Postpartum exercise is recognised as beneficial for new mums.
Unfortunately some postpartum exercise information is not always appropriate for all women.
Australian fitness trainer Michelle Bridges (right) has recently been criticized in the media for her advice to new mums. Michelle posted a running workout that she’d done that same day, just three weeks after giving birth to her first child, along with her running tips for other new mums.
This following postpartum exercise information is simply intended to help new mums like Michelle who are keen to return safely to running after childbirth.
Read on now to learn:
- 10 postpartum exercise running tips
- When is it safe to start running after childbirth?
- Common postpartum exercise injuries with running
- Is your pelvic floor at risk with running too soon?
10 Postpartum Exercise Running Tips For Women
Assuming you’ve been given approval to run by your Obstetrician or Midwife these tips can help you return to running and reduce your risk of injury.
The Golden Rule
Return to running only when your pelvic floor tissues have completely healed and you are confident that your pelvic floor exercises have restored sufficient pelvic floor strength and support for high impact exercises.
1. Start Out Gradually
Prepare for running with progressive postnatal walking. When you first start running keep your run duration short and alternate short intervals of running with brisk walking. You should be able to maintain a conversation when running at the correct speed.
2. Choose Flat Surfaces
Running on flat surfaces helps you avoid the added impact on your joints and pelvic floor associated with hill running.
3. Reduce Pram Load
Ideally try to start out running without a pram if possible. Running pushing the load of a pram increases strain on your body.
If you have no alternative but to run with your baby in a pram, invest in a lightweight running pram to reduce the load.
4. Run When Rested
Run when you’re well rested, not when fatigued. When you’re tired your body is more vulnerable to injury (including your pelvic floor, joints and ligaments). If you’ve been awake throughout the night or if you’re very tired leave running for another day.
5. Avoid Pelvic Floor Bracing
There is no benefit to running with your pelvic floor muscles braced (contracted), in fact this practice causes pelvic floor fatigue and can result in pelvic floor pain and pelvic floor muscle tension. Activate your deep abdominal muscles gently (never forcefully) when running.
6. Good Running Posture
Use good upright running posture. Pregnancy promotes slumped forwards posture which increases the risk of spinal strain and decreases the activity or your supportive core and pelvic floor muscles.
Good posture involves visualising a string drawing up through the crown of your head, lengthening your spine and raising your chest forwards when running.
7. Alternate Running Surfaces
Running on different surfaces can help reduce the load and impact of running on your body.
This isn’t easy if you’re confined to treadmill running however when outdoors try to alternate surfaces during your run (e.g. grass or gravel versus constant road running).
8. Food & Fluid Intake
When you’re breastfeeding your energy and fluid demands are increased.
Make sure your energy intake is sufficient to ensure good milk production. If you’ve been feeding during the night and run in the morning, have something light to eat before setting out. Stay well hydrated before and after running especially if you’re breast feeding.
9. Supportive Exercise Gear
Wear well cushioned supportive footwear – the ligaments supporting the arches of the feet soften with pregnancy so ensure your good arch support.
Wear a well fitting supportive exercise bra. Some women find they benefit from wearing a crop top over their bra for additional support.
10. Listen To Your Body.
Your body is very good at signalling when you need to modify your postpartum exercise routine. If you’re tired, uncomfortable or feeling sore during or after running, your body may be telling you to take things slower.
Try not ignore the signals your body sends you.
When Is It Safe To Start Running After Childbirth?
Exercise for months 1-3 after childbirth should be low impact for all women. Low impact exercises are those that minimise the forces placed upon the body e.g. walking and cycling.
High impact exercises are inappropriate for all women for at least 4 months after childbirth. Some women can gradually commence running from 4 months after childbirth. Others need to avoid running in favour of low impact exercises until their body is sufficiently recovered and strong enough to withstand the forces associated with running and other high impact exercises.
Unfortunately there’s no one clear answer for all women.
All women have their own individual risks factors for postpartum injury (e.g. pre-existing injuries, pregnancy and childbirth experiences, pelvic floor function, bodyweight, running experience, fitness and parity (i.e. number of babies).
Why should women wait before running after childbirth?
Pregnancy and childbirth stretch, strain and weaken the pelvic floor tissues.
The pelvic floor soft tissues require adequate time to heal and recover.
Weak pelvic floor muscles after pregnancy and childbirth can take 5-6 months to strengthen.
If you were to strain your calf muscle you’d wait for repair and strengthen it before returning to running. The same rehab principles apply to the pelvic floor tissues.
Running before the pelvic floor tissues recover repeatedly forces them downwards (shown right) increasing the risk of serious pelvic floor problems including pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence (bladder and/or bowel) or chronic pelvic pain.
Read on below to check your risk of running too soon after childbirth.
Common Postpartum Injury Risks With Running
The risk of specific injury varies from one women to the next however there are postpartum injury risks that apply to many women undertaking high impact exercise like running soon after childbirth.
1. Pelvic Floor Injury
Pelvic floor injury can cause long-term pelvic floor dysfunction after childbirth. High impact exercises such as running too soon after childbirth can increase the risk of pelvic floor injury.
During pregnancy your pelvic floor becomes stretched and weakened with the weight of your growing baby. Even after a caesarean section the pelvic floor is at increased risk of injury with early return to running.
The repeated high impact landing when your heel strikes the ground during running forces your pelvic floor downwards. If your pelvic floor is still weak after childbirth, repeated impact causes your pelvic floor to stretch, strain and weaken further.
Daily Pelvic floor exercises are essential for restoring the pre-pregnancy strength and supportive function of the pelvic floor muscles and tissues.
2. Pelvic Joint Injury
Some women experience pelvic instability during pregnancy and after childbirth.
Pelvic instability can present as pain in the buttock with weight bearing or it can make walking almost impossible particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy.
Pelvic instability occurs when the ligaments (strong tissues) supporting the joints of the pelvis soften in preparation for childbirth.
The supportive pelvic ligaments remain softened for at least the first few months after childbirth. High impact exercises including running involve uneven weight bearing and shearing forces through the joints of the pelvis which can cause or worsen pelvic instability.
Pelvic stability exercises can assist women with pelvic instability after childbirth.
Is Your Pelvic Floor At Risk With Running Too Soon?
All women are considered to have an increased risk of pelvic injury with early postpartum running (i.e. before 4 months) regardless of whether their delivery is vaginal or caesarean section.
Risk of pelvic floor injury with high impact exercise after childbirth increases with:
- Pelvic floor symptoms (vaginal heaviness, incontinence, pelvic pain)
- Pelvic floor weakness
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Traumatic vaginal delivery (e.g. forceps, vacuum extraction, tearing, episiotomy, prolonged 2nd stage)
- Overweight (especially abdominal fat i.e. fat surrounding abdominal organs)
- Increasing age
If any one or more of these risks apply to you and you’re keen to return to running and other high impact postpartum exercise, you may benefit from seeing a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist.
Consulting with a Physiotherapist will help you know whether your pelvic floor can withstand the forces of running and help you restore your pelvic floor towards safe running and high impact postpartum exercise.