Getting back in shape after having a baby is hard. You probably won’t feel like doing much of anything for a few weeks; most doctors prescribe no exercise until after 6 weeks. But once you do get cleared to exercise, you really should do so. It will help you lose the rest of the baby weight, get you outside and/or with people, and make you somewhat feel like a normal human again. One of my favorite ways to exercise is to run, and I was eager to get back into running after having my first baby. I actually ended up starting back running at four weeks postpartum, because I felt that my body was ready at that point. If you’re not sure if you’re ready to start exercising, just follow your doctor’s orders.
For those of you that also like to run, here are some tips for running postpartum. Some of these could also be applied to most any kind of exercise.
1. Run early or late. And no, I don’t mean 7am or 7pm – more like 5am or 10pm. Chances are your baby will be asleep during these times, rather than trying to go run in the middle of the day. Even if your baby is well-behaved, it is hard to leave them with someone when they are awake. Also, if you run during times when no one else is likely to be out, then you don’t have to worry about people seeing your out-of-shape postpartum self, heaving and wheezing your way through your run. That was something I was a little concerned about when I started back running.
2. Run on the treadmill. If you can’t make it out to run while your baby is asleep, running on the treadmill might be another option. Of course, this only works if you have a treadmill of your own or have a membership at a local gym or fitness center. I have found that my baby will fall asleep to the whirring noise of the treadmill. Perfect! Even if they don’t fall asleep, they will most likely be soothed by the noise and being able to see you, and you’ll be able to make funny faces at them while you run. Calm baby + distraction from running = excellent workout plan.
3. Pump/Nurse before you run. Even though your milk supply will probably be regulated by the time you start back exercising and you aren’t engorged anymore, you will still want to make sure your breasts aren’t full before you go out to exercise. Your boobs are already probably double the size they were before you were pregnant, and having them be full of milk will make them feel even heavier for maximum discomfort. Also, you’ll want to have your baby well-fed before you leave so that you won’t have to nurse her the second you get back when you’re all sweaty and tired (though my baby generally decides it’s time to eat as soon as I get back whether she’s actually hungry or not).
4. Eat protein/carbs and drink water immediately after your run. You probably already know that if you’re nursing you need about 300-500 extra calories per day, but if you’re also running you’ll need even more calories. As you strive to take care of your little one, you need to make sure to take care of yourself as well. Too many times have I gone out for a run and come back, immediately nursed my baby, then taken a shower, then done chores, etc. etc. and then realized it has been three hours since I finished running and I still haven’t eaten or drank anything and I now have a headache and extreme exhaustion. If you make it a priority to eat and drink something (even if it’s only a little bit) immediately after you finish your run, your body and your baby will thank you.
5. Wear a pad in your underwear. As your body puts itself back together after childbirth, most of your pelvic and abdominal muscles are still very weak. This means that it is hard to hold in your fluids like a normal person, and instead you end up feeling like you’ve peed your pants all the time like a three-year-old. This problem usually gets exacerbated by exercise, so unless you’re comfortable with the peed-in-your-pants feeling, you may want to wear a pad in order to not be distracted by your inability to regulate your urine flow.
6. Listen to your body! I cannot stress this enough. Everyone’s body is different, so I cannot dictate what you should or should not do in regards to your body. Only you can know it and understand it. Like I stated earlier, most doctors will want you to wait six weeks before beginning any sort of regular exercise, but some women (like me) may feel ready to start back before then, while others may need to wait longer than that. Once you do start back exercising, continue to listen to your body. Don’t expect to be able to jump back into everything that you could do pre-pregnancy. Also, some days you will just be too tired – you have to take into account that you have a newborn and you’re probably not getting a lot of sleep and you’re spending a lot of energy feeding your baby as well. The change will come and your body will get stronger – it just takes time. Be patient with the results and be patient with your body.
Best wishes as you begin your fitness journey after having one of the craziest journeys there is – childbirth!