Returning To Running After Pregnancy

MY SON turned one this week and honestly, it’s only been recently that I can finish a workout feeling strong, fast, and like my former self. The two times I’ve delivered, I’ve always grown frustrated at the slow recovery.

The advice of “it took 9 months to deliver, it will take 9 months to get back to where you were” fell on deaf ears.

Like most runners, I like to think I’m different. Special. So living by the mantra of “there’s no way that well-researched, population-wide, clinical advice could apply to me” while ignoring my husband’s shaking head seemed normal. Once medically cleared, my run times soon returned to my normal and, thanks to a support system and a jogging stroller my weekly Ks crept up nicely. Maybe a little too nicely (read: too much too soon). I was just so happy to no longer have my medicine-ball-belly and I acted like a bird out of a cage. I ran through aches and pains while trying to quickly recapture my “I’m a runner” identity. The end result: time on the couch and doctor’s bills. Since I’ve already paid the price for doing too much too soon while neglecting nutrition 101 (apparently even RDs can be nutrition nightmares), I’ve pulled together some anecdotal and expert advice to help you avoid many common mistakes.

Tip 1: Eat with mum and baby in mind.

I don’t mean you should “eat for two”. I mean that if you are breastfeeding, then yes, you burn extra kilojoules and yes, you need extra nutrients. You’ll pull from your own stores to create liquid gold for baby which means that even though you are no long pre-natal, you still need that vitamin. Not only are you asking your body to start covering kilometres while recovering from the trauma of delivery, you’re also asking it to send a wealth of nutrients into the milk. If you don’t have extra nutrients on board then you, mum, simply go without. Thanks to my two wonderful, precious boys who also posed as darling little breastfeeding parasites (read: I should have consumed more protein and calcium- duh), I soon became the proud post-natal owner of multiple stress fractures (and bills for xrays, MRIs, orthotics, etc.). Don’t let this happen to you. Continue to take that pre-natal or a breastfeeding supplement and ask your health care professional if you need supplemental calcium, vitamin D, omega-3s, or iron now that you’re running once again. As for iron, as a female runner, you should already be taking in some sources of high quality iron. Find it in beef, poultry, fish, soy products, dried fruits, legumes, whole grains, fortified cereals, and leafy greens.

Tip 2: Speaking of breastfeeding, you’ll need to time it right.

Yes, you can absolutely breastfeed and be a runner. Personally, I have (not so) fond memories of pumping in a porta-john and then running the Boston Marathon. It can be done. The trick is to invest in a really good bra and also to feed or pump right before running. Once you finish, be sure to rehydrate. Without extra fluid on board to recover your sweat losses plus create milk, you might find that your supply runs low. Even if you’re not breast feeding, it’s still important to stay hydrated in order to fend off premature feelings of fatigue and hunger.

Tip 3: Be realistic.

Kate Weber, NASM-CPT, Prenatal/Postpartum Certified by Annette Lang, AFAA-PGE, KBC-I, and an expert with EAS Sports Nutrition suggests new mums consider their fitness level and weekly kilometre coverage in the weeks before delivery and use it as a starting point. Just because you ran 65K a week non-pregnant and are once again non-pregnant doesn’t mean that you can jump back into this level. After advancing through the beginner exercises, getting cleared from your doctor, and then dabbling in cardio for a while, begin running by aiming to hit the weekly mileage that you ran in the weeks before delivery. Didn’t run in the weeks before delivery? No problem. Kate recommends simply starting slow without a weekly mileage goal. Listen to your body and as you are able, increase the time spent running while decreasing the time spent walking.

Tip 4: Take it slow.

Megan Searfross, author of See Mom Run  and founder of Run Like a Mother® race series  agrees. She advises new mums to set aside 30 minutes a day for exercise rather than a mileage goal. Her clients start with a 4 minute walk followed by a 1 min run and repeat. She recommends women follow this pattern for a while, all the while listening to their body, and stepping up the pace and time spent running until eventually they are walking 1 minute and running 4. Megan also recommends eager new mums consider exactly how often they might be able to fit in activity before getting frustrated that the recovery is going slower than planned. The more time – within reason – you can devote to being active, the faster you might return to your former shape.

Tip 5: Keep your eye on the prize.

Megan, who is also leading and coaching the Team Stonyfield ladies at the 2015 Boston Marathon also reminds mums that it’s not all about the run – for once. Yes, the run is essential in that it’s time to enjoy the “me” time and it’s vital for mental clarity and peace but don’t become so focused on returning to pre-baby form that you go overboard and get so very worn out that you can’t care for you and baby.

Tip 6: Take time to look good.

It might seem vain but as I struggled to return to my former self and often felt frustrated with having no abs or having more cellulite a few weeks out than I anticipated, I found that small (non-food) treats put a smile on my face. And since I wasn’t yet back to pre-baby shape and size, my ego needed some clothes that were flattering and fun.

Tip 7: Be patient.

Obviously, this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do tip. At the end of the day you will get fitter, faster, burn more kilojoules, and be happier if you increase mileage slowly and avoid injury and the consequent need for rest. I’d add more tips on how to follow this tip but I fail miserably whenever I try to be patient. But as someone who successfully returned to her former pre-baby shape (and even improved), I wish you all the best of luck and assure you it CAN be done!

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