Welcoming a new baby is enough of a life-changing experience, without you having to comes to terms with the changes which also affect your body – both short-term and long-term. If you’re someone who ran regularly, whether that’s as part of your headspace, for fitness or something else, it’s. understandable that you might be chomping at the bit to return.
However, before you lace up your trainers and head out, there’s some factors you need to consider first. As a mum to three boys, as well as a pre and postnatal personal trainer who’s helped hundreds of women return to running, you need to be able to judge for yourself whether you’re ready to run after having a baby.
If we were working together to get you back into running, these are the main elements I’d use to assess your readiness to run:
1. The Impact on Pelvic Floor and Stomach Muscles
The pelvic floor and stomach (abdominal) muscles undergo significant strain during pregnancy and childbirth. Your pelvic floor is often weakened and needs targeted training post-birth, especially for women who did not engage in pelvic floor exercises before delivery. And if you think because you had a Caesarean Section that this part doesn’t apply to you, think again – your pelvic floor muscles were still under strain all those months during pregnancy from supporting the weight of your baby and the uterus, so it’s still been affected. This weakness can impact your postnatal ability to perform high-impact activities like running, which significantly increases intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). Intra-abdominal pressure is the pressure within the abdominal cavity. This can be affected by many things, including your breathing patterns and it can especially increase during activities such as when you’re trying to poo while constipated, when lifting heavy objects and when running. An increase in IAP can put additional strain down the middle of your stomach and could make a diastasis recti worse, or put additional strain on your pelvic floor.
2. The Risks of High-Impact Exercise Postnatally
Running, being a high-impact sport, places substantial demands on the body. Research found that running at a moderate speed generates ground reaction forces up to 2.5 times body weight. These forces, partly absorbed by your legs and feet, also impact the pelvic floor – so yes, you need to do your pelvic floor exercises particularly focusing on strength and speed. This is particularly challenging postnatally, as these muscles are typically weaker and less coordinated. And yes, pelvic floor muscles can become uncoordinated!
3. The Importance of Timing and Rehabilitation
Research shows that there’s a significantly higher risk of pelvic floor issues with high-impact exercise. The pelvic area, especially after vaginal delivery, undergoes considerable changes and typically takes 12 months after having your baby to return to its pre-pregnancy state. This, of course, is an average timeline and may take longer if you’ve had extra strain on your pelvic floor (through forceps, episiotomy etc) or are not rebuilding function optimally.
And if you’ve had a Caesarean Section, your scar needs time to heal properly too – it might feel fine and look fine after a couple of months, but there’s still plenty of healing happening internally. In fact, your abdominal fascia only regains most of its strength after around 6-7 months following birth. For some people, this can take much longer.
Guidelines advise that new mothers should consider returning to running only when they’re at least 3-6 months postnatal. Won’t lie, I urge my clients to err on the side of caution – from my own experience and from working with lots of clients who have started running before they’re physically able, even if they’ve had a straightforward pregnancy and birth and feel absolutely fine.
4. Signs of Pelvic Floor and Stomach Muscle Dysfunction to Look Out For
If you’re experiencing any of these key symptoms (everyday or when you exercise or run), it may be a critical indicator that your body isn’t ready to resume high-impact activities such as running just yet: incontinence (weeing or pooing yourself), a sensation of heaviness, dragging, pressure or as though something is falling out in the pelvic area, pain during intercourse, and lower back achiness or pain. These symptoms are critical indicators that the body may not be ready to resume high-impact activities like running just yet.
It can be difficult to judge whether you’re ready to run after having a baby but it is a decision that should be based on your individual health, your recovery progress, and ideally also professional guidance. While exercise is beneficial, you’ve got to firstly understand the unique demands and changes which have been put upon your body and prioritise patience, informed decision-making and professional guidance to help you ensure a healthy, progressive and enjoyable return to running.
Want to Return to Running step-by-step, with confidence? Follow Return to Running, a 6-week online program developed by Eliza Flynn, a pre and postnatal personal trainer, and Niamh burn, a women’s health physio.