Running After Having a Baby

Georgie Palmer (Physiotherapist – Burnie)

Running is a popular past time in Australia and one of the easiest ways for mums to get some exercise done while looking after a baby. Currently there are not any strict rules about when to return to running after having a baby but following the advice of a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist is a good way to prevent any injuries now and down the track. But firstly, why is running after having a baby something you might need help with?

Pretty young woman running in city. Free Photo

Changes to the body

As any woman who has been pregnant can tell you, the female body undergoes huge changes while pregnant and things do not automatically go back to normal once a baby is born. Some of the ongoing changes include:

  • Weight – It is normal for women to have retained some weight gain from pregnancy in the weeks, months, years post birth. This can be due to fatty tissue, fluid and breast tissue. There is also a change in lifestyle often once baby has arrived, and women may find it tricky to be as active as they were previously.
  • Pelvic floor – the pelvic floor stretches due to increased weight of the baby while pregnant, may tear during childbirth and without intervention, will be weak after birth of a baby. This may lead to symptoms such as leakage, having to go to the toilet frequently or having to get to the toilet very quickly.
  • Ligament laxity – during pregnancy a mix of hormones loosen ligaments in preparation for birth. After baby is born, it takes time for these ligaments to return to normal, and while breastfeeding, they will remain lax. This increases risk of injury. It also results in postural changes, which means your muscles and joints will be working differently compared to before baby arrived/you were pregnant.
  • Bone density – bone density is affected after baby is born, particularly if you are breastfeeding it can be reduced. This is typically reversed once breastfeeding is ceased but may pose a risk of stress fracture if high loads are placed on the bones during this period (for example, running!).
  • Muscles – Different muscles in the body – especially those supporting the abdomen and areas of weight gain, will become lengthened and weakened during pregnancy. The most obvious one is your rectus abdominus (6 pack muscles) which usually stretches in the middle leaving a gap or diastasis (you might have heard it called a DRAM).
  • Biomechanics – due to all the above mentioned changes it is likely that after baby is born you will have a different running action, which may not be ideal for your joints/muscles or for an efficient running technique.

So when is it safe to start running again?

Generally speaking, it is best to wait until at least 3 months post partum before starting to run again. This allows healing and for hormonal changes to occur. Keep in mind that the length of time you breastfeed for is going to prolong hormonal changes within the body and you may be more at risk of injury during this time.

The other important thing to consider is your pelvic floor strength. It is not normal to have any bladder leakage when you run. My advice would be that if this is the case….STOP RUNNING and see a women’s health physio! Ideally have your pelvic floor assessed prior to returning to running, so you know if it is up to the challenge or not, and to reduce your risk of prolapse further down the track.

Something you can do if you aren’t up to the challenge of running yet is to work on your strength. After a pregnancy it is likely you have had a period of time where you haven’t been able to run/do strength exercises that you used to do. And if strengthening wasn’t part of your exercise routine before, this is a good time to start. You will likely need the guidance of a Physio/EP to help you build up in strength, but body weight exercises are a good place to start, and don’t require any equipment. Strengthening exercises, particularly for the legs and abdominals, will reduce your risk of injury.

There are also some things to consider if you are going to run with a pram. To have good technique, and again avoid injury, the following suggestions are helpful. They include:

  • Lean forward from the hips (not ankles) – for good posture
  • Keep the pram close
  • Push the pram with one arm at a time (and alternate) – to improve upper back movement and avoid overuse of one side of the body
  • Shorten your stride – improves glute (buttock) activation and also helps posture

Young mother walking with baby carriage in park Free Photo

Benefits of running

I hope everything you have read so far hasn’t scared you away from returning to running, as it is a really great form of exercise and the benefits of exercise in the post partum period are extensive, including:

  • Improvement of brain function
  • Improved sleep (as long as baby lets you!)
  • Improved mood
  • Improved body image
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduction in incidence of chronic disease later in life

The take home message from this blog is to wait at least 3 months, and to see a professional regarding your pelvic floor/abdominal muscles/overall strength, prior to returning to running.

At Coastal Physiotherapy, our Physio Georgie has an interest in Women’s Health and can assess your pelvic floor and our Exercise Physiologists Jarrod and Simon can help you out in the gym. Give the Burnie clinic a call on 64314586 for an appointment.