If you’ve ever given birth, you know — pregnancy is a marathon in a category all its own, and giving birth is the main event. Becoming a mama for the first time was the most challenging, rewarding, miraculous thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I knew plenty about the journey through pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery — or at least, I knew it all on paper. But learning it firsthand was an entirely different experience. And even though I’ve been active throughout my adult life, including during pregnancy, I had to adjust to the postpartum stage and accept that healing was going to be a journey all its own.
Returning to the activities I loved most before childbirth took more time than I expected, if I’m being honest! And if you’ve been here long, you know I’m committed to sharing the real stuff about pregnancy, postpartum, and pelvic floor health — because I want to help women through every incredible and challenging moment of motherhood.
We’ve all heard about the first six weeks of postpartum life — it’s the “gold standard” for healing and recovery. But in reality, your body has not fully recovered from childbirth at that point. In fact, most recoveries take somewhere closer to a few months than a few weeks (and depending on your labor and delivery, you may need even more time).
I know how you feel, mama — learning how to adjust to newborn life can be a lot, and you just want to get back to activities that make you feel like yourself again. If you’ve enjoyed an active lifestyle that included running before and during pregnancy, I know how much you want to get back to it, but learning patience as your body heals is going to serve you well.
Here’s the annoying, but completely honest answer: it depends. I can already feel you rolling your eyes — I see my in-person patients do it all the time! But as a pelvic floor PT, I find myself saying that phrase a lot, because every childbirth story is different, and every body has a different timeline for healing. There are lots of research-backed ways to maximize your recovery, but these three are a great place to start.
Before you think forward to running again, it’s important to look back on your birth story. I ask every in-person postpartum client about their labor and delivery. Did you have a smooth delivery, or did you experience complications? Did you deliver vaginally or have a cesarean section? If you experienced trauma, physically or mentally, you may need longer than the traditionally recommended timeframe to return to rigorous physical activity, and that is completely fine. Honor your story and your body by giving it the time it needs.
As you look back over your story, flip a few pages further and think about your lifestyle during pregnancy. What was your running and strength training routine like? Typically, women who were able to continue running and maintained a good strength routine throughout all three trimesters are likely able to return to running sooner than those who did not — but of course, this is a generalization and not a guarantee. If you’re getting active for the first time (or for the first time in a long time), you may need longer to recover from childbirth. Don’t be discouraged — just show up in the ways you can, and you’ll find yourself progressing over time as you heal.
Active diagnoses are also a major factor in postnatal fitness. Have you been diagnosed with any pelvic floor dysfunction postpartum? Diastasis, prolapse, and incontinence are the most common postpartum diagnoses. None of these will keep you from an active lifestyle, but you may need to adjust or delay your return to certain activities.
Regardless of your postpartum situation, most current evidence recommends waiting at least 12 weeks postpartum to reintroduce running into your lifestyle. This allows for optimal healing of your pelvic floor and core. However, this does NOT mean that you should do nothing for 12 weeks and then hit the road running. That’s a recipe for injury, pain, and potential complications. Instead, progress through a foundational strength training program (while working with a pelvic floor PT, if you can!). Gradually, you can reintroduce impact activities to prepare your pelvic floor for running again.
This article was written by some of the best physical therapists out there who specialize in running and women’s health. I highly encourage you read it to get a better understanding of a more realistic returning to running postpartum timeline looks like.
Running may have been a part of your daily life before giving birth, but it’s a high impact sport! Running increases your intraabdominal pressure, and inappropriately managed pressure can cause or worsen prolapse, diastasis, and incontinence. You could also develop low back or hip pain due to lack of strength in your lower body and core after giving birth.
Just because your upper and lower body feel good and ready does not mean that your pelvic floor and core are. It’s harder to see these muscles healing, but they are impacted by pregnancy and delivery more than any other area, so they take the longest to heal. If you return to running postpartum before your body is ready, you’ll increase your risk for:
Returning to running postpartum requires patience, but it doesn’t have to feel like an impossible task. Remember that 12-week general guideline, read up on recent research about what’s best, and follow these steps to optimize your return:
Even if you can only fit in one appointment, a pelvic floor PT can offer you a wealth of information and help! They’ll evaluate your muscle strength and coordination, assess your ability to relax, check your strength and mobility, provide a bladder, bowel, and scar assessment, and more. This visit (or multiple visits, if you can!) will give you a much clearer picture of your healing progress and even identify potential diagnoses or risk factors for you to consider.
Here are a few tips to find a GOOD pelvic floor physical therapist:
Begin a low impact strength training routine as soon as you’re cleared by your medical provider. I created a program specifically for new mamas that you can begin as early as week 1 postpartum — however, I still recommend getting clearance from your provider before you begin just so that your provider is aware of what you are completing.
No matter which program you follow, make sure it’s well-rounded and postpartum safe. It should focus on full body strength, with a special emphasis on core and pelvic floor function. It should also help you build single leg lower body strength, since running is a single leg sport after all!
Remember, you have the rest of your life to stay active – why rush it before your body is ready and cause long-term dysfunction? Health and fitness is a long game, and postpartum and exercise don’t have to be scary and complicated. Just take things at the proper pace, and you’ll set yourself up for a successful return to running.
Whether you’re one week, one month, or one year postpartum, my Movement Through Early Postpartum course has something for you! I launched this course with you in mind — so I hope it helps you get back to the active lifestyle you love.