It takes 40 weeks to grow a baby, but did you know that it could take even longer to fully recover from giving birth? Getting your pre-baby stride back is tough but certainly not impossible. You just have to know what you're in for.
I've always been an athlete and enjoyed running. While I never completed a marathon prior to having kids, I often trained as if I were competing. So running six miles took little effort before my children came into the picture.
However, little did I know running would be a lot harder after becoming a mom. My body went through so many changes that I thought something was wrong. Did the doctor inadvertently forget to take something out? Did I have some kind of rare condition? These were just some of the questions that ran through my head.
I needed answers, so I consulted my ob-gyn and began doing some online research. I wanted to learn why it felt like I was about to deliver every time I hit the track. I also wanted to know how the changes would affect my body long-term.
What I found interesting was that doctors often advise exercising throughout pregnancy and postpartum.
But if running is a great way of "bouncing back" (though do we ever really fully bounce back?), why do some of us go through so much pain in the process—as if delivery wasn't enough? Here are three things I didn't know postpartum runners go through that I'm glad I know now.
1. The changes your body goes through during pregnancy can linger well after delivery.
With a growing baby bump, gravity takes over and the connecting tissues and muscles get looser, which causes waddling and sometimes discomfort. The hormones that make our tissues and joints more elastic for giving birth can also be blamed when you still find yourself peeing your pants a little while running. (Hello, world of urinary incontinence!).
2. The pelvis tilts forward more and more throughout pregnancy, which can change a runner's stride.
The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy conducted a study where they tracked the training of a 27-year-old woman during pregnancy and postpartum. It revealed that the pelvis tilt remained six month postpartum in her case. However, doctors say it can last longer than that.
3. Pain in the lower back and hip while running can lead to slower abdominal recovery.
Since the tissues are connected, doctors believe that pain may stem from changes in the abdomen and muscle control.
"None of this was surprising," Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit, professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation, tells the New York Times. "Pregnancy and labor stretch the muscles and connective tissues in the abdomen," which allows the slightly unmoored pelvis to tilt and sway. Unless a woman strengthens the affected muscles after pregnancy, the tissues remain stretched.
It took years for things to get back to normal.
While it's true that strengthening the affected muscles is key to getting back into shape, it's important to note that not everyone is built the same. It's easy for some women to bounce back, but harder for others. That's why it's important to go at your own pace.
I actually began noticing the changes early on in my pregnancy. I had my heart set on running the 10K when I was pregnant with my daughter, but had to throw in the towel because my growing baby bump began putting pressure on my perineum. The bigger she got, the more it hurt.
I'd be in so much pain after a mile run that it was difficult to hide my discomfort. Co-workers didn't hesitate to tell me how I was actually feeling (terrible!). So I decided to postpone my marathon run until after delivery.
But little did I know, getting back into shape would take longer than I thought. After a couple of weeks, I begin working out again. I started off walking and worked my way back to running. But that awful pain down there came back.
I paid a visit to my ob-gyn to have it checked out and he insisted that everything was fine. He instructed me to avoid sit ups and crunches the first few weeks postpartum.
But it took years for things to get back to normal. And before I could officially get my pre-baby bod back, I found out I was pregnant with baby No. 2.
This time I didn't attempt to workout during the pregnancy. I could tell this baby was a lot bigger and seemed to be growing at a rapid pace. Giving birth this time around was a lot harder and the recovery after another vaginal delivery was even more painful. I didn't even bother hopping on a treadmill after giving birth to my son.
It wasn't until after two years postpartum that I decided to begin training for the half marathon. Things were going well until I decided on a four-mile run, which—you guessed it—ended up with me being out of commission for a week.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Eventually I was able to ease back into a comfortable exercise regimen. And so far I haven't noticed any pain at all.
While some women can run up until they deliver and beyond, some may have to take a break during and after pregnancy. The bottom line is that it's important to listen to your body, do your research and check with your physician before training. It took my body years to recover, but I'm glad I'm able to run again.