It has been an honor to be considered someone a lot of new mothers look to for advice about life with a baby. That truly warms my heart to know that my opinion is important to you. It is yet another reason I am so happy I spoke out about my 9 year struggle with amenorrhea and stopping running to get pregnant, because you know I will give it to you straight.
As I am now over 18 months postpartum, and can reflect back on some mistakes I have made as well as some things I have done right, I thought I would give some suggestions for new mothers on how to get back into running.
Not so much the return to running program itself, I have not done enough research yet to know what the correct model is, and as you know, our first postpartum return to running attempt was met with an injury, so I am not sure I even know exactly where that line is….YET, I plan to find out through research. I am taking this postpartum course from Brianna Battles and learning a lot so far, but not enough to tell you a plan of how to build your fitness.
Here is what I can give recommendations on:
When to start running postpartum
WAIT till the 6 week mark before you even think about running. I know you miss it, I know you need something for yourself, especially if your baby is driving you crazy, but get out and walk with them (or without them), just stay away from running for the time being. You have plenty of time to get back into running, but this phase with a newborn, although stressful, will be gone before you know it. Make the most of those snuggles, and trust that running will be there waiting for you.
Start with strength training, begin to test out the movement patterns, work with a coach who understands the mobility and soft tissue aspect of strength training. I know Drew does, and that is why I trusted in him to work with me first, to make sure my body was ready to be doing more than just walking. If you want Drew to create a plan for you, he can!
Once you go to your 6 week checkup with your doctor, then consider moving on to the next step…
Running after pregnancy: pelvic floor function
Find a pelvic floor therapist. This is a MUST!
And not just if you have diastasis recti, not just if you have incontinence, not just if you are having hip and pelvic pain, or anything else that is not quite as it should be. I am learning that it is so important for EVERY woman to go post baby.
I did not have anything “wrong” on first look. My birth was quick and “easy” (if there is such a thing), and I was not really experiencing any issues, but there was stuff going wrong internally. I believe that was part of the reason I became injured a few months later, but also, through going this, we have been correcting some issues in my core that were there long before having a baby, and I have a VERY GOOD strength training coach!
These are things I had been trying to get around for YEARS, and they are finally making sense. I am going to say it again as I feel it is that important, every woman should at least go see a pelvic floor therapist after baby. if they give you the all clear to carry on as you were, then wonderful, that is so impressive, and you can walk away smugly 😉
If you don’t go, maybe you can get away with it for a few years, but any issues you do have will probably not go away, EVER, and they will probably get worse. If you pee while running or laughing, your pelvic floor IS weak and you CAN get to the point where it doesn’t. Isn’t it better to get the all clear, then you can begin your journey feeling confident. I regret not going earlier, and yes, I do have to pay for it each week, yes I can’t wait for it to be over every time, but it is so worth it.
I would recommend getting the okay to start running from them first.
Running and breastfeeding
Obviously there are some logistical differences that come into the picture when you are breastfeeding and running.
The number one suggestion I would make is to get a suitable sports bra. You will most likely have to purchase a new one as you will be juuuuusssttt a little(!!) bigger than you were before, and even if you do squeeze into your previous bra, they will be SO heavy, it will feel very uncomfortable.
My favorite sports bras while nursing were:
- Lululemon Enlite, this one does not squish them down, which is especially helpful when they are heavy and can get sore. Lululemon spent 4 years working on this sports bra for a reason, it is amazing, my favorite sports bra of all time, seriously. I know it is expensive, but trust me, it is worth every penny. I have three.
- Brooks Juno and Brooks Rebound Racer. Both have velcro straps at the top for nursing before and after (maybe even stopping mid run), although I never actually did that, I ALWAYS wanted to shower immediately after my run before she fed. I would also just not put the bra on before I had fed her pre run. This sports bra is definitely the most supportive for heavy chests full of milk. The only downside I came across was the velcro straps would chafe a little on longer runs. I would use Squirrels Nut Butter (yep, that’s its real name!) underneath to prevent this.
I do have some bad news though. When I started to run postpartum, I was wearing a 34DD, and it was fitting perfectly, maybe even a little small first thing in the morning. However, now 6 months down the road, the Lululemon Enlite, Brooks Juno and Brooks Rebound Racer are all too big to wear on their own. As your body learns to just produce the milk your baby needs, it doesn’t store as much, so your size goes down. I now have to wear both bras with another underneath. Not a huge deal, and I would still say it is worth purchasing one of each of those bras, even at this point, I don’t think two of my regular running bras would be enough, but still a little frustrating that they are now too big.
If you are going to run in the mornings, I would recommend breastfeeding before you go, or at least pumping before you go. In the summer this is a little more tricky, as your baby may get to the point where they are not awake till 7am or even later…In which case it will be SMOKIN hot by the time you get out there.
You have three options if you are a morning runner:
- Play the game of getting up early, darting out the door with full breasts and hoping they do not wake up before you get back. Be warned though, this method might be uncomfortable and you could have some leakage.
- Wait until they wake up, feed them, then go…but again, risk the heat of the summer. In the winter I think this is the best option
- If your baby will take a bottle, pump a little off both sides and have your partner give them the bottle when they wake up. This is probably the best option.
If you are choosing the first option, I would still recommend pumping a small amount before you go for your run, for your comfort and as an emergency supply if your baby wakes up 5 mins after you leave.
I have only really run in the mornings, so I am only comfortable giving advice with that. I would guess evening running might actually be a little easier as they have consumed a lot of the milk for the day, and you have a bit more of an idea when they will next need a feed.
Running with a stroller
Most manufacturers say you should wait until your baby is 6 months before you run with them in a running stroller. There are some of them that have a car seat attachment (mine does), which can give you the peace of mind to start a little earlier, but for me, we waited until Bailey was 5.5 months before I started to take her out in the stroller (other than two times prior, but I just felt so stressed about it that I didn’t do it again).
I understand that the recommendations are probably overkill, and they might be completely outdated, but this was one thing I was not willing to risk, even if there was a 0.00001 percent chance of it causing her some harm later in life, for me, it was a risk I just did not feel it was right to take. I can totally see why women might run with their babies earlier, and I respect their decision to, but for me, this was what I felt was best.
Once you do reach the 6 month mark (or close to it), you can start to alternate regular baby free runs with stroller runs to see how your baby handles it. I had to put the pacifier in the first few times we ran with Bailey, but she would fall asleep within 10 minutes and be out until I came to a complete stop in the garage. Now, depending on her mood she will either sleep, observe, her way along.
I would recommend building up your runs in the stroller, it does feel very alien, and you have to give your body a bit of time to get used to just running with one arm, as well as your forearm strength to improve so you can turn corners (it is really hard work at first!). I would recommend alternating your arm pushing the stroller, but still using both arms to turn corners.
Sidewalks may or may not be better than the road. For me, the road is better as the sidewalks are definitely not smooth, but we also live in a quieter area where we can run on the roads as long as we are careful.
I do not spend more than an hour with Bailey in the stroller, as I feel a bit too tired otherwise as it is more difficult and I feel like I am pushing it with her staying happy, but I am sure you can build up to more if you wish.
Start with running on flat ground as the hills are what really get you with the stroller, if you can stay on a straight road or path, that also makes it a little easier, as turns can be tricky to negotiate. I would also try to stay close to home if possible so you can stop your run and take the baby home if need be. That is one thing I always keep in mind; your baby needs to be happy/calm. If they are not happy in there, your running will have to wait.
Now, which stroller do I use?
We started with a cheaper stroller that a friend had passed down to us (Baby Trend), and it worked well enough. It was the basic model, and it was easy to use. I even ran the 10k with Bailey in that with no real issues other than trying to run around other runners was difficult.
However, I knew all along that I wanted one of the better models once I could, as I intend on getting back to running daily, and I absolutely love Chicco products, so after some research, I knew the Chicco TRE stroller was going to be the best stroller for us and what we intended to do. Thankfully, Chicco were kind enough to send me one, which I realize does not happen for everyone, but I really would pay for this stroller myself if I needed to. I will give you my honest opinion below.
Pros of the Chicco TRE stroller
- Very smooth ride (plus two levels of suspension to match the terrain you are running on)
- Canopy that goes almost all the way over, meaning that you do not have to worry about sun getting in their eyes. With the cheaper stroller we had, it would move all the way forward, but there was always a gap, and if the sun was coming up in the morning (which is when most of my runs are..and I would imagine it is the same for when the sun is going down at night), it would get right in her eyes. The Chicco TRE however has a canopy that completely covers her over, but there is a little “sunroof” and a netted part (that has a cover if you need it) so you can see in.
- Front wheel locks and unlocks easily (meaning you can have it always pointing ahead, if you are running on a straight road or have it so the wheel moves like a regular stroller if you need to turn a lot of corners). I actually almost always have it on the unlocked setting as our paths and roads aren’t really straight and it doesn’t bother me that it might veer SLIGHTLY on a straight road.
- Straps and padding around them are very well thought out and snug. Bailey seems really comfortable in this one, and I have never seen her anything but happy. There are also a lot of different levels and adjustments you can make to fit your baby exactly.
- Nice pockets to place your belongings in and two drinks holders. I like to place the garage door opener and my phone in there.
- Easy to assemble and dissemble. It folds up nicely.
- Can put the car seat into the stroller itself.
Cons of the Chicco TRE
- It is a little heavier. I will definitely admit that. The difference between this one and the Baby Trend is noticeable, especially on uphills. HOWEVER, I don’t think I would have thought about this had I not used the previous stroller, I would have just assumed this was how running strollers are. The other one was VERY light.
- The canopy is a little annoying to put all the way down. If you are happy leaving the canopy down (or up) the entire time, it is wonderful, but on my runs, I like to give Bailey the freedom to look around as much as she can, so I am constantly changing the canopy depending on if she is facing the sun or not, and I have to run around the side of the stroller to do so or lean awkwardly over it.
- Drifts a little on a straight road, even with the wheel locked into place. I have not really noticed this at all, but Steve said he did. To me this is a worthwhile tradeoff for the ability to move the wheel if I want to.
- Seat heights are a little too spaced out. There are not as many levels of how upright the back is, which could make it uncomfortable for smaller babies…but I guess another reason you should wait till later to run with it 😉
Overall, I am really happy with the Chicco TRE stroller, and I would honestly consider just using this stroller for everything for another baby. I think you could get away with this being your only stroller from birth. We have not put Bailey in the car seat in this stroller as she is old enough to sit in the seat comfortably, but we are considering just keeping this one in the future.
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Other considerations for running while breastfeeding
First, there is NO evidence finding that running will reduce your milk supply as long as you are consuming enough calories, so do not let those fear mongers scare you into thinking you are being a bad mum! However, do not try to use running to lose all your baby weight quickly, then you may be putting your milk supply at risk if your body thinks it needs to go into starvation mode!
I take my phone with me on most runs now, putting it in my Koala clip, so I do not have to carry it, but can use it comfortably in the summer. That way if something does go wrong, I can head home.
You may want to stay close to home for the first few months, until you really learn your baby’s habits and they are comfortable enough with dad or another person. It will also help with your peace of mind!
My thighs ended up a lot bigger than they used to be after having a baby, and they still chafe a lot. I have to use the squirrels nut butter and vaseline on my legs if they are touching. If I have shorts that are long enough, I can get away with just the squirrels nut butter.
Most of all, remember mama, your body is working REALLY DAMN HARD to grow this baby right now, so give it some slack. Your running might take a while for you to bounce back, maybe even years, but there are a lot of inspirational mother runners out there who have run better than ever in their postpartum running journeys, BUT you cannot force it to get back into shape. Your body has been through a LOT growing this baby from a tiny little dot to a full little person. As I am told often, it takes 9 months to get yourself into this, you need to give yourself 9 months to get yourself out of it.
No one is looking at your weight gain and wondering why you have not lost the weight yet, just as no one is judging your pace. In fact, they are just impressed you are even out there exercising! Not every mama can do that!
Those social media accounts that show the women who lost all their baby weight within 6 weeks and ran a PR 3 months after birth are very rare and few and far between. Just like you (or I for that matter!) understand that you are never going to be an Olympian, you need to see those people as just that. They are rare and gifted in a unique way. The majority of women are like you, self-conscious and wondering why it isn’t “happening” for you. It will, be patient and trust in that body of yours.
It has done a beautiful thing, created another life! That is the best miracle in the world, so give it the respect it deserves and give it time to heal and get back to “Itself”.
Forwarding article to my partner! She’s doing the Great North Run in the UK next month and hasn’t even been out once since our baby was born. Definitely has a mental block with the concept.