How to start running after giving birth
If you used to run before your pregnancy (or during – check out our prenatal running guide if you need more info on that), you’re probably eager to recover your previous fitness level. And that’s definitely possible!
The current evidence-based recommendation is that you can return to running around 3 months after childbirth – or more, if you have any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.
To prepare your body to run again, there’s plenty you can do in the meantime, however. This is also a time when you can simply take a step back and focus on getting as much rest as you can – and with a newborn to take care of, we all know how much of a challenge this can be. So, if you feel that you need more time, take it slow.
Patience and consistency are key when starting to run postpartum. Here’s how you can progressively work towards getting back to your previous fitness level:
- In the first 2 to 4 weeks after giving birth, rest will be your top priority (and rightfully so!)
- In the next 8 to 10 weeks, you can start doing exercises that help rebuild pelvic floor strength; keep the intensity low to medium
- Around week 12, consult with your doctor to see if you can go back to more vigorous exercise, such as running – if yes, you can then pick a postpartum running plan such as Runna’s
- Listen to your body and don’t push through pain or discomfort
- Recruit others – your partner, parents, friends – to help you get enough time for yourself; physical exercise is an essential part of the equation of your wellbeing after giving birth
To help you with all this, we’ve built Runna, a dedicated running coaching app that you can use to build your own personalized postpartum running plan. It sets all training sessions for you, enabling you to simply focus on running and rebuilding your fitness safely.
What to expect and where to start
Below, you’ll see a brief overview of what our coach Ailish, who is a senior MSK physiotherapist, a runner, and mother of two, would advise you to do after giving birth to get back to running safely.
In the first two weeks, focus on getting as much rest as you can. Childbirth is a huge achievement and a challenge, so give your body time to recover and heal. Add more walking to your routine if and when you feel ready for it – but don’t hesitate to take more time to rest.
Pelvic floor exercises
You can start doing gentle pelvic floor exercises. In a sitting position, engage the pelvic floor muscles, like if you’re bursting to pee and trying to hold it. Contract them for a second or a few seconds – even if it’s just one second, that’s totally fine.
Then, over the next few months, the goal is to get to a point where you can do 10 fast, strong contractions in a row and 10 submaximal contractions that you hold for 10 seconds with a 4-second break, twice a day. Go at your own pace.
If you’re feeling too uncomfortable or swollen, even gentle pelvic contractions can help.
Pelvic floor exercises can engage your tummy muscles, so if you’ve had a C-section, remember to take it easy.
At this point, if you’re already feeling more comfortable and able to move around more easily, you can do some basic exercises on a mat, both for mobility and muscle activation (check out Ailish’s videos in her guide).
If you’re ready to progress, you can do some leg strengthening exercises or even hop on a stationary bike to start some non-impact, low-intensity cardio. Walking is a great alternative, too. How much you do is up to you and will depend on your previous activity levels, on how active you were during your pregnancy, and how you feel each day.
Stay in your comfortable zone for now and progress at your own pace.
By now you’re probably moving around more and find it easier to do so. If you have a postnatal check with your doctor, make sure you ask them all the questions you have about how your body feels with increasing movement.
Watch out for any symptoms when increasing your activity levels, such as urinary and/or fecal incontinence, pressure, bulge, or dragging in the vagina, vaginal bleeding not related to your menstrual cycle, or any pelvic pain. If you get any of those symptoms, consult with your doctor.
By now, you can move on to the next one of Ailish’s workouts, if you’re feeling ready. You can also start doing some strength work in addition to walking and non-impact cardio.
If all is going well and your body is reacting positively to the new exercises, you can increase the amount of non-impact cardio you do; this can be with as little as 1-2 minutes per session. It’s better to go slower than risk an injury, so let your body guide you.
If you like swimming and your doctor has given you the go ahead, you can try it. Again, take your time and ease into it. If you like cycling, you can try a group spin class.
Here, you can do Ailish’s workout 4 for two weeks and then move on to workout 5.
Then, her last and 6th workout video will guide you through a checklist of exercises you need to be able to do before you get back to running.
Once you go through your first 12 weeks after giving birth and the 6 workouts Ailish has prepared for you, you can start training with Runna’s postnatal running program to get back to your previous running fitness.
Postpartum running and nutrition
Training is only one part of the equation of getting back to running after childbirth. Nutrition is an essential element that’ll fuel your recovery and help you get back on track.
And while you probably want to start losing your pregnancy weight as soon as possible, you shouldn’t focus on weight loss just yet. This will happen progressively over the next months.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If you’re breastfeeding, this means your energy needs are higher – so make sure you’re eating enough
- Make sure you’re getting enough iron and calcium; iron and calcium needs increase during and after pregnancy and childbirth
- Eat enough protein to facilitate muscle recovery
- Make sure you’re staying hydrated as you add more physical activity to your daily routine
Running for weight loss: Is it possible to lose weight by running?
In short, yes, it’s possible to lose weight by running, but don’t stress it in the first months after giving birth.
This is an exhausting period, and if you focus too much on reducing calories and increasing your weekly mileage simultaneously, you risk hitting a wall where you simply don’t have enough energy to sustain yourself and train. And if you’re breastfeeding, you do need extra calories on top of your maintenance energy needs.
The best way to set yourself up for success is to combine exercise with a healthy diet and some strength training. And to be patient and kind to yourself – the weight will come off.
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Postpartum running gear: Running buggies, clothing, and more
You’ve probably already seen one of those parents running with a buggy in the park and wondered how they manage to do it. Once you get back to running, you’ll be able to do just that, if you feel like giving it a try. (But if you prefer running alone, that’s obviously great, too.)
Here’s our top advice related to postpartum running gear:
- Running buggies: Running buggies are meant for babies older than 6 months, although in practice that might sometimes be closer to the 8-month mark. Choose a high-quality running buggy (you can borrow one if you aren’t sure you want to buy one just yet) and a quiet sidewalk or a park to get used to it.
- Shoes: Shoes protect your body – and your pelvic floor – from the impact with the ground. Choose shoes that are well-cushioned to get enough protection. And remember to change them once they’re worn out.
- Running bra: There are plenty of running bras available that are specifically designed for new mothers, including those who breastfeed. Invest in a high-quality bra that provides enough support.
- Accessories: Use a running belt or armband to carry your phone, keys, and other essentials. If you’re running with your baby, the running buggy will probably have enough pockets.
- Sun protection: Use high-SPF sunscreen, even in winter.