The over-riding piece of advice is to say, please do not rush. You can do more harm than good in the early days and it’s far better to return to running in a planned, gradual way.
Every woman is different and there is no set time when it is safe to run after giving birth. As an absolute minimum, if you have had a vaginal delivery with an uncomplicated recovery I would advise you not to run for at least eight weeks, and at least 12 weeks following a caesarean section. These are really the minimum time frames, in reality it may be much longer than that and you need to wait until your body is ready. It sounds like a long time but it really isn’t in terms of healing for your body. This doesn’t however mean that you should be inactive, far from it! Whether your baby was born vaginally or by c-section, your pelvic floor muscles will have been weakened from carrying baby for nine months, they need time to recover and strengthen, as do your abdominal muscles which were stretched during pregnancy and parted during surgery. Strengthening these muscles again should be your first priority. It’s well worth investing the time because failing to do this can lead to problems with urinary incontinence and possible prolapse, now and in the future.
So, how do you start? Gently is the answer. Right now. The simple act of sitting down and taking a deep breath in and then breathing out whilst squeezing your lower abdominal muscles towards your spine and drawing up your pelvic floor, will be enough in those early days. Then progress to doing this whilst lying on your back and side (with knees a little bent) You can then start with gentle pelvic tilts before moving on to harder glute bridges. There are many resources online, including videos to help you with these exercises but remember to always work at your own pace. Resistance bands are handy to have at home and can add an extra level of difficulty once you have mastered the basic moves.
Please DON’T jump straight into sit ups and planks straight after delivery. You might think these two exercises would be a quick way to recover your abdominal tone but it’s too early and you can do more harm than good. This is particularly important if you suffer from diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is where the two halves of the rectus abdominis muscle separate and drift apart. This muscle runs right down the centre of your abdomen and you can check if you have this gap yourself. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Put two fingers underneath your ribcage in the centre of your tummy and now gently lift your head off the floor. Can you feel a gap? How many fingers can you fit into the gap? Do this again with your fingers near your tummy button. If you can fit in more than two fingers, then you have diastasis recti. It might resolve on its own over the next few months but if it is wide or is giving you symptoms then it would be a good idea to see a women’s health physio for advice and definitely avoid exercises such as planks and sit-ups where you will see your tummy bulging or rising into a dome shape.
If you have the resources, then I would strongly advise seeing a women’s health physio for an assessment regardless of whether you have diastasis recti. They can check your pelvic floor strength, look for potential weaknesses and give you a personalised return to exercise plan. In some countries this is standard for women after giving birth but sadly this is not the norm. It’s far better to prevent conditions such as urinary incontinence rather than try to cure them one established.
The other thing you can be doing in the early weeks is walking. Walking is underrated! It’s easy to pace yourself and gradually increase your distance as you feel able. When you walk remember to stand tall, put your shoulders back and engage your core; this will really help to prepare you for running. You can walk more briskly for intervals and set yourself small goals like you would do with running. Best of all you can take your baby with you and chances are they will sleep whilst on the move. You can stop to feed them on the way if you need to. It can be time for you but also an opportunity for a good chat with a friend. Just be wary of pushing a very heavy buggy up a steep hill in the early days and perhaps opt for a flatter easier route to begin with.
Gradually increasing your fitness with walking and strengthening your core over this two to three-month period will ensure that you are ready to run healthily and your body will thank you for it! It takes time and patience but it is worth it. When you are ready to run then simply start introducing short run intervals into your walks and build it slowly from there.
Just a little word of advice. Don’t have high expectations of yourself. It can be an exhausting, emotional time. You may have no desire to go running at all. This is fine. Running will always be there, so take your time and do what feels right for you and your baby.