pregnancy

Tips For Understanding And Running With Your Post-Pregnancy Body

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Read my latest post for Women's Running here or below:

Pregnancy can be a lot like training for an endurance event–it’s just spread out for nearly 10 months. But once the “race” is over, the accolades of your accomplishment don’t fade away: you’re still in charge of keeping a tiny human alive, all while trying to recover physically and keep your headspace balanced. When you do come out of the fog of those early weeks of parenthood and want to resume some sort of exercise routine, what should you expect? Here are some tips about how to approach the journey of postpartum exercise.

First Postpartum Checkup: Ask Questions

Usually this occurs about six to eight weeks after delivery. In most cases, your doctor will “clear” you for exercise. Make sure to probe about what this actually means and discuss what your goals might be. A lot of this depends on your previous activity history, as well as your labor and delivery. Even if you were active throughout your pregnancy and had a fast labor, it still takes weeks or even months for your body to heal. Have your doctor examine your pelvic floor strength and check to see if you have any abdominal separation (which is quite common). Ask for a referral for a pelvic floor therapist if there are concerns, or get a second opinion if something doesn’t feel right.

Be Body Positive

Both pregnancy and exercise allow you to get to know your body in different ways. If you were active while pregnant, it probably gave you a deeper understanding of how your body responds to stress, as well as to changes in weight gain and distribution, blood volume, oxygen capacity and digestion. It also likely helped you understand your approach to body image and self-appreciation. During labor, your body is literally pushed to its extremes in every way–physically, mentally and emotionally. When the baby does arrive, our bodies can feel like a wreck of what they once were: we’re engorged, bloated and squishy in areas that we don’t want to be. In those early postpartum weeks and months, the physical and emotional extremes linger, making it easy to slip into negativity. While you may feel like there are never enough hours in the day for yourself, try to practice mindful body positivity. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones during exercise will leave you with a stronger core and better sense of self-worth.

Prepare To Work Out With A Stroller

Once the baby arrives, you may need to do the majority of your workouts with a stroller. You will probably run at a slower pace: after all, you’ll be pushing the stroller, the car seat (if your child is younger than 6 months old) and your baby! Chances are, that’s at least 25 extra pounds that you are pushing forward. This can be quite physically challenging, so starting with a run/walk method is quite effective. If you don’t have a jogging stroller, long walks and even stationary strength training with the stroller are great ways to get your heart rate up. It’s always an added bonus when your baby falls asleep: being able to have your baby nap AND get a workout in can leave you with a sense of accomplishment. Embrace that “super mom” feeling!

Get Good Breast Support

If you plan to do any sort of impact activity, you’ll know immediately if you need a more supportive sports bra the second you take your first step out the door. Wearing two bras isn’t ideal, so invest in a supportive bra; or, better yet, get a sports bra specifically designed for nursing, if you are actively breastfeeding. Since you may need to stop mid-run to breastfeed (or know you’ll need to once you return home), having a nursing sports bra can make your life a little easier.

Be Flexible With Your Time

Regardless of whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, you’ll need to be flexible with the time you allot for your workout and plan your route ahead of time. There have been countless times when I had to stop and feed my son on a park bench mid-run, which added at least 30 minutes to the time I’d planned to be out–all because my little man decided he was ravenously hungry or had an epic diaper blowout (or both).

Adjust Your Pace

When you resume running after pregnancy, your perceived effort and sense of pace will likely be different. In a sense, you may feel like you are starting running all over again. Even if you aren’t training for anything, you should approach running as if you are and gradual increase your distance, intensity and speed.

Strengthen Your Core

Your core is weak(er) postpartum, and you may even have some form of diastasis recti (the natural separation of the two abdominal walls). A weak core may cause a muscular imbalance (or can lead to future injury) in the hip flexors, glutes, lower back and legs. It’s a good idea to complement running with strengthening exercises that focus specifically on the postpartum body, including preventative and corrective diastasis recti exercises. You can start with some basic diaphragmatic breathing–which, done regularly, can help to gradually knit the abdominal wall back together.

Expect Soreness And Fatigue

Even if you ran all nine months of your pregnancy or exercised in other ways, chances are that your stride length will have decreased, your pace will have slowed and your form will have shifted during that time. When you start running again, be very cautious with your pace and increase your distance gradually. Relaxin, the hormone that allows your ligaments to stretch and expand over the course of your pregnancy, is still at an all time high for as long as six weeks postpartum. Once you’re cleared for exercise before or after this period, you will still be at risk for over-extending your muscles and ligaments. Starting at a slower pace is key to preventing injury.

Pay Attention To Your Pelvic Floor

No matter how many months postpartum you are, make sure to pay attention to your pelvic floor (the hammock-like structure of muscles and ligaments that support the organs of the pelvis, which include the bladder, uterus, bowels and vagina). High-impact activities like running can further weaken your pelvic floor, which can cause a variety of minor or major issues ranging from occasional urine leakage to organ prolapse. You’ll want to make pelvic exercises part of your regular routine, even if you don’t notice any problems. Sometimes it’s only when you exercise at a higher intensity, cough or sneeze mid-run or are more tired than usual that you notice a problem, so don’t assume you are exempt from practicing pelvic floor exercises. These muscles also weaken with age and inactivity, so making them part of your routine is critical.

It’s Worth It

Are all of these things really worth the trouble just so Mom can have a few active minutes to herself? Your body has endured a tremendous number of changes from pregnancy to postpartum, so of course it’s going to feel hard in the beginning. Acknowledging this and easing back into exercise with a better awareness of our new bodies takes time. Embrace the process and your new body. Focus on the positives, the milestones and the way you’re feeling. Getting back in touch with your body and finding a rhythm and routine takes a lot of practice, so be kind to yourself as you adjust to your new routine.

15 Thoughts of a Pregnant Runner From 4 to 40 weeks

This post was originally published in Women's Running Magazine.  Below is the content:

4 Weeks:

Wasn’t I supposed to start my period? Maybe I should take a pregnancy test…

6 Weeks:

Well, I’m pregnant. But I feel awesome! I don’t even have morning sickness. Since I am already pretty fit, I’m totally going to be the fittest pregnant woman ever. Nothing is going to slow me down.

8 Weeks:

OMG. I heard the heartbeat at the doctor’s office. Should I stop running? I think my pace is getting slower. I’m not even showing, though. Am I hydrating enough? Is the baby okay? This must all be in my head.

9 Weeks:

Ugh…morning sickness. Or rather, feeling very hungover. All. Day. Long. Running feels like torture. I am definitely getting slower. Already.

11 Weeks:

I am so tired—and still so nauseous. Managed to slog through 3 miles today but it felt like I ran a marathon. I’m going to take a nap.

14 Weeks:

Hello, second trimester! I can’t button my pants, but thank goodness for stretchy workout gear! But wait, no more nausea? And I don’t feel as tired anymore? I’m totally running 8 miles today.

16 Weeks:

Running is awesome! Except now I need to pee every mile. Wait, who am I kidding? It’s more like every half mile.

20 Weeks:

Halfway mark! Totally rocking two sports bras, though. I never thought my boobs would be this big.

24 Weeks:

I feel HUGE. Everywhere. But still feeling good. I just can’t run up a hill without feeling winded.

28 Weeks:

I’m seven freakin’ months pregnant. Hello, third trimester. I think running may need to stop soon. It’s becoming more of a shuffle. I can forget about trying to pull up my pants, even though they are made of spandex; my belly is totally hanging out.

30 Weeks:

I’m definitely going to stop running soon. It’s now a waddle. People walk faster than I run these days.

32 Weeks:

Putting my running shoes away. I can’t see them when I look straight down, anyway, as my belly is too big. I’m resuming my prenatal yoga and swimming. No regrets.

34 Weeks:

Ok, now I’m really HUGE. But I kind of miss running….

36 Weeks:

I’m nine months pregnant. The baby could come anytime. I’m glad I’m not running anymore. How would I find the time, anyway? Too many other things to do before the baby arrives.

40 weeks:

Baby still isn’t here. I’m bored out of my mind. Should I clean the house? Maybe repack my hospital bag? Do more laundry? Sign up for my first postpartum race? I’m going to be the fittest mom ever.

About the Author: Rachel Spurrier, founder of Go & Glow, is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and Pre and Post Natal Corrective Exercise Specialist. A seven-time marathoner and Boston Marathon qualifier, she also a mom to a two-year-old and currently pregnant with her second child. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Motherhood and Running: the BQ and Pregnancy Conundrum

(This post originally appeared on CityCoach's website, as a guest blog post.)  

 I’m a mother, runner, and a Boston qualifier.  But I will likely not be able to run the race that I qualified for (and got in), because I am pregnant again.  Here is my story.

I was never a super-star runner, so when I first started to run marathons, I never thought that qualifying for the Boston Marathon was even a possibility for me.  Just getting across the finish line feeling strong and happy was the goal.  But over the years, race after race, I gradually chipped away at my times, and each time, the goal was to go faster than before.  The more I ran, the more my goals shifted.

When I became a mother, my goals and priorities continued to change.  For me, and I’m sure for other active mothers AND fathers, finding time to run (and train) became even more a balancing act.  There were times when I questioned if some of my running goals were realistic or “worth” my time and effort. And in the early weeks postpartum, just getting outside felt like a huge victory from a time management standpoint and also my mental and physical wellbeing. It was incredibly important not only for my overall health that I continued to be active, but it became more a part of who I was as a person: it gave me a bigger sense of purpose.  Having longer term goals--whether it be time specific, or more general ones--was incredibly important as a new mother, as it is so easy to “lose” one’s self in the crazy world of parenthood.

A few months before giving birth to my son, I decided to sign up for a marathon, held less than 5 months after his due date, as I thought (a bit naively) it would be a great way to "bounce back."  Of course, after I gave birth, I took much longer to recover than I ever anticipated, so that left basically 11 weeks to train for the race.  I took training run by run, week by week, but I managed to do the minimum.  When I ran the race, I ran conservatively and didn’t have specific time goal in mind--just to feel good the whole way.  When I crossed the finish line at 3:45, it was a total shock, as not only was it a PR, I realized that if I could finish in that time with minimal training, then qualifying for the Boston Marathon was a feasible goal.

The next marathon I signed up for was held another 5 months later, with the primary goal of qualifying for Boston.  This time, I trained a lot harder: hill repeats, interval training, speed work, tempo runs, etc, and also bumped up my weekly mileage significantly more than ever before.  This was much harder to do as a full time working mom, who also was still actively breastfeeding, but I knew that I needed to do this for myself.  I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try.  Just like when I trained for the first postpartum marathon, I took it week by week.  It helped to really “pace” myself during my training, as sometimes I was just too tired to push myself 100%.  And that is normal.  When you have a big goal in mind, it’s easy to get too obsessive and then caught up in the self-doubt periods: thinking about the bigger goal too much is counter-intuitive and can be daunting.  It’s the constant balancing act--reminding yourself every so often of your larger goal so you have something to focus on, but also being “present”--and always trying to remain positive and yet realistic.

When I ran the race, it was harder than I expected (it was a marathon, after all), but I pushed through and achieved my goal.  The last few miles I was way off pace but I kept chanting “Boston, Boston” in my head, and then would alternate it with my son’s name, over and over again to block out the negative thoughts.  My BQ time was near 4 and half minutes under the qualifying standard, so I knew that that was sufficient buffer time to get in.  So, when I got the official email nearly a year later from the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), it was icing on the cake. But, literally 2 days later, I found out I was pregnant.

The BAA current policy states “refunds or deferments of bib numbers for the Boston Marathon will not be granted for any reason, including injury, pregnancy, military exercise or deployment, and family emergencies.”  So, women who happen to get pregnant (like me), who want to run the race have basically two choices: still run the race (in my case, I would be almost 8 months pregnant), or cancel their entry and have to retrain, run and qualify for another marathon.  

When I read these rules after I found out I was pregnant,  I initially felt like I had never qualified and got accepted into the race.  Like it was “my mistake” for “allowing” myself to get pregnant slightly earlier than planned, or that as a “maternal age woman,” I really couldn’t have it all: run Boston and have young children at the same time.  If you’re due in June 2017 like I am, even if you were an elite runner, if you were to try to run another race to re-qualify, it wouldn’t even be feasible to do so for the mid September cutoff for qualifying times.  So, my hopes of running Boston won’t be until 2019.  

Certainly if the BAA does change the rules to allow for deferments or refunds for reasons of pregnancy, this could potentially be Pandora’s box (Would one need to have proof of medical record? How far in advance would one need to notify them? What if there was a termination or loss of pregnancy after deferring, could you retract the deferment?).  While I’m not advocating strongly for the BAA to change the rules for reasons of pregnancy alone (especially not over some of the other valid reasons they state), it does make me think how much harder it is for women athletes--especially those that want to be and are mothers--to achieve their goals.  Either one meticulously plans when they want to have children around their training and goal races (which anyone trying to get pregnant will tell you this is pretty hard to actually do!), or one has to delay their goals (whether it be having children, or their race goals).  

For me, who isn’t a “naturally” fast runner, it’s hard enough to train for the Boston Marathon and get in, but adding being a mother on top of this further complicates it.  Even if one is super active during pregnancy, your physical capabilities start to drop the bigger you get (you’ll inevitably get slower, and most women will eventually stop running completely before their eighth or ninth month, if not before), and then post-partum, you have to build in recovery time immediately after the birth, and then slowly build your way back up.  It’s months essentially away from running completely or certainly being in peak physical shape before and immediately after a baby.  And months more to get back to what you used to be.  

Perhaps becoming a mother is a choice, as is choosing to run.  But as a mother and athlete, for me, I find that both are key to having more of a balanced healthy life.  Can we really have it all?  We can try. Being an athlete makes me a more focused and centered mother.  Frankly, it’s become part of who I am and one of the things I most love.  Being a mother makes me have more perseverance, better time management, and gives me sense of larger fulfillment--which also carries through in my running.   While I may not be running the Boston Marathon anytime soon, this experience has given me an even deeper appreciation for my fellow mother athletes--novice and elite--it’s a new sisterhood that I am now part of.  And yet it’s a struggle.  We’re faced with a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome especially as we return to the sport:  the physical ones (the general postpartum recovery, a bladder that will never be the same, never sleeping enough or the same way again), and also ones that we can’t control, like not being able to run a race that we qualified for because life got in the way.  But just like any training cycle, hardships makes us stronger: we set new goals, we overcome the negatives, and we move forward.  Hopefully just faster, stronger, and more focused than ever before.

Running a marathon...pregnant.

Earlier this fall, I found out I was pregnant again. The timing was a little earlier than what we had originally planned for, but you take what you get when you want a baby!  I was in the middle of my own training (to try to improve my BQ time), plus doing a lot of coaching, including training a group for a marathon.  I also had been asked to pace the NYC marathon by New York Road Runners.  With approval from my doctor, I still kept what I had planned to do (minus trying to PR in a marathon I was supposed to run 2 weeks after NYC).   My level of fitness remained pretty high until the last few weeks of coaching (this was towards the end of my first trimester)...basically around the time we had to do our two-20 milers.  I managed to do both with the group, but it did leave me even more tired than I normally would have been.  Also, this was right around the time I noticed my cardio level was not what it had been...after all, being pregnant, I now was pumping 30-50% more blood.  So an 8:00min/mile felt basically like a 7:00min/mile.  

Still, the pace that I had been assigned to run for the marathon (9:20min/mile) was still "conversational," as my doctor advised me to run anyway, but a few weeks away from the race, I knew it was going to "feel" like more of an 8:20-8:30min/mile pace.  Still feasible, but it was going to be a bit more of challenge than what I thought.  

Anyone who has run NYC before, knows that there are basically 2 races: getting to the start, and the race itself.  The race doesn't start until late morning, which is actually basically lunch time as the date always falls the day after Daylight Savings Time. So while it takes you 3+ hours to even get to the start, by the time you're there, your stomach is telling you to EAT.  Add being pregnant to that, you have to have to have a rock solid fueling plan. 

Even though I've run NYC a few times before, for some reason, it took me even longer to get to the start (probably because I was assigned to a later start time), so by the time I got to the start village, I was famished.  Like ready to grab the first piece of food I saw, even if it was on the ground! While I had brought some food with me, I knew I had to to save it for the race (I don't use Gu's or gels, I get by with good old fashioned Fig Newtons!).  Fortunately, as a pacer, we had our own (heated!) tent that was catered with bagels, bananas, muffins, oatmeal, cereal...you name it, any sort of carb was there.  I grabbed two bagels, scarfed them down, then grabbed my pacer sign and ran to my corral.

Fast forward...the race.  First of all, I love the NYC marathon--the energy you get from the incredibly supportive crowds, seeing runners from all over the world, running through so many neighborhoods, etc. Running it is usually a breeze in relative terms--it goes by really quickly as there are lots of distractions.  Pacing it is a different thing.  I had to be as consistent as possible with my pace, which is pretty hard to do when running a marathon, but REALLY heard to do when running with 50,000+ other people.  Especially when you're assigned to start in a slower corral...basically, I spent the bulk of the race zigzagging, trying to get around other runners, and then decelerating and then quickly accelerating when hitting a "wall" of runners (or sometimes walkers), just trying to keep to my pace.  Oh, all the while holding a sign the whole time...normally it's very light, but it was very windy that day, so at times I had to hold it with both hands.

To add to this, I had to make sure I stayed hydrated the whole race.  That was the number one thing my doctor warned me about--it's not so much about over exertion, or higher heart rate that is a concern (which you probably won't get anyway if you are running at conversational pace), it's really making sure you don't get dehydrated as a pregnant runner.  So because the pace felt like a faster pace than what my watch said, it was really critical that I stop at the bulk of the water stations.  But...the result of being hydrated meant that I had to pee...the one thing I was actually worried about!  I've NEVER had to stop and pee during a race before, but when you're pregnant...it's sort of inevitable (especially if you've had a kid before, let's get real, here.)  That feeling occurred around mile 15...I told myself that maybe it was in my head and maybe it was a phantom feeling.  Nope.  The feeling got stronger and stronger.  Of course at that point, I was on one of the busiest stretches of the course: First Avenue.  I finally waited until about mile 18...then I could not hold it anymore. There were port-a-potties but there were lines...I knew that I didn't have time to waist to stand in line.  So I literally jumped behind a bench and dropped my pants.  Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.  No shame.

After this, I felt so much better, but I had to make up for the 15-20 seconds I had lost.  So much harder to do late in the course!  But I managed. After the Bronx, around mile 21-22, I started to feel really tired.  Again, if it was "my" race and I wasn't pacing, I'd have probably slowed down, but I was so focused on consistency, that I pushed through. I definitely wondered if it was the "right" thing to do--to push myself, or to listen to my inner fears of would I harm the baby if I pushed myself, or was this normal, etc.  I grabbed more water & gatorade which helped, and I saw a friend who yelled my name, which really gave me a surge.  Once I entered the park, I was still a couple seconds behind, but I got the second wind I needed.  When I saw the finish line, I grabbed a strangers hand who seemed to be on the struggle bus and said, we can do this together--it was literally reaching out to someone else and voicing out what I was supposed to tell myself--that helped.  

I finished at 4:04:46, which was 14 seconds under what I was supposed to finish (ideally we are supposed to finish under 30 seconds of our posted finish time)...which was perfect pacing.  I felt like a rockstar for doing this.  Physically?  Not so much.  When I crossed the finish line, I felt exhausted.  Thirsty.  Even a little sore.  But I reminded myself...I am nearly 3 months pregnant. I just ran a marathon. Not just any marathon, but the most crowded race in the world.  With even paces.  Carrying a sign.  A harder feat to do than I gave myself credit for.  

Would I do it again?  Maybe, just maybe not pregnant. There were so many other both physical and mental factors I hadn't really thought about too much going into the race.  Even though my doctor told me to go for it and was very supportive, there were times (especially when I was starting to struggle physically) that I questioned if it was the best decision or even "safe."  Of course it was, especially as a very active person (and a person who has been consistently running for years), but it still was on my mind.  Maybe it was superstition, especially as I was still in my first trimester.  I think it's natural to doubt yourself, but when you feel responsible for not only yourself but also the little person inside you, that's a lot of pressure.  And as pacer, I was responsible for keeping a consistent pace...so I think in retrospect it was too much to put on myself.  But I did it (and now in the second trimester as I write this, the baby is fine), and I learned something more about myself and also my body's limits.