Welcoming my daughter was the happiest moment of my life. The weeks to follow were some of the hardest. Sleeping, eating, showering—all of these had to wait until my baby had her needs met. Exercising didn’t even come close to making the list of must-dos.
Running was always in the back of my mind, though, and had been since I had to give it up at almost 7 months pregnant. Since that last run, I’d been anxiously awaiting the day when I could run again.
I had no idea just how difficult postpartum running could be.
At my two-week post-baby checkup with my midwife, I was cleared to start running again. I was elated! But then I tried a slow jog/walk combo and found my excess weight to be an issue. My poor joints practically screamed at me to stop. To avoid injury, I decided to take my workout to the stationary bike at my local gym until I was within 15 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight, and then I finally got out and started “running.”
And by running, I mean I walked five minutes, slow-jogged five minutes for a half hour. Slowly, I increased the jogging and decreased the walking, then upped my workout time. Over the next six and a half months, I slowly worked my way back into fitness, guided by one motto: Listen to your body, and stop if you need to.
At 7 months postpartum, I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon in just under two hours. It was a wonderful, proud moment for me. Now, I’m gearing up for my first marathon—this time, training with a toddler at home (or in the jogging stroller).
I’ve learned a lot over the past nearly year and a half. But for this article, I decided to go to one of the best-known mom runners: Sarah Bowen Shea of AnotherMotherRunner.com and coauthor of Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother. Sarah offers six tips to new moms who’d like to start or return to running:
#1 Set realistic, manageable goals
It’s important not to overdo it in those first weeks. “Don’t put the burden on yourself that you’re going to run every day,” Sarah says. “Tell yourself that you’re going to get out and move more, whether that’s putting your baby in a stroller and walking with her, or swapping child care with a neighbor so you can get out and enjoy some alone time.”
#2 Get help to get out
If you’re like me, you might not be thrilled about bringing your newborn out in a stroller. Our area had bumpy sidewalks and heavy traffic—and, let’s face it, I didn’t want to be stuck a mile from home with an inconsolable baby. It was easier to get out by myself, and that took help from my husband.
“Look for help from friends and neighbors to find time to exercise, or if your family budget allows, join a gym that has child care,” Sarah suggests. Note that most pediatricians recommend keeping newborns “cocooned”—away from people who might be sick—to prevent dangerous diseases in the first few months.
#3 Leave mommy guilt behind
I struggled—and still struggle—with mommy guilt. When I take time for myself, I sometimes feel like I’m somehow shortchanging my daughter. But I also know that exercise helps keep me emotionally balanced and actually gives me more energy and focus when I’m with my family. That, and the healthy choices I’m making now will hopefully keep me around for a long, long time.
Sarah adds, “Putting yourself first is also coming back [from a run] being a better mom and a more patient and loving spouse. You deserve that time, and you need to give it to yourself without feeling guilty about it.”
#4 Get the right gear
“It’s imperative to have a supportive, well-constructed sports bra and a good pair of shoes,” Sarah explains. “Your joints and ligaments are still losing elasticity for about nine months after you have a baby. Support and extra cushioning is important to a new mom’s body.”
When I foolishly tried running at two weeks postpartum, I could feel my joints moving around. Nothing is worth permanent injury. Wait until your body is ready, and make sure you’re well-equipped with the right gear when you finally get out the door for that first postpartum jog.
#5 Be kind to yourself
It can be easy to expect to jump right into running. But remember that your body has expanded and changed for nine months—and it has to heal and rebuild after the physical trauma of giving birth.
“Be kind to yourself if you were a runner beforehand. Don’t expect to go out two months postpartum and be able to run the same pace you did before,” Sarah says. “It takes your body a long time to get back to feeling like your own. You’re going to have to give yourself time to get back to whatever fitness and endurance goals or capabilities you had before you got pregnant.”
#6 Find a running friend
“You’ll stay in bed if it’s just you. But if you know someone’s waiting on the corner for you, you’re not going to let her down. A running friend or group is great for accountability,” Sarah explains. If you don’t have a running buddy, she suggests checking out organizations like Moms on the Run (http://www.momsontherun.com), Moms Run This Town (http://momsrunthistown.com), and Fit4Mom (http://fit4mom.com).
It’s not easy being a new mom. And it’s really not easy finding time for yourself during those first several months after baby is born. Hopefully Sarah’s tips will help you start or return to running—and become a happier, healthier mom in the process.
What would you add? What worked for you? If you’re pregnant, what are your postpartum workout concerns?
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