Running after baby pelvic floor postnatal

I get asked this question a lot, so I think it deserves a blog!

Unfortunately there is no simple answer, because EVERYBODY’S DIFFERENT! So you need to start listening to those motivational memes on Facebook telling you not to compare yourself to others- it doesn’t matter that your friend was back running 3 months after giving birth. Someone who was fit before and during her pregnancy, and had a quick labour with no tearing will recover a lot faster than someone who isn’t a regular exerciser and/or had a difficult labour. This is about what’s right for you.

It Takes Longer to Heal Than We Realise

postnatal recovery

I have seen it advised that it takes at least a year for the pelvic floor to return to full strength , and if you look at the graphic above, you can see why that is! Connective tissues, such as tendons and ligaments, have a slower healing rate than muscle, and there’s a lot of this within the pelvic basin.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t run for a year though!

Here are some guidelines to help you decide whether to start running yet, and signs that you need to slow down.

We’ll start with a hormone called relaxin which is released into your system in the early stages of your pregnancy. Its job is to relax your ligaments to help prepare your pelvis for childbirth, but relaxin doesn’t just affect your pelvis, it affects every joint in your body. And it stays in your system for up to 6 months after birth, or until you stop breastfeeding.

As a result your joints aren’t as stable as they once were. When you run, your entire body weight lands on 1 leg with a G-force of 2-3. So there’s a lot of impact going through those unstable joints. Plus, for those of you who no longer have relaxin circulating: I’ve assessed a lot of clients over the years, and most people have poor alignment in a 1 leg stance. If you wobble when standing on 1 leg, how well will you cope with impact?

Next up is your pelvic floor.

If hasn’t recovered yet, chances are, you’ll wee yourself the first time you go out for a run, and could do yourself some everlasting damage. Even if you don’t suffer any incontinence, if you feel a heaviness down there: stop.

Unfortunately incontinence is accepted as normal by many women. Common, yes, but not normal, even if you just leak a “little bit” when you sneeze or jump. In the majority of cases it can be resolved, so if you have any doubts about your pelvic floor see a Women’s Health Physio and follow an appropriate exercise routine. And no running! If you place pressure on a dysfunctional pelvic floor it’s never going to heal.

Do you still have diastasis recti?

Your abdominal wall forms a sort of pressure system with your pelvic floor, low back muscles and diaphragm. And if you have diastasis, there is a weakness in that system, which means your back is going to be less supported while you run, and potentially there’s going to be more pressure on your pelvic floor too. So focus on restorative core exercises before starting anything high impact.

I know the idea of no running can be hard.

For many it’s not just the physical side (although it does feel good to go for a good run and feel like you’ve worked) but the mental side, as it relieves stress and gives you time to yourself. But remember: this is a phase of your life. It will pass, and it is so small compared to the bigger picture. At some point you will be able to run and jump again, just as long as you don’t rush things now.

Jenny Burrell of Burrell Education explains this brilliantly: You brush your teeth every day, even though you could get dentures implants if all your teeth fell out, but there is no replacement for your pelvic floor!

So, you can start running again, if:

  1.  Your pelvic floor is in check.
  2. Your diastasis recti is healed.
  3.  You’ve done a couple of months’ worth of work on restorative core exercises, and some whole body strengthening.
  4. You’re at least 4, if not 6, months post partum. This is a minimum- some will need longer.
  5. You’ve invested in a good sports bra (always a must with impact exercise, but especially when breastfeeding!)

What if you’re not yet ready to run?

I have a few blogs to get you started- this one has training tips to get you fit to run, and this blog has my top 5 postnatal core exercises. You can also download my top 10 tips for getting in shape after having a baby here.

postnatal traditions recovery fitness

I have some vivid and precious memories from the first few months after my sons were born, despite being in a bit of a daze at the time. It’s such a special time, and one of enormous transition: physically there’s a lot of healing needs to take place, there are hormonal changes, bonding, learning to breastfeed, and relationships adjust.

And I can’t help but feel we don’t honour this time as we should. We’re pretty good about pregnancy, but once baby arrives, the mum doesn’t always get so much attention anymore. And with paediatrician appointments,  endless nappies to change, baby clothes to wash and visitors to see baby, self-care can take a back seat.

 postnatal recovery traditions

But is this good for our recovery?

In a word: no. Which made me wonder- do other cultures take better care of new mums than we do?

Confinement.

Many countries have confinement practices where the new mum stays at home, with no visitors except close family until the confinement period is over. For Malaysian women this usually lasts for 42 to 44 days, for an Indian mum, it’s about 40.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could follow a similar practise in the UK, treating the postpartum period as a time to cherish and give mum extra care? Unfortunately it is just not practical for most of us: how many have family members who can tend to us for that long? There is the option of hiring a doula though, who often provide support beyond the birth itself and can advise on self-care and even help with household chores, or postnatal support from someone like Karen at Parents & Co, who can provide overnight care too.

No washing your hair!

This is a Chinese one, and linked to an overall practise of staying warm, because loss of blood and energy is thought to make mum ‘cold’: in Vietnam they practise nam lua (‘mother-roasting) where a fire keeps the mother warm for a month.

Other warming practises include bathing in warm, herb infused water- I don’t think any of us want cold baths or showers, so this one is pretty easy to follow!

postnatal traditions

Is this a valid concern though? Apparently so! One study found people who dipped their feet in icy water for 20 minutes were more likely to develop a cold than those who didn’t.

Given that new mums often experience increased sweating (getting rid of the extra water retained during pregnancy) these warming traditions do seem like a good idea!

No TV or reading!

Ok, I would have struggled with this one. I get the reasoning- strain on the eyes and potentially tiring- but I’m not sure I could stay in the house for that long without books. Unless I ran up a MAHOOSIVE bill at audible.com. Is it acceptable to ask for itunes vouchers instead of baby clothes as a gift?

Other activities considered to be stressful and avoided include shouting, crying, and too much conversation. I may have struggled with the crying (hormones!), however talking to fewer people may have helped…

No housework

Awesome. Also, no bending at the waist to prevent back injuries. In India new mums are sometimes helped by a dia (or even a maid) who will help with cooking, laundry, and bathing the baby.

In some cases, where the birth has been particularly difficult and there may be problems such as a prolapse, this is great advice. In others, it may feel impractical: bending over baby to play, for example.

Also, whilst I’m all for rest, some exercise, such as gentle walking, can be really beneficial in encouraging the core to repair. It will increase circulation which will increase the nutrients being delivered to mums muscles, aiding her at a cellular level.

However, there’s something else that aids circulation…

Massage.

postpartum traditions healing massage

Also awesome. In India the dia will do this too (maybe even daily), or in Malaysia a bidan massages the abdomen. Pregnancy and the strains of a new baby can leave mum with tight areas, and  a tight spot pulling you out of alignment can affect posture, and therefore abdominal healing (diastasis recti).

Release work doesn’t have to be done with massage, I give clients techniques they can use at home for this, but massage would be my method of choice!

Abdominal binding.

Many cultures practise some form of belly wrapping to aid with healing the core. In Malaysia they use a special postnatal corset (bengkung), and India a long cloth to bind it. They can give extra support to weakened abdominal muscles, reduce postnatal swelling, and encourage them to close back together.

In the UK Physiotherapists can recommend abdominal support for women who are having trouble healing. But whereas across the pond in France new mums see a Women’s Health Physio as standard, subsidised by the government, here you have to be referred by your GP if, or search for a private one. The difference this would make to recovery, and incidences of pelvic floor disorders such as incontinence and prolapse, is immense.

Diet: warming ginger, good; windy onion, bad.

The keeping warm theme continues here, as in many countries (including China, India and Malaysia) some foods, such as ginger, are believed to promote better blood circulation and strengthen the joints, while other cooling foods are avoided. Cucumber, cabbage, young coconut and pineapple fall into this catagory, the ‘cooling’ elements thought to cause rheumatism, arthritis and weak joints in a mother.

I’m not at all convinced by this, and would have recommended pineapple myself, as the enzyme bromelain in it is thought to aid digestion! However other advise I came across, such avoiding ‘windy’ foods like as onions and jackfruit, seems pretty wise! And bone broth/ soup is a staple of the postpartum diet in many cultures, which is great for recovery.

nutrition postpartum tradition soup

Not all these practises are followed rigidly; even for the confinement, some mums will end early if they feel they need to. I don’t think I would: the prospect of a month of massage and having my meals cooked is almost enough to make me want another baby!

If you’re struggling with your diastasis recti find out about my postnatal personal training packages here.

References

http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-23-bittersweet/motherhood-rooted

http://www.babycenter.com.my/a1021145/confinement-practices-an-overview
http://www.babycenter.com.my/a1042118/indian-confinement-practices#ixzz3ZlkB5GUy

http://www.babycenter.com/0_postpartum-sweating_11720.bc