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How to Prepare for Your First Postpartum Run

A runner pushes a stroller on a snow-covered sidewalk in winter

What You Need to Know:

  • Runners have unique qualities that are beneficial to birthing and parenting
  • Running boosts postpartum recovery
  • Running can improve bonding and reduce postpartum depression
  • There are precautions you can take to make your first postpartum run more comfortable and safe

There’s a saying that goes, “You need to train for birth like you’re training for a marathon.”

Luckily for runners, being in good shape from training means you’re already in good shape for birth. Endurance is one of the key elements to rocking labor—runners have endurance down to an art—and breathing through a contraction is not that different from breathing through a cramp on a run.

Just as running benefits the labor process, it can help get you on track after your baby is born.

Many runners have some anxiety about hitting the pavement after baby. From bladder concerns to navigating the trail with a stroller, that first postpartum run can be a little intimidating. With a little preparation, though, you can get back into your running routine.

A woman tying her running shoes before a track workout

Benefits of Postpartum Running

Running and Maternal-Infant Bonding

Birth and motherhood are transformative for most people. You might hear a lot about maternal-infant bonding. This term refers to the closeness and commitment you have to your baby and how your newborn responds to you.

Thanks to a little invention called the jogging stroller, going for a run can help you and baby bond. Sharing your favorite activity with your new tiny human can help you feel connected to him or her. That burst of adrenaline from the run, combined with the oxytocin you get from staring at baby’s face, makes for one awesome runner’s high.

Running and Postpartum Depression

When bonding isn’t going as well as expected, postpartum mood disorders like depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder can be responsible. These can be life-threatening illnesses. Postpartum mood disorders should be treated by mental health professionals.

But running is a tool you can use to help boost your mood in conjunction with medication, therapy and/or support groups.

Exercise in general has mood-boosting properties, but in one study running specifically was linked to a decrease in depressive symptoms in animals. Another study showed lower levels of postpartum depression in women who ran while breastfeeding.

Running and Postpartum Recovery

Most women stop running toward the end of the third trimester because it just gets too uncomfortable. It’s not uncommon to feel a little slow and out of breath when you get back to running, just because your body is out of the habit and adjusting after pregnancy. If you can get past the first few runs and feeling a little sluggish, running can help your body recover from pregnancy. You can pick up a running routine again around six weeks postpartum (for women without postpartum complications). Running can help your core and other muscles gain back some of the strength that was lost in pregnancy.

A runner pushes a stroller through snow in winter

Preparing for Your First Postpartum Run

Most runners are mentally ready to hit the pavement sooner than most obstetricians and midwives would like! While postpartum running is beneficial in so many ways, it will do more harm than good if you get back into it too soon.

Remember that you went through some serious physical changes in pregnancy. One physical change of pregnancy that greatly impacts runners is looseness of the joints. A hormone called relaxin made your joints loose during pregnancy. This joint laxity impacts tendons, ligaments, muscles and bone. Get back out there when you’re ready – but go slow.

Here are some tips for making your first postpartum run comfortable and safe:

1. Your perineum

  • Most women who experience vaginal birth report perineal pain for up to two weeks. By two months postpartum, pain has resolved for 88 percent of women.
  • If you still have pain while running, your wound may not be healed and you could cause infection by irritating it. If you are still experiencing pain, see your doctor or midwife.

2. Your breasts

  • It can take a while after your baby is born to figure out what your breasts are going to be like. If you’re breastfeeding, they may grow a whole size when engorged. Spend some time finding the right sports bra for you before you attempt your first run.
  • Invest in some soft bamboo nursing pads to use on the run. The friction of your nipples on fabric can cause pain and bleeding.

3. Your bladder and pelvic floor

  • Women who experienced vaginal birth are more likely to have incontinence after birth. Some women experience bladder leakage while running postpartum, but a routine of pelvic floor exercise can improve or totally alleviate symptoms.
  • Postpartum women generally have more success working with a pelvic floor physical therapist, but if this isn’t feasible for financial or other reasons, an at home pelvic floor routine can still be beneficial.
  • You can start postpartum pelvic floor exercises as soon as you can do them without feeling pain.

4. Your cesarean incision

  • If you experienced cesarean birth, don’t run until the incision is fully healed with no redness.
  • If there is friction between the incision and your clothing, you can invest on some special undergarments designed to protect cesarean incisions.

As a good rule of thumb, most bodies are ready for light exercise at six weeks postpartum, but get clearance from your doctor or midwife before you begin. If you are still experiencing bleeding, or if your bleeding had stopped but started again with running, you still need time to heal. Give it a few days and try again.

By Dr. Sarah Toler. Sarah Toler, CNM, DNP is a Certified Nurse Midwife and Doctor of Nursing Practice. As a midwife, Sarah knows it’s an honor to help women thrive throughout life’s greatest journeys. Sarah works with women throughout pregnancy and birth, but her real passion is the postpartum period.

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