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Running again after pregnancy: advice, safety, exercises and benefits for postpartum moms

Running again after pregnancy: advice, safety, exercises and benefits for postpartum moms

The post-partum period is a time of transition in a woman's life. It's a new adventure marked by many physical and emotional changes that often gives rise to lots of questions, including a legitimate and essential question: when can I get back to playing sports? Indeed, after pregnancy, the gradual return to sport (and running in particular) enables new mothers to return to their passion while taking care of themselves and their newborn child.

So what are the benefits and precautions for post-partum mothers? Check out our experts' advice on how to safely get back into running after pregnancy.


When to start running again after giving birth

As always when it comes to your body, it's all about listening to what it’s telling you and evaluating how you feel. If you’re motivated and are in good shape you can gradually begin playing sports again soon after giving birth, it’s all a matter of easing in slowly. Julie Roux, a trail runner with Team Salomon and mother of two, tells us about her own experience: “I started again the week after I had my second child by walking for a minute followed by very slow jogging for a minute, before increasing the pace little by little. In the beginning it’s good to set small goals, but without putting pressure on yourself. You always need to pay attention to how you feel. It's normal for your form to fluctuate from one day to the next, so you need to constantly adapt. And above all, don’t force yourself or go against what your body is telling you.”

Joséphine Bourguignon, a masseuse-physiotherapist specializing in pelvic-perineal re-education and athlete monitoring, stresses the benefits of sports during and after pregnancy for young mothers: “If you’re able to keep running while you’re pregnant and it continues to feel good, then don’t deprive yourself! It's possible to continue running during pregnancy as long as you reduce the intensity and stay below the breathlessness threshold. This limits the mother’s risks of both hypertension and gestational diabetes, and also helps maintain optimal muscle mass and cardiovascular capacity. Doing so also makes it easier to return to sports post-partum. There are several approaches to getting back into running, each of which should be adapted to your personal fitness level and how you feel. Resuming running should be done at your own pace and progressively, while always listening to your body.” If all the lights are green, you can resume physical activity gradually, at your own pace, while continually paying close attention to how you feel.


Signs to look for when getting back in to sports, and when you should consult a health professional

There are several symptoms to watch out for when you return to sports: a feeling of heaviness, perineal heaviness, abdominal pain, a persistent urge to urinate, urinary and/or fecal inconsistencies, and/or the return of vaginal discharge and bleeding. These are the ones that will define the pace of your training.

Without being the cause of potential problems, sports can often act as their alert system, particularly during pregnancy and the post-partum period. Joséphine Bourguignon reminds us that we should never hesitate to consult a doctor, whatever the reason: “Lack of knowledge and/or information are often used as a reason to avoid diagnosis. However, it’s never wrong to ask questions about your health and well-being!” While the intensity of physical activity should be regulated by how your body feels, there are some specific signs for which to keep an eye out. Pelvic heaviness and bladder leakage are notable symptoms that should not be ignored; they may be the sign of urethral hypermobility (like a sprain) or genital prolapse (like a hernia). These conditions can lead to difficulty in urinating, recurrent urinary tract infections or difficult bowel movements. The feeling of having a weight between your legs and vaginal discomfort can lead to a clinical perineal assessment and specific re-education.

Recommended postpartum strengthening exercises

Starting off with some initial pelvic floor strengthening exercises almost immediately after childbirth can help you regain your ability to contact your perineum and retrain your breathing and reflexes while under stress. “I worked a lot on my breathing after my second pregnancy, and it helped me enormously in my perineal re-education,” confides Julie Roux, who won the Trail des Templiers and the SaintéLyon just a few months after giving birth! For example, you can start gently with Kegel exercises, which consists of contracting and then releasing the pelvic floor muscles. You can alternate between successive, rapid contractions, or target endurance by working the muscles with contractions held for up to 5 to 10 seconds, or contract powerfully with a full contraction.

For exercises that target your abdominal muscles and glutes, progress gradually before returning to low-impact cardio sessions such as walking, cycling or swimming.


Sample program and exercises for getting back into running

Weeks 1 to 6 - Regeneration:

  • Mobility exercises for trunk, pelvis and upper body
  • Strengthen pelvic floor muscles and engage core muscles through abdominal breathing and gentle flexing
  • Cardio-vascular: daily walking, gradually increasing speed/distance/D+ (beware of downhill sections where it’s better to walk)
  • Overall muscle strengthening beginning in Week 2: squats, lunges, and glute bridges can be added
  • Starting Week 3, if everything is going well you can gradually add jogging-style running intervals

Weeks 6 to 12 - Rehabilitation:

  • Gradually add load during muscle strengthening: abductors, calves, glutes, and core muscles
  • Follow progressive running program (if there are no negative symptoms when running)
  • Possibility of resuming cycling (if it’s comfortable to be on the bike seat) and swimming (if the cervix is closed)

Week 12 and beyond – Returning to your usual sporting activities and moving towards improving performance:

  • Gradually increase impact load
  • Continue muscle re-training with focus on plyometrics and explosiveness

If at any time you are experiencing specific problems, consult a healthcare professional.


Breastfeeding’s impact on getting back in to running

In addition to the effects of childbirth, changes in your body during the post-partum period will have an impact on your return to sports. Breastfeeding in particular can disrupt your daily routine and cause low energy. So it's essential to eat and hydrate accordingly, and to anticipate these changing needs before, during and after your sports sessions. Joséphine Bourguignon explains, “During your baby's first few months, our bodies consume more energy when at rest than usual, and recovery can be hindered by the fatigue caused by lack of sleep among other things. So while breastfeeding it's very important to adapt your energy intake to avoid fatigue, possible injury or exhaustion syndrome. Breastfeeding also influences the menstrual cycle and the production of estrogens, which are involved in bone synthesis.”


The benefits of sport in everyday life are well proven: it strengthens muscles and bones, boosts the immune system, improves cardiovascular health, helps with weight management, and improves posture, coordination and mental health. Sports provide undeniable balance and well-being, and the same goes for postpartum women! After nine months' gestation, rediscovering your body is an important step for young mothers. It's not always easy to get back in touch with yourself while looking after your new child, and running can be a great help during this period, not only to feel good about one's body and regain tone and stamina, but also to take time out for oneself. “Even if you’re only out for a few minutes, the act of going for a run alone – thinking only about where to go and nothing else – is already a big help! When I got back home after a break like that I felt better and more available,” explains Julie Roux. The satisfaction of gradually getting back to the peak of your ability is also quite motivating and will boost your performance. “One of the great advantages of returning to sport early in the postnatal period is that you can follow the natural recovery process and see your body evolve day by day. It makes you aware of recovery and progress, and mentally, it's very satisfying” continues Joséphine Bourguignon.

New moms should always bear in mind that sports should be nothing but good for you! And as with all sports, it's all a question of balance. To regain your running performance after pregnancy, you need to be patient, listen to your body, and make the most of every moment. Don't set yourself targets that are too restrictive and remember to take the time to evolve at your own pace. Chances are you'll be surprised by the benefits as well as your progress....


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