My pregnancy journey
A couple of weeks before Master Harry was born I was booked in for a c-section. I had a challenging pregnancy – I was constantly fainting in public places, my heart rate was on overdrive and my blood pressure was low. It resulted in several overnight stays in hospital and around the 25-week mark I was diagnosed with a condition called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). Being able to understand what was going on with my body was a relief and so was having an action plan to make the rest of my pregnancy manageable. I was put on a course of fludrocortisone, wasn’t allowed to drive, could only do minimal & careful activity and needed to have someone with me all of the time.
Our beautiful baby Harry was born on the 23rd of March in a relatively smooth c-section procedure. Harry spent the first two days in the special care nursery and since that point he has been by our side, our should I say ‘by my breasts’. Mark and I love our little man more than words can express, it has been my greatest achievement without a doubt!
During pregnancy and even as soon as Harry was born I was asked the question “when are you going to start running again?” So, I thought it would be useful if I put my experiences and insights into this blog.
C-Section & Running
I don’t think I gave enough credit to the invasive and serious nature of a c-section. On the back of being pregnant for 9-10 months, your body has gone through A LOT!! I also understand that it is normal for women who enjoyed fitness training prior to being pregnant and perhaps during pregnancy, to want to speedily tie up the laces and move the legs. Not only is it a physical release but being outdoors and running is a means for many people to seek mental clarity, something that is needed after long periods of motherhood duties.
If you are pregnant- or just had a baby – and are wanting to pull on the training shoes and bring yourself back into the habit of training for mental and physical health, here are my tips:
(1) Before you can run…. take care of the dirty work
Post pregnancy there is the potential to have some weaknesses that can prevent a smooth transition back to running if you don’t address them first. Even if you have been given the green light to begin exercise at the 6-week mark from your GP I strongly encourage you to take the time to strengthen your pelvic floor and work on any abdominal separation (known as diastasis recti) if one exists. A visit to your female focused physio can help identify what exercises you can do.
1-week post partum during an at home midwife visit I was examined to have a 5cm separation from my abdominal muscles. This meant I could stick five fingers in my belly in the space between the right and left sides of my abdominal muscles. If I engaged my stomach muscles at all I would have a cone shaped tummy. I was advised to avoid engaging my stomach at all costs which meant rolling out of the bed on one side, be aware of having a good posture and having my partner pick Harry out of the cot.
Four weeks post partum I had an appointment with a physiotherapist that specialised in postnatal physiotherapy. An ultrasound identified that my separation had now reduced to 3cms, however the integrity of the muscles around that area were very weak. I had a strong suspicion at this point that it would take me longer to be running on the trails than I had imagined. Being aware of my exact state was a little scary but knowledge is empowering and allows you to take purposeful action.
In my research I came across Julie Baird who is a certified personal trainer and focuses on pre/post natal fitness. Her training and own experience has her very knowledgeable on abdominal separation and her approach is cautious, empowering and based on research. She has a great 6-week online program called Better Body after Baby. Although you can only sign up to her course after 6 weeks postpartum her Instagram account is filled with techniques how to assist reduce the abdominal gap such as abdominal breathing, the correct way to push your pram and how best to hold your baby. You can find her at @outfitfamilylife.
(2) ‘Clean sheet’ your recovery goals
Imagine you are starting again as a new runner, with a new body. Although your body has changed, and likely atrophied from a lack of training, you have learned a lot during your pregnancy about care and patience. This is an excellent opportunity to build your running mindsets and behaviours from the ground up – or ‘cleansheeting’ as they say in business. Set goals that will give you incremental benefits. This approach was incremental, and took a long view of fitness.
For example, before running I spent months getting my body used to walking. Over a month my walks slowly became longer, more technical and faster. The first walk I did was 900 metres to my post office and back. The front door to my house is up a steep driveway and on that first walk I could only manage walking up it backwards. I was shocked how challenging it was and more than one tear was shed in the process. On all of these walks I carried Harry in a baby harness or in his pram. Take your time, be aware of your posture & engage your pelvic floor.
(3) Slow, steady, consistent = no injuries, faster recovery.
Injury is the enemy in the early stages of recovery, therefore you have to be smart and patient with your training. Be aware of a pregnancy related hormones (e.g increased levels of progesterone) and breastfeeding which can affect your joints for months after having a baby. This can weaken joint integrity and increase risk of inury. Don’t compare your recovery with anyone else. There are medical guidelines and these are a great baseline, but everyone is different. There are many fitness mothers on instagram that return to exercise a month after having a c-section, that would not have been possible for me on many levels.
On my first run back I decided to do a time-based out and back route. [14 minutes running /1-minute walking one-way], [14 minutes running / 1-minute walking back]. This was my test run to really listen to the body and decide where it was at. I was very nervous about taking those first few steps and I could feel myself tightening up, worried I was going to hurt myself. Focus on your breathing and drop your shoulders on this run. Remember it is okay to transition to a walk/run!! I found wearing 2XU postnatal specific tights helpful as it supported the past of my body that was now weaker.
(4) Specificity is the enemy. Nature rewards the generalist.
I don’t think this is specifically relevant to women returning to their running program post-pregnancy. Combining strength training and some form of yoga practice into your training program can benefit your performance, reduce the chance of injury and make you a more resilient athlete. There are plenty of strength and yoga routines that can be done at home, with minimal equipment and in a 20-minute time period. This is helpful for new mothers who find it harder to get out of the house to train. You want to focus on slowly rebuilding the strength in your back, butt, core and legs.
(5) Listen to your body.
As you progress your training, you will feel stiffness and sore as you go. After my first run back, I was sore for days. I took it easy afterwards and remembered that small progress, is still progress. Take the time to recover by stretching and eating well within 1 hour of training – and if you feel tired, rest. It’s the most underrated training partner there is.
(6) It takes a team.
Stay in close contact with your physiotherapist and GP. They can monitor you as medical professionals as you recover and ensure your training is not causing further injury.
Training is a huge source of mental well-being and sanity after a tough period both physically and mentally. Be smart as you get yourself back on the road to fitness, it will pay dividends as a mother, partner and athlete.