(I had gave birth to my third child in May 2015. My approach to running during pregnancy with baby #3 was very different than it was during my second pregnancy.)
Maybe I am being overly dramatic because I can’t run right now and my goals feel far away and completely unattainable. The voice of defeat can be so loud. 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 in 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 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 in early 2011. But when I got pregnant in January 2012 the leaking came back around the 12-14 week mark.
Even a simple sneeze or cough and I leaked. If 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 was freaked out, I probably did ten kegels on my drive home and continued 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.
These are the muscles that take small, little, concentrated movements to strengthen. This is 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 everything. 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. And I didn’t just ignore them, I didn’t even know they existed. Okay, I sort of knew they existed, but I had no idea at the same time. Ignorance, it’s worse than ignoring, especially when it comes to your body.
Watch this helpful video from physical therapist, Tasha Mulligan of Hab-It to learn more.
I set postpartum running goals during my pregnancy
I’m not against setting goals for during and after your pregnancy. But I recommend that they 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 whole 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. I’ll commit to a workout that day or twice that week and I’ll 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 throughout pregnancy I would “bounce” back quicker
My plan was to maintain my fitness level and continue to run as I was doing prior to becoming pregnant. I consider myself a runner, and dare say I think it superior, so naturally I choose running over any other activity. 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 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 natural 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). If I was to do it again, I would have taken the time during pregnancy to explore alternatives to running. And had I done so, maybe the muscles of my pelvic floor and pelvic basket would be strengthened instead of strained.
My Pride Got in my Way
I wanted to be that amazing girl who people congratulated for staying in such good shape during pregnancy. I loved the 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 you 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. This encouragement can help a doubter achieve a goal they never thought possible. At the same time, the encouragement and accolades can feed pride. Big or small, pride it is undeniably there. Just don’t let it get in the way of your own health.
I believe 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 and don’t get discouraged. 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. Not only that but it 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 your 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. Though, based simply on personal experience, I think it would have made a difference. I think I would be in better shape postpartum had I pursued other forms of exercise during my pregnancy other than running.
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 and I LOVED that baby. At the same time, 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. While that mentality has its place, its not in pregnancy or postpartum.
Did you run during pregnancy? Do you have regrets?
What alternative exercises have you enjoyed during pregnancy or postpartum?
Related articles I’ve found helpful:
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