on the road again: running after baby.

on the road again: running after baby.

Greetings! A few friends have asked about my postpartum running journey, so I wanted to share my experience. After two babies in two years, I have some insight on the matter. What you'll find in this post is simply a window into my own return to running. I was monitored by my obstetrician throughout my pregnancy while I ran and followed the advice of my doctor once both of my children were born. As a disclaimer though, I am most certainly not a doctor, so please follow the guidance from your physician. Enjoy some snapshots from my pregnant and postpartum running days in this post -- the man you see in many of them is my dad ;)

A little background: I am one of those crazy people who ran up until the end of my pregnancies. With James, I ran 7 days before I went into labor. (I didn't run that week before thanks to a fall on some boxes during our move.) With Rosie, I ran 2 days before I went into labor. I can only imagine what the people in my neighborhood thought when they saw me waddling by their house. If you were to ask me if I loved every pregnant run, I would say no. However, I am really glad I stuck with it as I look back on those months.

on the road again: running after baby.

Pregnant running is a whole new ball game. Running in the first trimester was rough, but it was manageable. I personally loved running in the second trimester best -- when my bump wasn't so big and I still had a reasonable range of motion with my legs. I decided that running in my third trimester was a means to an end, especially after week 34. I wanted to keep running, even though I wasn't always happy to get out the door. My OB once saw me running during the last six weeks and told me she was proud to see me "waddling". I wasn't speedy, but I was moving -- and that mattered most.

My first runs post-baby always coincided with a visit with my favorite running partner: my dad. Our cadence is nearly identical and we run almost always run in stride. (When we run races together, it's almost eerie.) These first runs were both roughly three weeks after delivery. In the hospital, I was given the guidance that I would know when I was ready to get back on the road. I was told to trust my instincts and that's what I did.

on the road again: running after baby.

One important note about my return to running was when my little ones were born. James was a winter baby; Rose was a summer baby. Returning to running after Rose was a whole different ballgame than with James. With my summer baby, the frequency of my runs increased around six or so weeks postpartum. With my winter baby (who also happened to be born in the worst winter we've ever had in New England), I wasn't running more than once or twice a week until at least twelve weeks.

Here's where I get really real (so click away if you don't want the truth): my postpartum running hasn't always been pretty... or dry... if you catch my drift. I recently got a referral to a physical therapist for these issues, so I am hoping to make some progress in the coming months. I thought that running throughout my pregnancy would make it easy to come back, but I was dead wrong. I convinced myself that returning to running the second time would be different too. Nope. Dead wrong again. In my estimation, two things made running postpartum more difficult: nursing boobs (sorry to be crass) and relearning how to move without a big weight on the front of your body.

on the road again: running after baby.

I know many people think women running with a bump is nuts, but I promise you -- it is not. A pregnant body does an incredible job adapting. Once a baby is born, there is every expectation that a mother will just magically be right back to where she used to be. Nope. There are a lucky few for which this happens -- and if you're one of them, rejoice. I had my first at 29.5 and my second at 31. Things just didn't fall right back for me. Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing a woman can do for her child, but it also requires constant awareness to one's hydration (which causes a joyous postpartum issue...) and one's supply. Exercising too much can affect the supply and drinking too much can cause really unpleasant running conditions. (cough)

Truth bomb: from my experience, running while breastfeeding could be tougher than running with a huge bump. My theory is that the bump gives your ladies something to rest on... suddenly, when your bump goes away, they're just there in all their heavy, hanging glory. Nursing boobs are a serious running buzzkill. They make getting back on the road much harder because you're carrying extra weight in places you didn't have it before -- and getting some new weird aches and pains as a result. 

on the road again: running after baby.
 
With James, I stopped nursing at six months. Rosie is six months and we're still on our breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding is seriously miraculous, don't get me wrong, but I will say that I didn't rediscover my joy in running until I weaned James. It is a serious struggle for me to get out the door these days, partially because of the cold and partially because I just feel like a lug. I am one of those few people who can't wait for her ladies to return to their non-milk producing state, though I will keep feeding Rose as long as she's interested in what I have to offer.

Beyond the chest department, there is serious shift in your center of gravity. I should have anticipated this would make things more difficult. Following both of these pregnancies, I felt like I had to relearn how to run -- even though I ran while pregnant. I averaged 3-4 runs per week during pregnancy, which was equivalent to my "normal" running days. (I cannot run back-to-back days because of stress fracture issues. My hope is to address this once we're sure we're done with children.) I'm currently averaging 3 runs per week -- Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. I try fit in two shorter runs (5K - 4 miles) and one longer run (6 - 8 miles). I know that's not a lot in the way of mileage, but I'll get back there soon enough. I would say that I enjoy two of those runs a week, but one of the runs feels like I'm running in five foot deep water. I can never predict when a run will feel that way, until about mile 2... when it hits me like a wall of bricks.

on the road again: running after baby.

All I can say about re-learning your rhythm is this: it takes time. Right as I got my groove back after James, I found out I was pregnant again with Rosie. (She was and is such a blessing, one which I'm not trying to bemoan. I'm just stating fact!) Because of better weather post-Rosie, I feel much better on the road speed-wise today than I did post-James. 

Take this post for what it's worth. This was my experience. I started running at age 11 -- and have run consistently since, with the exception of a few months surrounding two stress fractures in my mid-20s. When my obstetrician encouraged me to continue what I had been doing pre-pregnancy, I decided to try it. I learned to really listen to my body during my pregnancies, many thanks in part to my running. I know, without a doubt, that running helped me get through both of my labors with much more confidence. I'm glad I ran during my pregnancies, but I also know it's not for everyone. 

on the road again: running after baby.

Coming back to running post-baby is no small feat. Taking it one day at a time is the best mentality, but these four snippets of advice may also help:
  1. Set realistic expectations for your return. For example, I try to trim off 10-15 seconds per month on my overall average speed. If speed isn't your goal, add mileage gradually -- maybe a half mile a week, spread out across your runs.
  2. Know your body will tire more quickly, but also know you WILL get it back. It just takes some serious dedication and understanding.
  3. Only buy dark running shorts or pants for a long time. You'll thank me later. My cute pink running shorts are in my drawer for the time-being, as are my pretty light grey leggings. (If you're looking for options, I am especially loving these shorts and these pants for postpartum runs. The shorts run just a bit longer, so they do not get caught up in your post-baby thighs and do not cut into your midsection. The pants do an especially great job of holding in all your "jiggly bits" and masking other issues...)
  4. Shake off the "bad" runs and know that better ones are ahead. Remind yourself that you got out there -- and that's what matters most. Better runs are coming.
If you have any one-off questions, I am happy to answer them. I am not an expert nor can I offer medical advice. (Always follow your doctor's orders!) I don't want to downplay how grateful I am my body allowed me to stay active during my pregnancies -- and to resume my running when I did. Whether you're a lifelong runner or a newbie, you can do it... just don't give up before you even start. I hope my honesty wasn't too scary -- and I'd love to hear if you have any other tips. xoxo {av}

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