-the-advertising-promised panty liners you’re likely to need for a while to cope with the inevitable stress incontinence – keep going with the pelvic floor exercises!

Prepare for a bumpy ride

Let’s face it, no matter how much weight you lose as your baby pops out, your body still hangs on to a few extra emergency pounds for a while. This is particularly the case if you’re breastfeeding so be prepared for a bit of extra jiggling about as you run. Having never been particularly buxom – flat as a pancake actually – I had previously never worried about sports bras as the chest strap from my heart-rate monitor provided all the support I needed! However, take it from me, you’re going to need some firm and supportive underwear if you’re going to avoid a couple of black-eyes.

Take one step at a time

Stay positive, even if your return to running isn’t quite as straight-forward as you’d hoped. Just finding the energy to get your running shoes laced up can feel like a full-on- in-your-face interval session to begin with…right shoe on…thirty second recovery…left shoe on…so build up gradually and take one step at a time.

You have a wonderful new baby to remind you what’s really important in your life so just take your time and don’t forget to enjoy the view as you jog along your own come-back trail.

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