Running time is precious, but so is the health of your baby and your own sleep after the baby is born. Here’s how to adapt your running routine while pregnant and tips to get back running again safely post-delivery.

For pregnant women, the runner’s body that took months – or even years – to whip into shape, it’s all going to change. But it will transform into something just as beautiful as the baby grows. Before, you appreciated the strength of your hamstrings – now, you marvel at the strength of your womb. It’s an exciting process, but for many runners it’s also a time of angst about altering running routines. For years now, the attitudes about exercising while pregnant have been changing. Hiding away during a pregnancy “confinement” is a thing of the past. Some women are still hesitant to work out while pregnant for fear of hurting the baby and risking its health, but as long as you’ve consulted your doctor and have no complications, you can continue running.

Pre-Natal

Re-evaluate your routine

Amy Moss-Archambault of Waterdown, Ont. is in her second trimester and remains active. During triathlon training, she discovered she was pregnant with her third child. “I have reduced my workouts to one 5K run, one swim and one cycle session a week and still do strength training twice a week, but I work at maintaining versus increasing my strength and endurance.” Dr. Julia Alleyne, Medical Director at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, says “the recommended frequency of running for a low-risk pregnant woman is up to four times a week, with moderate intensity, for 30-minute durations in her second trimester.”

Overcome the hurdles

Pregnancy presents new challenges, such as fatigue and nausea. Overcoming these impediments can be tough. Thought a little rain or some cold weather was bad? Extreme exhaustion or vomiting every hour can really put a damper on hitting the pavement. Find a time when you’re least likely to feel tired or sick and lace up your shoes. “I have had to slow my pace and expectations as I get used to my new body and my new roommate,” says Moss-Archambault. The disappointment of pulling back on your pace stings at first, but as your body changes, you’ll have to change your regimen to match.

Watch for changes

Another concern during pregnancy is the hormone relaxin, which lubricates your joints to make labour easier. Though increased flexibility might seem like an advantage, it can cause injury. Carefully restrain yourself and don’t extend beyond your previous flexibility range. Though you can continue to run, you will most certainly need to pull back as time goes on. A growing belly and decreased energy will hinder you, but it doesn’t have to stop you.

Post-Natal

The “six-week rule”

Most new mothers have heard about the “six-week rule.” Doctors ask patients to take it easy those first weeks after birth to allow their bodies time to recoup from the stress of birth. Nancy Hastings of Second Wind Conditioning in Burlington, Ont. recommends getting your doctor’s clearance before starting to work out again. Since the first post-natal check-up is six weeks, this is a logical wait time and an opportunity for a much-needed break. Once you have assurance from the doctor that things are OK, Hastings suggests runners “start at a very slow pace – walking or doing an easy jog and light weights for strength training.” If this is your first time running, proceed as any beginner would. Start slowly and alternate walking and running. Getting your feet off the ground will be tough at first, but you’ll see progress with persistence.

Supervise your scar

Running moms who have recently delivered by C-section aren’t necessarily any different than women who have delivered vaginally. Just keep an eye on your scar and let your doctor know about any pains you might have. Doctors recommend movement to help the area recover quickly, but say new mothers should avoid climbing too many stairs or doing any heavy lifting in those first six weeks after a C-section. “Having a C-section is like having abdominal surgery and the scar requires full healing for stabilization,” says Dr. Alleyne.

Listen to your body

When you start running, your body will give you feedback, so listen closely. If you experience any sharp pains, stop and evaluate. Take note of the activity you did and notify your health care professional.

Nursing needs

Diet is also important. Nursing mothers should take in the proper nutrients by continuing their pregnancy vitamins and also increase the caloric intake to include 500 additional calories per day from pre-pregnancy requirements. For those concerned about the quality of their milk production, the Joint SOGC/CSEP Clinical Practice Guideline: Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period shows that “moderate exercise during lactation does not affect the quantity or composition of breast milk or impact infant growth.”

Take it easy

Many women love their growing pregnant body, but the second that baby is born, the realization of a changed physique can be disappointing. Don’t get too down. If you are committed, your shape will come back, but it will take time. Gently begin a program that feels comfortable. Your baby must crawl before it walks. You’ll probably need to walk before you run.

Find support

Runners are notorious for their tenacious dedication no matter the circumstances. Apply that same attitude to your pregnancy by carefully monitoring your growing belly and your running routine along the way. Then, make time for runs post-delivery.  Let your spouse look after the baby or join a running moms club where one mom lets the others run while looking after the kids.

Getting back into your pre-pregnancy running shape doesn’t have to be a pain. Use good judgment, persist and you can be an inspiration to those around you and to your new baby.

Andrea Reynolds is a freelance writer in Burlington Ont. She has two kids and is training for a half-marathon in October.

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