I wish I hadn’t run during my pregnancy.
Maybe I am being overly dramatic because I can’t run right now. Because my goals feel far away and completely unattainable. because the voice of defeat is so loud. Because the limitations of my body are frustrating my mind. The dramatic aside, there is truth in it what I write. I DO wish that I had refrained from running during my pregnancy. And here is why:
I ignored the warning signs. After my first pregnancy (2009) I experienced some leaking the first time I ran hard. I chalked it up to part of the postpartum experience, did two or three kegels and kept running. I ran a half marathon at five months postpartum and I vaguely remember thinking “I’m glad it’s pouring rain.” The leaking problem mostly went away after I stopped breastfeeding, which was around the time I started running more seriously (early 2011). But when I got pregnant this time it came back, the leaking, right around 12-14 weeks. A sneeze, a cough: I leaked. I ran: I leaked. Again, I just attributed it up to being pregnant and kept running. I mentioned it once to my midwife at around 20 weeks and she started talking about physical therapy, I freaked, did ten kegels on my drive home and kept running. Now I am in physical therapy and NOT running.
I didn’t know my body. I thought I knew my body. Most of us who are fitness enthusiasts pride ourselves in being “in-tune” with our bodies and for the most part this is true. I may know my body, but I didn’t really know about my body, specifically my pelvic floor and pelvic basket. I didn’t know how important these muscle were to running: they are essential. I focused on the rest of my body: staying in cardiovascular shape, toning my legs and arms, and strengthening my core. But completely ignored the deep, interior muscles of the pelvis, back and lower abdomen. The ones that take small, little, concentrated movements to strengthen. It’s not Crossfit people. It’s not box jumps or power cleans. It’s laying on your back and looking like you’re doing nothing. But it is eveything. Those “little muscles,” the multifidi, the deep rotators, the transverse abdominal muscles, the many little muscles of the pelvic floor, those are a BIG DEAL. I didn’t just ignore them, I didn’t even know they existed or sort of knew but had no idea at the same time. Ignorance, it’s worse than ignoring especially when it comes to your own body. Watch this helpful video from physical therapist, Tasha Mulligan of Hab-It to learn more.
I set running postpartum running goals during my pregnancy. I’m not against setting goals for your pregnancy and after, they just shouldn’t be time related goals on a tight schedule. For example: Running a 3:30 (PR) Spring 2013 marathon after having a baby in September 2012. That kind of goal is inadvisable. Especially, if like me, you have a tendency to run and run and run until something ”breaks.” Have women done it? Yes. Successfully and without injury? Maybe. I haven’t read too many bloggers writing about the postpartum marathon they PR’d in, but leaked the all the way. If I were to do it again (Which is entirely too possible, considering my husband already wants another one. Hello?!? Do you not remember those sleepless nights?) I would set goals that are in-tune with my body in that moment: commit to a workout that day or twice that week. I would refrain from setting any postpartum goals; setting those time oriented and time sensitive goals back in the spring of 2012 has set me up to feel defeated right now. Time sensitive goals have a way of de-sensitizing your body-awareness, you become fixed on the goal, but forget to check in with your body. Your mind wants to drive forward, even if your body isn’t ready. Any future postpartum running goals need to be “gentle.”
I thought that if I ran through pregnancy I would “bounce” back quicker. I can say with some certainty that no woman has ever wanted to keep the extra weight after her baby was born. Like all women I wanted to lose the weight as soon as possible. I thought that if I ran through pregnancy it would help me a) not gain as much weight and b) maintain my fitness level more so than any other activity. I consider myself a runner so naturally I choose running over any other activity and dare say I think it superior. But who doesn’t think their favorite form of exercise is the best form of exercise? I also wanted to keep as much cardiovascular fitness as possible so that I could start training as soon as possible after giving birth. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. I know that being physically active and fit aides both the mother and baby in labor and delivery, I’m not debating that fact. I agree totally and have probably reaped the benefits of being physically active in my two relatively short and
easy smooth deliveries. But I think those same benefits can be achieved without running. As important as running is to me I can live without it. I can *gasp* do other things and still be a “runner.” Choosing NOT to run during pregnancy does not make any woman less of a “runner” (whatever that label means). I wish I had taken the time during pregnancy to explore alternatives to running, had I done so maybe the muscles of my pelvic floor and basket would be strengthened instead of strained.
I was prideful. I wanted to be that amazing girl who people congratulated for staying in such good shape during pregnancy. I wanted praise: “Oh my gosh you’re still running? You can do that? Wow! I could never do that!” Everyone wants praise, especially goal-oriented nut-jobs like myself. Blogging certainly contributes to this desire for praise: a larger audience witnesses the life your write. More people to congratulate you on a job well done. In some cases this can be a great thing. I’ve found comfort in the encouragement of other bloggers as we deal with my son’s medical issues. And the same encouragement can help the doubter achieve a goal she never thought possible. At the same time the encouragement and accolades can feed pride, big or small it is undeniably there. I just let my pride get in the way of my own health
I think you can still run during pregnancy. I know many women who have successfully and safely run through pregnancy. If you are pregnant and running be honest with your health practitioner: tell them about leakage, tell them about tightness in your hips. If you want to run during pregnancy consider seeing a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health and pelvic floor health. I know that my visit with my physical therapist wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be and has helped me to better understand my body. I know more about my body than I did before. A visit to a physical therapist before or after you pregnancy could mean a quicker recovery postpartum.
Would it have made a difference? I can’t definitively answer that. I can’t quantify the additional strain on my pelvic floor due to running or differentiate between the ”damage” caused by running and that caused by labor and delivery. Maybe running less or not racing would have been enough to decrease the strain on my pelvic floor or maybe not running altogether would have been better.But based simply on personal experience I think it would have made a difference. I think that I would be in better shape postpartum had I not run and pursued other forms of exercise during my pregnancy.
I think most women who run are extremely conscious of the baby inside them. I know I was. I used perceived exertion as my guide. I was hyper-conscious of how I felt while running (my heart rate, my breath) and how that might affect the baby inside me. I was always willing to cut off a run if I didn’t feel right. I respected that baby. I LOVED that baby. But I didn’t respect my own body. I didn’t know enough about my body and I pushed my body past the warning signs of pelvic floor weakness. Runners are all about pushing through pain and discomfort to reach a goal and that mentality has its place, just not in pregnancy or postpartum.
Did you run during pregnancy? Do you have regrets? What alternative exercises have you enjoyed during pregnancy or postpartum?
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