There’s nothing more cathartic than a 20 min run to clear your head after a hard day. And now that you have a little one (and maybe their siblings) to take care of, clearing your head is more important than ever. If you’ve waited patiently for 6 weeks after your delivery date and your OB has finally given you the green light to exercise, you’re probably dying to sprint out the door.
We feel you! But as much as we’d love to tell you to go for it, it’s important to be cautious. Pregnancy and childbirth (whether a vaginal or a belly birth) put your body through an enormous number of changes — changes that can affect your ability to run without injury. So before you restart any kind of running routine, we hope you’ll review these 5 tips for staying safe.
Watch for signs of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.
Regardless of how you give birth, carrying and delivering a baby can push your pelvic floor to its limits. The pelvic floor muscles are located at the base of the pelvis and help to hold up your pelvic organs (bowel, bladder, uterus) and maintain all of their functions. These muscles also stabilize your pelvic joints and low back. If pregnancy or birth injures these muscles, you may start noticing signs of pelvic floor dysfunction.
Signs of pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Leakage (stool or urine)
- Difficulty or pain with bladder emptying
- Constipation/straining to empty bowels
- Pain with vaginal penetration
- Sexual dysfunction
- Pelvic heaviness/feeling of falling out
- Low back/pelvic pain
- Urinary urgency or frequency
If you have pelvic floor dysfunction, returning to running before you rehabilitate your pelvic floor can make the above symptoms even worse.
When can I start running postpartum?
By 6 weeks postpartum, your doctor may have cleared you for “all activity” but, realistically, your body may not be ready for running. Some musculoskeletal health experts recommend postponing your return to running until 3 months postpartum to give muscle and tissue time to fully recover — and to regain some of the strength you may have lost towards the end of pregnancy and in early postpartum.
There’s real wisdom in waiting. Running is a high-impact, high-energy activity that asks a lot of your body. It can tip the scales toward injury when your postpartum muscles and tissues are still healing and while you may also be breastfeeding. The takeaway: The common recovery timeline of 6 weeks may not apply to everyone, as each person’s fitness level, pregnancy, and childbirth recovery are different.
Focus on building strength first.
Just because you may need more time to recover, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any exercise. Before jumping back into running, focus on building strength and endurance in the areas of your body that are used the most when you run: your hips and your core. The workouts in the Juna app are perfect for building up strength in these areas and preparing you for running.
To put it simply, pregnancy strains your core and pelvic floor to its limit. Studies show that up to 100% of pregnant people will experience diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA) during their pregnancy, a condition where the central line of tissue that connects the right and left sides of the abdominal muscles becomes overstretched. For 1 in 3 individuals, DRA does not resolve on its own postpartum and can lead to symptoms that include back pain and incontinence. New research also shows that postpartum runners lack the flexibility in their hamstrings and strength in their hips that’s crucial for preventing injury while running.
Taking the first three months postpartum to heal and strengthen these areas of your body will build a much stronger and safer foundation for your return to running.
Ditch the stroller (or, at the least, use one made for running).
It may seem like the only way to get a workout in is to load up the baby and bring them along, but pushing a stroller while you run can really increase the strain and load on your recovering body. Running with a stroller affects the kinematics in your back, hips, and pelvis, as you’re running while pushing the weight of the stroller and your little one(s).
Whenever possible, prioritize a time when you can hit the pavement alone, allowing your body to retrain for the impact, before adding extra challenges — like added weight — to your run.
Make friends with a pelvic floor PT.
Before you had a baby, you may not have had to think much about running to prevent injury. Realizing that you can’t just ‘bounce back’ can be a challenging and confusing reality check. But it’s really just about being careful and patient. You can get back to running and you don’t have to navigate your recovery alone. Let your doctor know that you’re interested in a pelvic physical therapy evaluation, or reach out to a physical therapist directly.
The physical therapists at Origin are postpartum experts and have the tools and knowledge needed to rehabilitate your pelvic floor muscles and help you develop an exercise routine that will strengthen the muscles in your core and hips. Your PT will make sure you have a safe, worry-free return to running, and be there to support and guide you, every step of the way.
In the meantime, if you do decide to throw caution to the wind and head out for a run (no judgment!) — pay close attention to what’s going on with your bladder, bowel, and sexual health. Let your physician know about any symptoms that come up, so that you can get the help you need.
Ashley Rawlins PT, DPT is a doctor of physical therapy at Origin with an advanced certification in the treatment of Pelvic Health and Obstetric Health (CAPP-Pelvic, CAPP-OB). She specializes in the treatment of pelvic floor muscle dysfunctions including pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction, pregnancy related pain, postpartum recovery, and bowel and bladder dysfunction. In addition to being a practicing clinician, she is a avid educator and author in the field of women’s health physiotherapy.