The postpartum period is a time for healing and recovery. It’s also a time to bond with your baby. But many new parents also want to get moving.
If you’re eager to get back to running, you’ll need to do some foundation work before lacing up your shoes.
While it’s safe to resume running after pregnancy, there are some specific guidelines and timelines you should follow to ensure that your body is ready for high-impact activity.
The short answer is “yes,” it’s safe to run after pregnancy. But you’ll have to work with your OB-GYN or a physical therapist to determine when the time is right for you.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), resuming exercise depends on factors like the type of delivery (vaginal vs. cesarean) and other complications like diastasis recti or problems after an episiotomy.
With that in mind, the ACOG says if your pregnancy was healthy and childbirth was uncomplicated, you should be able to return to low- to moderate-intensity exercise soon after giving birth.
Since running is a moderate to vigorous exercise, physical therapist Natalie Niemczyk, DPT, CSCS, and RRCA run coach, says you need to prepare your body for this activity.
“Before you add running to your routine, you’ll want to incorporate exercises that focus on core stability, lower extremity strength, and plyometric activity that you gradually progress as you feel comfortable,” she says.
How long you should wait to resume running is unique to your health. To help determine a return date, physical therapist Arantzazu “Zazu” Cioce, DPT, CAPP-OB, says you should be assessed both by your medical provider as well as a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor physical therapy.
In general, Cioce says it’s wise to wait 12 weeks after birth to start running. However, you can start the active recovery and training process beginning at 6 weeks postpartum.
“Before the 6-week postpartum check, most people can start working on pelvic floor muscle strength, endurance, and coordination exercises as well as gentle abdominal activations like pelvic tilts and bent knee fallouts,” she explains.
The next goal, she says, is to walk 30 minutes without any symptoms before increasing your speed to include running.
Cioce says it’s also a good idea to check on your mindset. “Many people place a lot of pressure on themselves to get their ‘pre-baby body’ back, and this can lead to unrealistic expectations for whole-body recovery and return to running timeline,” she says.
If you rush the process, it may lead to other complications and drag out your healing and recovery period even more.
When it comes to exercise, your postpregnancy body requires a lot more care and attention than its prebaby version. Not only are certain parts settling different (hello, breasts!), but you’re also dealing with leaking issues, pelvic pain, and that oh-so uncomfortable urge to use the bathroom.
If this is your first postpartum experience, there are some things you might not expect but need to be aware of before you head out on your first run.
Pelvic and low back pain are common during pregnancy, but these aches and pains can continue into the postpartum period as well.
You may experience sacroiliac joint (connecting the lower spine to the pelvis) pain or pubis symphysis (between the right and left pubic bones) pain. To help reduce discomfort and strengthen the area, Niemczyk says to include core and pelvic stability exercises like the following in your overall routine:
- pelvic tilts
- abdominal bracing
- bird dogs
It’s also a good idea to perform some of these moves before heading out on a run.
All that jarring and pounding is going to trigger some leakage. If you’re breastfeeding, you should feed or pump before running — otherwise, you may end up with a very wet bra and shirt. That’s because some people experience letdown while running.
Consider purchasing an extra-supportive bra and wear nursing pads to catch any drops of milk.
Leaking from other parts of your body
Leakage is not exclusive to breasts. You should also be ready for urinary incontinence.
It’s not uncommon to leak urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze, or exercise during the postpartum period. To avoid an uncomfortable mess, consider wearing a liner or a pad designed for incontinence.
Increased pain all over
Your body just grew and birthed a baby. That is an incredible task and one that can wreak havoc on your joints, ligaments, muscles, and bones.
Don’t be surprised if you’re sore both during exercise and after. You may even notice pain in places that are new to you, such as your feet, ankles, and upper back.
The hormones that surged during pregnancy are still present after childbirth. Relaxin can cause joint laxity for up to 6 months postpartum, so be careful when running on trails, sidewalks, or any other unstable surface.
Otherwise known as lochia, it’s not uncommon to experience vaginal discharge after giving birth. Cioce says this discharge may contain blood, mucus, and uterine tissue. It’s the heaviest in the first week after childbirth, but light bleeding can continue for 4 to 6 weeks postpartum.
Running after pregnancy is a goal for many. That said, getting your body ready to resume high-impact activity requires time, patience, and some focused work on your core and pelvic floor.
Niemczyk recommends a combination of exercises that focus on:
- Core and pelvic stability. “Your abdominals and pelvic floor are fundamental to return to running safely,” says Niemczyk. To help this process, make sure to perform exercises like pelvic tilts, abdominal bracing, pelvic floor contractions (Kegels), and bird dogs.
- Lower body strength. “Your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves all help to carry the body through each stride,” says Niemczyk. To help prepare your lower body for a return to running, dedicate a few days each week performing exercises like squats, single-leg bridges, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, split squats, and calf raises.
- Plyometrics. “The elastic properties within your muscles and tendons are a key component in running,” says Niemczyk. And while plyometrics may seem like a form of activity reserved for advanced levels, you can do some of these moves at a lower intensity. Focus on squat jumps, single-leg jumps, and box jumps.
Also, be sure to follow a walking program prior to running. Of all the ways to get your body ready for running, following a walking program first is the most important.
“Walking is a safe way to maintain cardiovascular health and prepare the body for what’s next,” explains Niemczyk. Start slowly with short walks and work up to brisker, longer walks.
When you’re ready to lace up your running shoes, Niemczyk suggests following a walk/run interval program similar to this format:
- Walk/run ratio of 3:1
- Walk for 3 minutes and run for 1 minute, then repeat. Follow this ratio until you’re ready to move to the next phase.
- Walk/run ratio of 2:1
- Walk for 2 minutes and run for 1 minute, then repeat. Follow this ratio until you’re ready to move to the next phase.
- Walk/run ratio of 1:1
- Walk for 1 minute and run for 1 minute, then repeat. Follow this ratio until you’re ready to move to the next phase.
- Walk/run ratio of 1:2
- Walk for 1 minute and run for 2 minutes, then repeat. Follow this ratio until you’re ready to move to the next phase.
- Walk/run ratio of 1:3
- Walk for 1 minute and run for 3 minutes, then repeat. Eventually, progress to returning to runs without blocks of walking.
It’s normal to feel some discomfort (hello, sore glutes!) when you hit the pavement for the first time. But if you’re having any of the following symptoms during or after exercise or running, reach out to your OB-GYN as soon as possible:
- light-headedness or dizziness
- feeling very out of breath
- chest pain
- bleeding or leakage
- muscle weakness
- vision changes
- calf swelling or pain
- persistent pelvic pain
- vaginal, bladder, or rectal pressure
- increase in abdominal separation (diastasis recti)
If you’re having any of the above symptoms, Cioce says it’s best to also work with a pelvic floor physical therapist to address the symptoms before they become more severe or chronic. With your OB’s blessing, you can continue to progress with your running goals while working on the pelvic floor issues at the same time.
Remember, this stage is not forever. With adequate recovery that focuses on strengthening your pelvic floor and other supporting muscles, you can get back into a running groove.
In general, you can expect to wait about 12 weeks before feeling ready to run. This may seem like a long time. However, you can work on strengthening your muscles, walking, swimming, and other low- to moderate-impact activities before the 12-week mark.
It’s also OK to wait longer or modify your definition of exercise if you need to. A 15-minute walk followed by some gentle stretches is a great place to start.