I’ve run for almost as long as I can remember. Most teenagers I knew back in the day turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with teenage challenges. I turned to exercise. For years it’s been my go-to coping mechanism of choice, so I had my heart set on running a half marathon when Elias turned six months old. Much of my pregnancy was infused with well, sleep, so I knew I’d be ready to get back into the swing of things once Elias made his debut. I told people while I was pregnant that I’d take 3 months to recover from the physical demands of giving birth, adjust to my new life as a mom, and then spend three months training for a 13.1 mile endurance run across the middle of Oregon. This seemed realistic in my mind especially considering that while I was still pregnant I read about a woman who delivered her baby the same day she completed a marathon. Fast forward 8 months. Elias has been around since October of last year and I’ve spent roughly 17 minutes, total, running. I missed that half marathon back in April. Whoops! It turns out I should’ve been a bit more conservative in my postpartum ambitions.
Although my mind is ready, my body keeps saying STOP. Like many of the physical effects of pregnancy that I wasn’t expecting, 9 months of puking my guts out for example, I wasn’t expecting the postpartum months to physically kick my butt. Even though I’m lifting weights three times a week and incorporating core strength into my routine, my body still isn’t ready for the impact of running. I’ve learned that the hormone relaxin, which loosens ligaments and prepares the body for birth, stays present in a woman’s body until she stops breastfeeding. Some reading I’ve done would indicate that relaxin is present for up to six months after breastfeeding ceases. Much of the fitness information for postpartum women doesn’t take this into account. In fact the general recommendations now state that if you were active during your pregnancy you can begin a postpartum exercise routine right away if you feel ready. The six to eight week wait window has been retired. The problem with this recommendation however is that without the awkwardness of carrying the baby bump a woman may be tempted to jump into things more quickly than she should. Breastfeeding women in particular should be cautious about the types of physical activity they incorporate. Pay attention to the following tips when beginning an exercise program postpartum:
1) Remember your mind may be ready before your body. Evaluate how you feel each step of the way when you’re exercising and refrain from any activities that cause you pain or discomfort.
2) Start with low-impact activities such as walking, biking, and swimming. It may be months or even years before high impact activities feel good again.
3) Yoga is an excellent activity if you are doing a postpartum specific class. Your main focus should be on increasing joint stability and increasing muscle strength, not on flexibility.
4) Incorporate strength training as this too will help to increase stability in the joints.
5) Use a foam roller to gently massage the glutes, hamstrings, IT band, etc after workouts.
6) Incorporate a stability ball into your workouts for the purpose of rebuilding core strength.
7) Exercise with your baby and other new moms to build or retain social connections in this transitional time.
I’ve never met a woman postpartum who wasn’t ready to have her pre-pregnancy body back, but patience will insure that you avoid injury and frustration on the way back to your vibrant physical self.