There are three general rules that apply to running while pregnant (and postpartum) to make you stronger.
I’m a little over 12 months postpartum since having my third baby. Now that I look back on my three pregnancies, I realize that I’ve learned a lot about running through pregnancy; most of it has been trial by error.
Every woman is different and every pregnancy is different, but I think listening to and hearing different perspectives can only help us be healthier women and better runners. For what it’s worth, here’s the three things I’ve learned running through three pregnancies.
1. Be kind to your body.
The research supporting vigorous activity during pregnancy is relatively new, and when my doctors gave me the OK to run during my first pregnancy, I took that permission and literally ran with it. This is good for my baby, I thought. And it is true, exercise during pregnancy can be beneficial for your little one and help during labor and delivery. What I didn’t think about was the impact on my body.
During my first two pregnancies (especially my second), I focused on maintaining my running. I ran late into my pregnancies, up until a few days before delivery. And while my babies were healthy, my body was taking a beating, specifically my pelvic floor. I chalked up leaking pee as normal. But when that leaking didn’t stop after pregnancy, I began to worry. Will it be like this forever?
Thankfully, with the help of a women’s health physical therapist, I don’t leak anymore, even now after my third baby, but it took a lot of rehab. I can’t help but think that if I had made being kind and gentle to my body more of a priority, I wouldn’t have dealt with some of the unpleasant consequences I experienced.
With each pregnancy my body changed and the way it ‘handled’ running during pregnancy changed. Running during my first pregnancy felt comfortable and natural, but during my third pregnancy—when everything was much more lax—it wasn’t quite as pleasant an experience. Being kind to your body and knowing when to say ‘enough’ is incredibly important.
2. Don’t set postpartum goals.
One of the things that drove me to run so much and so late during my first two pregnancies were the goals I had set for my postpartum “comeback.” I didn’t want to “lose fitness,” I wanted to be able to jump back into running right away; that way I could run such-and-such race xx months postpartum. It’s a silly way to approach your goals, since you have very little control over how things will go the day of your labor and delivery. And even if everything goes smoothly and there are few complications, there are other factors like lack of sleep, wacky hormones, breastfeeding and just general life adjustments that come with having a newborn that take serious precedent over running goals. Wait until you are a few months postpartum to set any goals and make sure they are realistic in light of the demands on your body and the amount of sleep you are getting.
3. Trust that with the right approach, your fitness will come back.
With two pregnancies and postpartum returns to running under my belt, I took on my third pregnancy with a more relaxed attitude. I set no postpartum goals and I let go of the idea that I had to maintain fitness during my pregnancy or it would be “lost.” I took a more conservative approach to my return to running postpartum than with the other two pregnancies.
My return to running this time around has been a gradual building, and now 12 months postpartum I am stronger and faster than I have ever been in my entire running ‘career’ (if you want to call it that).
Often, fear that we are going to lose fitness or that we will never be the same can cause us to do to much too soon and can result in injury. It’s true that your body will never be the same after having a baby, but it can be stronger if you take your time and approach running during pregnancy and postpartum armed with as much information as possible.