After a few weeks and possibly months of being cooped up in the house with your cuddly, adorable, often ravenous newborn, going for a run—despite crippling exhaustion—probably sounds as good as a spa day or a free trip to a tropical island. Slow that run down to a walk (even a race walk, which can burn just as many calories as running. It just takes longer.) and consider this: Your recovering body may not be ready to resume high-impact activities in the first few months postpartum.
"We're dealing with a pelvic floor that is functioning very differently than it was pre-pregnancy so we really need to make sure that we are training women to heal their core and pelvic floor from the inside out, build a really strong foundation and then we can start to get back to more intense forms of exercise like heavy lifting, running, cycling, triathlon," says Jessie Mundell, personal trainer, owner of JMG Fitness Consulting and coach who specializes in postnatal recovery. "We are far more effective if we take the time early postpartum to heal and recover well."
A study published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that vaginal delivery caused partial denervation (loss of nerve supply) of the pelvic floor in most of the 96 study participants. In a few severe cases, this condition was associated with urinary or fecal incontinence and for others, the denervation likely contributed to prolapse or stress incontinence. Another study published in the British Journal of Surgery investigated the occurrence of incontinence in a small group of women five years postpartum. Roughly 36 percent of women experienced incontinence five years after delivery, and researchers discovered weakness resulting from partial denervation of the pelvic floor in these women.
The takeaway: Even if you are one of those lucky women who doesn't suffer from incontinence or prolapse after delivery, your core and pelvic floor need to recover, realign and get stronger after having a baby. And it's wise to start this process before resuming activities like running to prevent injury.
Prioritize Core and Pelvic Floor Work First
Julie Wiebe, a Los Angeles-based physical therapist who specializes in women's health, recommends switching to low-impact aerobic exercise postpartum until the pelvic floor is strengthened. Wiebe's pelvic strength-training plan begins with proper posture and reconnection with the pelvic floor. Exercises are first completed in a half-kneeling position before progressing to single-leg moves.
An easy introductory move: Lie on your back with your pillows tucked under your butt or lie on top of a Swiss ball; inhale and exhale, feeling the slight descent and rise of the pelvis as you breathe.