This is the million dollar question and there is no straight answer here. Every woman is unique, and her readiness will be determined by many factors.
When assessing your readiness to return to or start running after birth the following 7 factors need to each be considered:
1. Type of birth – A more traumatic or invasive birth will need a longer recovery e.g it is advised to await approximately 10-12 weeks before returning to any structured exercise other than light activity (walking etc). So obviously you wouldn't begin with jogging you would very slowly build up to it.
2. Joint stability – Hormones (Relaxin) stay in the body for up to 6 months post birth or longer if breastfeeding making your joints less stable, putting you more at risk of injury (especially if your core doesn't activate as it should to stabilise the spine and pelvis.) You should also avoid running with any Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) and give the body adequate time to recover following any PGP.
3. Diastasis Recti – Abdominal separation which commonly occurs during pregnancy will affect your core stability and often contributes to lower back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction & poor core activation. Fix this first prior to vigorous exercise or you could be making things a whole lot worse.
4. Pelvic Floor health – This is a biggy! Pelvic floor muscles have been stretched during pregnancy & following a vaginal birth (especially if an assisted birth). These muscles need time and re-training to restore strength & endurance to cope with the forces created by jogging. If ligaments are lax for at least 6 months then guess what? Your pelvic floor ligaments may be too! Check with a physio following 2nd or 3rd degree tears before returning to running and if you ever feel like your insides are literally "dropping out of you" STOP and seek advice!
You should avoid jogging if you experience any form of incontinence (leaking of urine or faeces) or any dragging or heavy sensation from your nether regions (seek some advice for this one!) Although stress incontinence (leaking of urine when coughing, sneezing etc) is common after childbirth it is not normal if it continues and help is out there!
5. Are you a runner? - Those who ran prior to and during pregnancy may be able to return to running sooner than those new to running. Experienced runners with a good technique can also minimise impact with the ground which helps to protect joints. However, all of the factors mentioned here need to be considered in addition.
6. Energy levels – Being a new mum is a tough job in itself and may leave you with little energy for vigorous exercise and may put you at a greater risk of injury. In the early weeks/months lighter exercise, fresh air and a good nutritious diet may be more beneficial at this time. Weight loss goals should be relaxed and a focus on your physical & emotional health should take priority.
7. Why do you want to run? - Ask your self this question!! There are many other activities to increase your heart rate to help you with any weight loss goals. Get creative and try a different low impact mode of exercise (cycling, aqua running, pram power/hill walking). Your local Buggy Fitness classes should be advising you on low impact options and screening you for suitability. If not, find someone who does!
What does a low-impact class look like? Try this next time your in the park once warmed up:
- 2 minute power walk
- 45 seconds squats
- 30 second hill push (fast walking)
- 45 seconds Press up on fence
- 45 seconds step ups (low wall or steps)
- Row on fence (resistance band)
- and so on...
Following any type of delivery, your exercise regime should begin with at least a couple of months worth of core stability or postnatal specific Pilates to strengthen from within first. You cannot build a house on jelly – I love this saying!! Instead for those who need to, think of this time as your pre-running training...your body will love you for it and you may just save yourself a whole load of problems in the long run! (excuse the pun!!!) :-)
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