My postpartum running journey

One Run Mummy Run community member, Charlie Paradise, shares her honest experience about returning to running after having a baby in her own words.  

Prior to having a baby, I was pretty run fit, and running was a great way for me to look after my mental wellbeing. Therefore, I knew it was important that I got back into running after my baby was born. I knew it wouldn’t just be a case of putting my trainers back on and heading out the door; what I didn’t realise was that this would be the most interesting fitness journey I have ever embarked on.

I now want to share what I have learned with any mums getting back into running, or getting into running for the first time after their babies are born.

Be patient and manage your expectations

I have always been competitive, pushing myself physically to see what I can achieve, but a different mindset is needed postpartum. You have just grown a human being inside your womb and then given birth, one of the most amazing things a body can do – well done you! This, however, does mean your body adapted to this process; everything about you is now different. You have probably learned through antenatal videos that ligaments go all stretchy when pregnant, your boobs change, not to mention stretchmarks and other changes to the tummy area. It’s going to take some time for you to settle into this new body, physically and mentally, so before you start thinking you SHOULD be doing this and SHOULD be doing that, remember what you have just achieved and what your body and mind went through to achieve this.

A really important thing to tell yourself on those days where you seem to take one step forward and 10 steps back is that you just gave birth! That makes you a hero; you can do whatever you set your mind to, but one small step at a time – there is no rush.

Riding the rollercoaster of hormones

Where to start with hormones? We already know they can impact training and performance. I don’t think I really understood just how much of a rollercoaster it can be with postpartum hormones until I undertook that journey. After four months I thought I was over postpartum, but actually I then experienced a short-term postpartum thyroid issue, which meant I had to stop, rest, recover, before starting my running journey all over again. It can be very frustrating to think it’s ‘all over’ and then you realise postpartum hormones can take at least a year to settle down.

My recommendation is to be patient. Your body isn’t fighting against you; it’s just adapting and it needs time. Don’t fall out with your body over a natural recovery process.

Training on no sleep

If you are a first-time parent like me, you might go from a good level of sleep to month after month of playing sleep lottery. I once read sleep can be one of the biggest challenges parents face until their child is six years old (though I would argue this is longer for many). When you then throw exercise into the mix, this can be a very interesting time. Most professionals would tell you that after any long run, good sleep is crucial for recovery.

What worked for me was to first think about sleep differently. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important you get as much as you can, but if before a planned long run you are wide awake in the night, don’t let sleep anxiety creep in. Don’t think about how much sleep you aren’t going to get and how this might affect your run; don’t try and force sleep, don’t put pressure on sleep. CBT-I is a great form of reframing the way you think about sleep, and quality of sleep is actually more important that quantity.

I would also recommend using other ways to rest and recover. For example, you have a long run and that night the baby is teething so you don’t get a full night sleep to recover. How about doing everything else you can to help your body and not relying on a good night’s kip? Post-run stretching; if you have time some Epsom Salts in a bath; eating the right amount of post-run protein and carbs; drinking water and resting your body as much as you can around baby – these are thing you can explore.

‘Me’ time

Time: quite possibly the biggest challenge mums have generally! Time for yourself – ‘me time’ ­– we know is crucial for our mental wellbeing, but what about time to train?

My recommendation is, first let’s work on mum guilt; your children don’t need you 24/7 if they have a caring grandparent, uncle or family friend. Also, thanking our partners for looking after THIER children while we have some time for us – we need to rethink that. Giving ourselves permission is job number one, but if you just don’t get enough time to train, can you consider training with your baby? There are some programmes out there that offer group face-to-face sessions for mums to work out with their babies. I personally find using things like free yoga sessions on YouTube and doing this with my baby helps. I also purchased a secondhand running buggy, which gives me more running slots in the week and Emilia seems to love it.

Strength training

One last thing I would really recommend is reading up about strength training for running; this can be done in your own home without actual weights, but it’s important to build strength when running, especially when you have had a baby. If you have a C-Section you can read about the impact this has on your core muscles, but however you gave birth, babies get heavy and we tend to carry them on our hip and lifting a baby can impact your back. Give your body the best chance you can by including this in your training plan.

Last point, remember that you just gave birth! That makes you amazing, so you can do anything you put your mind to, but give yourself time to get there. I am only 70% through my postpartum recovery period and I am learning more and more about myself each day.

Thank you Charlie for sharing your story and tips with us.

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