Well, it’s been a long old time since I wrote anything about running. 19 months to be exact. In that time I’ve had both an injury and a baby... So, as I start making a return to running post-baby I thought I would jot down a few thoughts on returning to running as I navigate the postpartum phase of life. It's all a work in progress since I’m only 11 weeks into this crazy rollercoaster, but the first thing I wanted to address was...it is not the same as returning from an injury.
Yes, I naively assumed that after having a baby returning to running would be synonymous with returning to running after an injury. For the first 6 months of 2020 I had a shitty Achilles injury (BORING!), but by September 2020 was running again after a steady phased return, plenty of eccentric loading exercises and some shockwave therapy. I can confirm that returning to running after growing and birthing another human being (and now being responsible for his survival) is NOT the same as returning from an injury. I reckon that the following four things should be considered if you are wanting to return to running after having a baby yourself or are looking to coach someone who has just had a baby.
Firstly, an injury is by definition something that is hurt or damaged. At no point during pregnancy or now postpartum would I consider myself as being damaged or hurt. Sure, lots of bits ache, some tendons are looser (I’ve found this to be true for my hips and ankles) whilst other muscles are tighter (mainly my shoulders and lower back). My body adapted to grow a baby and is now adapting once more to feed that baby and carry him around, but nothing has been hurt or damaged. Therefore the approach to returning to running after a baby should look very different to that of a traditional injury rehab program. The return to running shouldn’t be focused on fixing something that is broken but focused on working with a body that has and is continuing to adapt to the new demands placed on it.
Secondly, an injury often (not always) impacts a single isolated part of the body. Having a baby is a whole-body affair, it’s an all-in scenario where even muscles I didn’t know I had got involved. Therefore when returning to running there’s no point in focusing on one part of the body. The return to running needs to look at the body as a whole and requires a fair bit of self-awareness to assess how multiple parts of it are feeling on any given day. It’s knowing your own body and being aware of when it’s ok to run and when it’s best to rest.
Thirdly, an injury often (not always) has a fairly prescriptive tried and tested recipe for healing. There is no "gold standard" or blueprint roadmap to follow for returning to running post-baby because the whole process is so individualised. Information varies from "get the step count up from the day of giving birth; because it’s never too early to start losing the baby weight" (eyeroll!), to "you will absolutely suffer a pelvic organ prolapse if you so much as go up the stairs before 12 weeks postpartum" (YAWN!). Seeing a professional (women's health physio) to give you a once over is certainly a good idea to make sure you won't do any damage, but really it’s down to the individual as to when they decide to return to running. A phased return is advised but it’s really individualised depending on; pre-pregnancy fitness, pregnancy running load and birthing experience, just to name a few of the many variables.
Lastly, an injury often (not always) doesn’t involve a huge life shift. Having a baby - whether it’s your first or fifth - is a big life event that brings with it a change to pretty much everything you do. Time is dictated by the needs of a small human and therefore; running, S&C, active rest, actual rest, sports massage, physio and cross-training all slip down the priority rankings. All the things that you could do to make the return to running more straightforward are an immense luxury and definitely something I took for granted when returning from previous injuries. Therefore when returning to running post-baby even if you feel blooming marvellous and ready to take to the hills... well, time might not be on your side and that little human needing his 10th feed and 13th nappy change of the day will take precedence EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
So there we have it... four things to consider for the return to running post-baby and why it’s not the same as returning after an injury.
Firstly, It‘s not an injury
Secondly, It’s a whole body affair
Thirdly, It’s very individualised
Fourthly, It’s a huge life shift
Until next time! Have good adventures.