Of all the questions I asked after giving birth, I can assure you that "When can I go running again?" was not on the list. Running has never been my exercise of choice, but for many mothers I know, running is the lifeline they need to help mind, body, and soul recover after having a baby. For them, knowing how soon after giving birth you can run again is one of their primary questions when navigating postpartum life.
Like most things in motherhood though, the answer to this is not one-size-fits-all. Dr. Jennifer Haythe, Director of Cardio-obstetrics and internist at NYPH/Columbia and Co-Director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia (and also a runner herself), tells Romper via email, "There is no hard and fast rule about when women can return to exercise after a normal vaginal delivery."
But what about that six-week rule most of us have been told? To that she says, "The six-week number is a bit of a mystery for women who have an uncomplicated vaginal delivery — it may be that in the past, women took six weeks off from working and therefore physicians advised them to rest until they returned to work. Or it may have come about because women were encouraged to breastfeed for at least six weeks to promote the immunity benefits for their newborn and that this somehow precluded exercise (which it doesn't)."
Haythe does note though that "for women who have had a C-section, they have had major abdominal surgery and it is advisable to wait six weeks before resuming exercise. This is because there are concerns about wound healing and infection. Post C-section, a woman should check with her doctor about when it is safe to start exercising again."
So let's say you had a relatively "normal" vaginal delivery and you'd like to start running again. How do you know when you're ready? Haythe advises that you start with walking first, saying, "I always tell my patients to begin with a walking program, which they can do alone, with friends or with their baby, either pushing a stroller or in a secure papoose." If that feels good, then you can advance to running. But you should always be mindful of how your body feels once you do.
I think that point is really key when it comes to running post-delivery. I spoke with my friend Joslin, a mom of three and former avid runner, whose story about returning to running post-baby is an important one for moms to know. After the birth of her middle son, she began running again "by the book," increasing her mileage slowly. She says, "I noticed some hip discomfort creeping in, around the time I began seven-mile runs, but since running through pain is such a big thing in running culture, I shrugged it off... until one day I was crying over the pain." After a barrage of visits to a chiropractor, an orthopedist, physical therapist, and her OB-GYN, Joslin, who felt she was largely dismissed because she was "fit and thin," discovered through the help of a pelvic rehabilitation specialist that issues with her pelvic floor, which were never addressed after delivery, had a large part to do with the pain she was experiencing. "I was pushing myself and my body for so long to do something it wasn’t in any shape to do, although I was 'healthy' and 'fine' according to doctors."
All that to say, please don't shrug off any pain you feel while running as just part of the process. Like it or not, your body is different after pregnancy and delivery, and though your mind may be (more than) ready for those running endorphins to kick in, your body may not be there yet — no matter how much you want it to be.
But, what if you weren't a runner before but now want to try it? Running is one of the few exercises that requires no gear (other than sneakers), can be done for free, and can also include your baby if you don't have childcare. Haythe says about this, "Anyone can become a runner. Being postpartum doesn't change that. Just check with your physician and then start a program that alternates with walking and jogging, and before you know it you will be running a 5k!"
So, whether you were a runner before, or want to try it for the first time, it seems the most important factor to consider when you want to run post-baby is really quite simple: How do you feel? Haythe notes, "If you return to exercise but feel uncomfortable with cramping, bleeding, breast tenderness, or just fatigue, then take a break and start again a few days later. And always let your doctor know if you feel unwell for any reason."
I'm wishing all you runners out there a pain-free, postpartum experience; I'll be cheering you along from the sidelines the whole way.