This story appears in Canadian Running‘s 2017 trail special.
By Jennifer Faraone
Having a baby doesn’t mean hanging up your racing shoes, but resuming one’s fitness postpartum isn’t always easy.
Be True to Yourself
It can be easy to compare your postpartum comeback to another woman’s. This is unrealistic, as every woman’s athletic background and pregnancy experience is different and return to fitness will be unique. “I hesitated to say I ran a 120-mile race before my son’s first birthday because I didn’t want anyone to feel like they should be able to do the same,” explains Linda Barton-Robbins, an experienced trail runner. “I felt confident in that goal because of my years of ultrarunning.” Rather than comparing yourself to others, take the time to reflect on your own personal readiness and circumstances.
The body goes through some pretty significant changes – even trauma – during pregnancy and childbirth and requires a considerable amount of time to heal. As tempting as it might be to start training right away, be patient. Taking small, gradual steps towards regaining your fitness will pay off in the long term. Barton-Robbins walked for eight weeks before attempting her first jog, which lasted just eight minutes. “Because of my caesarian, I wanted to make sure that my abdominal muscles could handle the physical stress,” explains Barton-Robbins. “I was more afraid of injuring myself than losing my fitness.”
Hit the Trails
A gentle hike can be a great way to elevate your heart rate initially. As you start to feel stronger, consider tackling a more challenging hike with your baby in a back carrier. Your body will appreciate the softer terrain of the trails, compared to the hard pavement of the road. Keep in mind that your time away from the trails may have left you feeling a bit rusty technically. “It took time to get my trail legs back to where I felt comfortable running over roots and navigating tricky descents,” explains Barton-Robbins.
Boost Your Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding and exercise can be tricky. Some women find that as their training volume rises, their milk supply decreases or their appetite increases. It’s not the exercise per se that causes issues with breastfeeding, but rather it’s often the outcomes of your training such as dehydration, rapid and excessive weight loss and exhaustion. Increasing hydration and calorie intake can mitigate many of these outcomes. Barton-Robbins experienced a sharp decline in her milk supply following a weekend of intense training; she later consulted with a nutritionist to help prevent a future occurrence.
Find Your New Norm
Balancing the role as a new mom while trying to re-establish a fitness routine can be challenging given the sleepless nights and competing demands. Rather than trying to hang onto your pre-pregnancy training regimen, find a new routine that may be more suitable. The focus may shift from quantity to quality and training may often take place on a treadmill or with a baby jogger. Although your training may now look different, know that every bit counts and that you are getting stronger. Finally, take comfort knowing that you are setting the stage for the family that you want to become. “It’s important to us that [my son] grows up knowing that we are an active family who hangs out at races all day,” explains Barton-Robbins. “This is our norm.”
Jennifer Faraone is a coach, author and mother of two who loves sharing her passion for the trails through racing, coaching and hosting trail running clinics and retreats. Her latest book is The Athletic Mom-To-Be: Training Your Way Into Pregnancy and Motherhood. Visit runningthetrails.wordpress.com.