After the birth of my third child, there was nothing I wanted more than to get my trail shoes on and start hitting my favourite trails again. Not only was this the perfect opportunity to have some “me time,” but it got me out of the house and boosted my mood.

Like every mum who’s had a baby, I wanted to feel like my old myself and to lose as much of the baby weight. As mums, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we have done: created a baby and brought it into the world. And as much as I wanted to get back outside, I knew there were steps I had to take first.

Even if you were a seasoned runner before having children – like I was – you need to ease yourself back into a running routine that’s healthy and safe for you. Before dusting off your trail shoes, consider what you need to do to make that first run back after a birth successful.

When Should You Return to Running?

For many women, when they can start trail running varies. This depends on whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or delivered via C-section.

Many women in the UK wait until they’ve had their six-week checkup with their doctor as long as everything is okay. For a C-section, it’s not recommended to return to running until around the 12-week mark. Having a C-section is a major surgical procedure, so you need to give your body time to heal before doing any exercises that run the risk of opening up your stitches.

After my C-section with my second baby, I waited until I no longer felt any pain in my stomach and my stitches had gone, which was around the 12-week mark. I then started with light exercising such as yoga, swimming, and gentle jogging to gradually ease my body back into exercise again.

For my vaginal births, I waited until I was cleared after having my six-week checkups with my doctor. But I didn’t get straight back into running the next day. There was still much that needed to be done to ensure my body was fit enough to handle the high intensity of running, whether on the road or trail.

In fact, a 2019 study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that mums should wait until at least 12 weeks before returning to running. It goes on to point out that for vaginal births, tissues within the pelvic region are understood to recover within four to six months, far exceeding the six-week checkup. For a C-section, the research states that “the abdominal fascia has only regained just over 50% of original tensile strength by six weeks post abdominal surgery and 73%-93% of original tensile strength by 6-7 months.” Considering women have grown a baby for nine months, it makes sense that it’ll take more than six weeks before they’re ready for intensive exercise.

What To Do Before Running After a Birth

Pay Attention to Your Pelvic Floor

The first thing you need to look into before returning to running is your pelvic health. A weak pelvic floor can lead to leakage or even severe pain, things you don’t want when you’re running. During pregnancy and delivery, your pelvic floor stretches, but one way to strengthen your core and your pelvic floor muscles is to speak to a pelvic floor specialist who can give you pointers on what exercises you should do. 

You can also address any issues you may have. A woman’s pelvic floor is one area that’s often overlooked. Still, it’s highly important to give this area the attention you need to benefit in the long run especially if you intend to return to running.

Strengthen Your Core, Hips, and Glutes

To ensure you have the correct stability when you hit those trails, spend time strengthening your core region, hips, and glutes to provide your pelvis with more support. And when we talk about working on your core, you don’t have to go straight into crunches. In fact, moves like bird dog, side planks, planks, and bicycles are just a few exercises that work on core strength. 

Yoga is another great option as it delivers a range of movements that will help strengthen your core while also assisting your breathing work. Speak to a specialist who can inform you on what you need to do. They should be able to give you pointers on how to work on your diaphragmatic breathing, which is when you do deep breathing from your ribs instead of normal breathing from your belly. This is another great way of strengthening your core and your pelvic floor.

Take it Slowly

When you’re ready to start running, make sure you take it slowly. As tempting as it is to go at your pre-pregnancy pace, give your body time to adjust. After weeks of getting your body ready, the last thing you want to do is cause an injury. 

Start with walking on flat surfaces, and if you fancy it, bring your baby with you in their pram. You can begin incorporating a walk/run program when you feel happy with your progress. This can be as simple as running for one minute and walking for one minute over 30 minutes. Adjust this based on how you’re feeling and when you feel stronger, increase your running to two minutes for every one minute of walking. After that, begin including hills and uneven terrain. Adding hills is a great workout, will get your heart pumping, and works tremendously on your core region.

Pacing Yourself

After weeks of prepping your body, strengthening your core, working on your breathing, and gradually working your way from flat surfaces to uneven terrain, the time has come to finally test your running legs.

When returning to running, gradually increase your mileage, pace, and running days. Increase your mileage by around 10%-30% every three weeks, giving your body plenty of time to recover and get stronger before taking on more.

Most importantly, listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t push yourself into doing more. And for now, don’t run on consecutive days as this can put extra pressure on your pelvic floor and lead to injury. Give your body time to adjust before asking it to do more.

Wear a Supportive Sports Bra

As you would when you’re running, make sure you wear a supportive sports bra when you get back to exercise. Chances are your previous running bra won’t fit you as you’ll need more room. This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding, so it’s a good idea to find one that offers more support. After the birth of my first child, I wore two sports bras for extra support, but go with what feels good for you when you start running again.

Running and Breastfeeding

It is completely fine to breastfeed while doing post-natal exercise as it does not affect the baby. However, when you exercise and breastfeed, you’ll need to ensure you stay hydrated and drink around 50% more than you normally would.

One thing to be aware of is that with high-intensity exercise, your body will build up lactic acid. While there isn’t anything wrong with this, lactic acid can get into breast milk and produce a bitter taste. After an hour or so, everything will return to normal, but to avoid your baby not feeding during this time, it’s worthwhile feeding them before your run.

Trust Your Body

Getting back into running after a baby is no easy task. To ensure you have the best recovery, listen to your body, stay hydrated, and don’t do too much before you’re ready for it. If you’re a seasoned runner or want to get into the sport, take the time to look after your pelvic floor and your core strength first. By looking after these, you’ll have greater success at your running and are more likely to continue many months and years after the birth of your child.

Guest Post by Rebecca Campbell

About the Author

Rebecca is a freelance journalist-turned-blogger who writes on outdoor sports such as camping, hiking, and snow sports. To find out more, check out her blog rebeccascampbell.com.