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It was August 2019, six weeks to the day after I delivered my first daughter. I had just been granted a clear bill of health from my OB-GYN at my postpartum follow-up appointment, and I set out to run what would be the most uncomfortable, awkward, and, at times, painful 0.8 miles of my life.
Discouraged, standing in front of my house with stains on my shorts and a little baby who couldn’t even hold her head up inside, I thought to myself what far too many women think after returning to running postpartum: No one told me it was going to be like this.
We’ve come a long way from the antiquated (and incorrect) advice to skip exercise in pregnancy. Today, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends it throughout pregnancy’s nine months and even suggests that some women can return to light movement within days of delivery. But there’s still a lot that needs to change, not the least of which is that, for new moms, there’s next to no guidance on navigating one of the biggest bodily changes of your lifetime.
Moreover? Between congratulatory words and postpartum medical “clearance,” there’s often not space to talk about what’s actually going to happen: leaking, muscle aches, frustration, patience, and is-this-normal questioning. And that has real consequences.
“When we don’t talk about what it’s really like to be a mother and a runner, it becomes easy for our brains to make up their own stories,” says Erica Burger, an integrative psychiatrist in Northeast Iowa. Those stories might go like this: Olympians run throughout their pregnancies, it’ll be easy! Or: My husband’s co-worker’s wife told me she hasn’t run in years, I’ll never run again. “Stories” set you up for unrealistic expectations and stress, Dr. Burger explains.
I wholeheartedly agree that motherhood makes you stronger. But there’s powerful strength, Dr. Burger reminds me, in being vulnerable and honest with ourselves and others. It’s through vulnerability and honesty that we thrive as mothers and as runners.
At 14 weeks postpartum with my second, I crave my return to running. I crave that feeling, the one you get when you’re in the middle of glorious miles. It’s kind of like motherhood—you can’t quite describe it.
I’ll get there.
And with the help of this guide—which includes everything from navigating don’t-even-think-about-hugging-me pregnancy boobs to pelvic floor rehab—so will you.
New Moms on Their First Run After Having a Baby
Repeat after us: Every. Body. Is. Different. To help drive that home, we talked to women and runners across the country and asked them what running after having a baby is really like. Here are their responses:
“I felt so proud. I had low expectations and far exceeded them.”
—Sarah Chapin, a mom in Boston
“Halfway through my run it felt like my insides were about to fall out, which was extremely unsettling. An ob-gyn discovered I had prolapse. It took several months before everything felt normal and before I felt really comfortable working out again.”
—Stacey W., a mom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
“I felt free. It was great to run again and have some me time.”
—Kyndal Michel Marks, a mom in Cincinnati
“I felt 100% discouraged as a former ultrarunner who ran 13.1-mile distances in pregnancy. I had complications, including fourth-degree internal tearing. After a year postpartum, I still cannot sneeze without peeing. I would have gotten more pelvic floor help by now if my insurance had covered it. I’m looking forward to any paths forward that are best for me athletically. It’s an ongoing journey between myself and my relationship with my new body.”
—Pamela Huff, a mom in Boulder, Colorado
“When I tried to take off sprinting, it just felt like I was dragging. There was no ‘pop.’ Normally, when I say ‘go,’ my body goes—there’s not a question, I’m a sprinter. But I remember looking at my husband afterward and just crying.”
“Glorious. My cardio wasn’t what it was pre-pregnancy, but I was expecting the worst so I was pleasantly surprised. Leaked milk everywhere the second I stepped into the shower, though.”
—Kiera Carter, a runner and mom in New York