My name is Georgie and I am a mother of two boys. Over the next nine months I will be planning my postpartum journey back to running – hopefully culminating in a race. The beauty of this ninth month challenge is that I’m supported by two running experts. Edwina Sutton (edwinasutton.com) will be my running coach and Physiotherapist Emma Brockwell (physiomum.co.uk), who offers running MOTs for mums looking to return to running, will ensure I get back to training safely can begin.
Hopefully, through this blog – and through her expert advice – you can learn with me what returning to running after childbirth is all about and how to do it safely, including how to address the changes that occur in the body during pregnancy are pregnancy and childbirth – and the necessary support.
Something about myself
In my pre-kids running career, I would have described myself as a fun runner who was a regular at parkrun but also ran a few marathons over the years. After the birth of my first son, I started running the 10K again and was feeling good, but stopped three months into my second pregnancy as my pelvic floor felt like it was suffering. What fell by the wayside with an active toddler, moving house and a grueling job during my pregnancy, I feel I have a lot of ground to build on. The birth of my second child was a fairly smooth vaginal delivery and my diastasis recti is only two fingers. However, I lick when I sneeze and my abs are non-existent! So, swings and carousels…
My first few weeks after giving birth were a whirlwind of getting to know my baby and adjusting to being a mother of two. As a general rule of thumb, you should only start an exercise program after your six to eight week check-up with your GP. So join me at week 10 when I felt ready to start gentle exercise.
On the recommendation of a friend, I enroll in the MUTU program. It focuses on reactivating your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles in preparation for further exercise and life in general. I have to admit I’m loving exercising again, even if it’s gentle. The program calls for me to do core exercises for 10 minutes each day, and then do a safe “heavy” postpartum workout of squats and lunges three times a week. My muscles ache for days after my first intensive – a stark reminder that they haven’t been used this way in a while, but my body seems to have adjusted to it and it’s great to be moving regularly.
Since everything went well, I decide to try running. It doesn’t feel good. I have groin pain and my abdominal muscles feel tight and weak. I walk home feeling a bit depressed and will let it sit a little longer before trying again. Oh, and when I got home I sneezed… still leaking.
In week 16 I have my first conversation with Edwina.
“Georgie and I started our journey with a coaching consultation. We spent about an hour getting to know each other (and I met Baby Two after the nap – delicious!). These calls really set the tone for building our relationship that is so important. I love hearing about Georgie’s journey into running and how that changed when babies were born and what running means and gives her now.
“One of the key points we discussed during the call was the importance of not rushing the ongoing comeback and building a really strong foundation first before we even think about hitting the PB button. Very often we can feel pretty good after giving birth, but after pregnancy, birth and now caring for a newborn, our foundations are rocky and we need to spend time and patience to build them back up.
“With that in mind, Georgie has already started a really good online core makeover and is about to visit the amazing Emma Brockwell for a women’s health check. We had decided to delay her return to running until she got the green light from Emma. I also encouraged her to have some blood tests done to check iron levels.
“Georgie is already listening to her body a lot, listening to me and thinking about the long game and how running can be part of her long-term future. This is key to postnatal recovery and something we all too often rush into when we see others bouncing back from childbirth. It’s not realistic and almost guaranteed that rushing back to an ongoing deadline will result in injury.
“Being a mom runner takes organization, commitment and loads of energy, but it also gives us a lot of the confidence, confidence and courage that we need – especially in the early years! I look forward to seeing Georgie lace up her sneakers and take her first steps back into fitness very soon.
I leave my sons with my mother at Godstone Farm and make my way to Emma Brockwell, aka Physio Mum, for a Running MOT. Emma asks me lots of questions about the births of my two sons, my current activity status and how it felt. She then watches me do a few lunges and squats and gives me an internal exam. It turns out my body is healing and responding to the gentle workouts I’ve been doing, but it’s still not quite ready to run and starting too quickly could jeopardize my future running.
Here’s what Emma says:
‘Georgie came to me for a postpartum checkup before she started walking again. Pregnancy and childbirth are major life-changing events, both physically and psychologically. During pregnancy, a woman’s body changes very quickly. Muscles often lengthen and weaken internally and externally, particularly the muscles around the pelvis (ie, glutes), inside the pelvis (ie, the pelvic floor muscles), and the abdominal wall.
“Birth also puts a lot of strain on these muscles. During pregnancy and after childbirth, women often complain of symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, namely urinary leakage, urinary urgency, fecal incontinence or urgency, pelvic pain, or vaginal heaviness/bulging. Unfortunately, these symptoms are common, but they are not normal. These symptoms can typically worsen when women return to running too soon.
“The aim of a postnatal physiotherapy check is to ensure that women are recovering well after giving birth and that they are addressing the changes that have occurred to their bodies. And if they’re symptomatic, you’ll have the tools to improve their symptoms and get them ready to run (if they’re a runner).
“Running is a demanding sport and rehabilitation after a major physical event or injury is really important. Pregnancy and childbirth are no different and the same level of rehab is ideal.
“A pelvic floor health physiotherapist will look at a woman’s body from head to toe, taking into account how well she’s moving and how strong her muscles are on the outside, but also taking into account how strong they are on the inside, by doing a vaginal exam. When I saw Georgie I gave her some advice on her pelvic floor training program and general strength and conditioning and finally advised that when she was ready to return to running, do so gradually with a walk-to-run program.
I would recommend all women to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist after giving birth (even if they don’t want to walk). A pelvic health physiotherapist can be seen through your GP or privately with the NHS.
Now that I have seen Emma and shared with Edwina what she told me, I am able to begin my exercise program. If I’ve learned a lesson so far, it’s that returning to running after pregnancy isn’t something moms should rush into. Before lacing, seek expert advice and be patient with your body to make sure you don’t overdo it too soon – something I’ve been guilty of in the past. I’m looking forward to getting stronger and making a sustainable, long-term return to running – I’ll update you next month on how I’m doing.