I’ve had a baby. When can I start running again?

Libby O'Sullivan

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I used to get so jealous whenever I would see someone running! It’s not that I was a big runner before pregnancy, but for some reason watching someone do something that I couldn’t turned me into…well, an angry 3 year old. ‘I want what they’ve got!!’ 

So, I completely understand the desire to get back to running after bub. Especially when you were a runner before pregnancy and it’s part of your mental health management. Or for women who are feeling heavier than usual and just want to get the body moving and work up a sweat!

Unfortunately (like many things in life!) there is no one-size-fits-all solution!

It is different for EVERYONE!

Firstly, some things to consider…

  • Running is a high impact activity, which means it places a much greater demand on your body than lower impact activity like walking and yoga.
  • High impact exercise like running has been found to increase risk of pelvic floor dysfunction by 4+ times more than low impact exercise.
  • Our bodies need time to heal after having a baby. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a vaginal birth or a caesarian birth, or if you were super fit before/during pregnancy – your body has been through some level of trauma and needs time to recover and regain it’s strength.
  • As well as pelvic floor dysfunction, running before your body is ready may increase your risk of pelvic organ prolapse, joint injury (eg hips, back, knees, ankles) and muscle / tendon injury like strains and tendinopathies

How long should I wait before I start running again?

Well, It depends!

Your body needs a good 12 weeks to heal from a birth, sometimes longer depending on the birth itself, scar healing etc.

However…

 Readiness for running is not a time-based formula!

If you’ve done minimal walking and no targeted strengthening exercises to prepare your body for running in the first 3 months (or 3 years!) after birth, you will probably need a bit longer to work towards running safely.

How do I know if my body is ready?

You might not know! Theoretically your body is ready when you have:

  • back and pelvic stability and control
  • adequate abdominal strength and endurance
  • enough hip strength and endurance
  • good pelvic floor health 

And that’s a LOT of factors to weigh up on your own!

So let’s start with the signs that your body probably ISN’T ready. No matter how far down the postpartum path you are, I would not recommend starting running without guidance if you have:

  • bladder or bowel leakage 
  • sensations of pressure / bulging / dragging in your vagina
  • vaginal bleeding not related to your menstrual cycle
  • pelvic, hip or low back pain, especially if you’ve noticed it worsens with exercise 

Who should I see for help?

Although essential, your 6 week check up with the GP or obstetrician is just not adequate to determine if you’re ready to run.

With so many of the above factors to consider, I always recommend seeking the guidance from a good physiotherapist before you start. 

When I am working with a woman who has a goal to return to running, I do a thorough assessment which includes:

  • A good chat about previous births, medical conditions and past injuries
  • A chat about past level of exercise and goals for exercise
  • A few questions to check for symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction or injury (and referral to an amazing pelvic health physiotherapist as needed)
  • A non-invasive assessment using real-time ultrasound to check activation of pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles
  • A check for abdominal separation (i.e rectus diastasis) which can sometimes affect the body’s ability to transfer load 
  • A general mobility and strength assessment
  • A few very specific return to running tests checking for strength and stability around your hips and legs, pelvis and core
  • A good chat about goals and a plan on how we’re going to get there together!

Remember, readiness for running is not just time based. Any work you do to prepare your body beforehand will be worthwhile. So even if you are only 6 weeks postpartum, you can still have an assessment and start working towards your goal with some tailored strength, mobility and conditioning work.

What else can I do to return to running safely?

Once your body is checked and prepped for a return to running, you can also look after it by:

1. Making sure you have a good pair of shoes

A good pair of shoes will support you and absorb shock so that the rest of you isn’t doing more than it has to! You can find out more about what to look for in a running shoe here

2. Easing into it slowly

Start small and build slowly. An interval walk / jog is a good place to start. As you feel stronger and fitter, increase time spent jogging but make sure you feel good at the time AND the days following a run before you progress. Also take care not to over train. Give your body recovery days to gauge how it’s responding.

3. Saving the hills for later

As a general rule, aim to improve endurance before intensity. So gradually increase your distance / time before you start doing hill sprints! Running down hill particularly is very demanding on the pelvic floor and hip and knee joints, so best not to start with this!

4. Keeping your stride length short and your bounce low

Striding out with your foot in front of your body and having lots of vertical movement (i.e bounce up and down) both place a lot of demand on the pelvic floor.

So try gently leaning forward as you run, aiming to land with your weight directly over your foot and keep the up and down bounce to a minimum! 

5. Look for variety

Mix up your running workouts with swimming, Pilates, circuit training or cardio machines at the gym. It will be enough to give your body a break from the repetition of running but also to keep you interested!

Finally, don’t put off seeking help! Pelvic floor dysfunction and joint/muscle injuries are treatable! The longer you ignore them, the longer they take to treat. Get in touch so we can start you on the road to better health today!