Running Post-Partum: How Soon is Too Soon?

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I ran 5 days after the birth of my first son – an easy 1 mile run on the treadmill and then slowly increased the mileage over the next few weeks.  By the time he was 5-6 weeks old, I was comfortably running 30-40 miles/week which included long runs of ~10 miles and some speed workouts.

I have roughly the same plan this time around.  I ran 2 miles last Tuesday (6 days postpartum) and 4 miles on Saturday (10 days postpartum).

Post 4-mile run

While most of the feedback I have gotten has been extremely positive, I have received some pushback and questions from friends / family / readers about my quick return to running.

But how soon is too soon?  

From my research, discussions with other females, doctor’s guidance, and previous experience, I can tell you that there is certainly not a black and white answer for this question.

Source: Mayo Clinic

I ran until the end of this pregnancy, had an uncomplicated natural delivery, and didn’t need any stitches post L&D – and I’ve been given the green light by my health care provider to begin physical activity.

But as I’ve already said – there are no set guidelines for all women to follow. There are a LOT of factors that go in to how soon each woman returns to running.  These are just a few that I have learned play a part in how soon you can consider returning to running:

  • Doctor’s Guidance – I would argue that this is the most important factor.  Each health care professional will give specific guidance to his/her patient after L&D. My first doctor didn’t give me a hard timeline – he told me to start walking when I felt up to it and then try to run when I felt up to it (basically to listen to my body).  However, I have heard of doctor’s restricting physical activity for 4-6 weeks postpartum.  One of my girlfriend’s emailed me over the weekend to find out how I was running already – her doula wants her to stay off her feet for the first two weeks after she delivers the baby to allow her uterus to return to its normal size.  At the end of the day, you should listen to  your doctor’s orders as they are taking into account your pregnancy, labor, delivery, etc.
  • Labor and Delivery – Did you have a C-section or natural birth?  Did you need stitches?  Did you have any complications?  These all play a factor in how soon you will likely be able to return to running.  Some require substantially longer recovery times.
  • Activity Level During Pregnancy – I ran until the very end of both pregnancies (day before my first son was born and two days before my second) so returning after a week off was not a huge change for me or my body.  There is so much going on with your body postpartum that you likely do not want to start a running regimen if it hadn’t already recently been part of your daily routine.
  • Cortisol Levels – “When you exercise, your adrenal glands pump out cortisol to increase your heart rate and breathing rate, and to increase blood flow to your muscles. Going out for a run two weeks after giving birth will draw on the tapped resources of your adrenals before they are ready, and this will knock your recovering body out of balance. If laboratory tests show that your cortisol levels are low, you should postpone all but the most mild exercise until those levels return to normal.” (Source: Exercise After Pregnancy – FamilyEducation.com)
  • Listening to your body – As a runner, I feel that I am pretty in tune with my body.  In the 10 years I have been running, I have never had a running-related injury.  I know when something is too much for my body.  I ran 2 miles on Tuesday and despite feeling great during the run, wasn’t thrilled with how I woke up the next morning.  I felt a little sore in my hip flexors and generally achy in my hips/thighs so decided to give my body another few days of rest.   I went for an easy run on Saturday and woke up the next morning feeling 100% okay.  Just because you entered the window to begin exercising that your health care professional may have given you, you should still take the cues from your body.

At the end of the day, each woman has a different pregnancy, labor, delivery and recovery.  What works for me may or may not work for you…My advice would be to talk to your doctor for his/her guidance and take it one day at a time.  I have no training plan that I’m following – I base my run (or lack thereof) on how I feel each morning and have no intention of pushing myself in duration or intensity for at least another few weeks.

How soon did you return to running postpartum?  What were your health care professional’s guidance?

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

For More NYC Running Mama training updates, pictures and ramblings, check out:

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    18. rebeca Ventura says:

      Hi, I was feeling a little sad about running a half-marathon about 24 minutes slower than last year since I gave birth 3 months ago and am still nursing. I have a competitive spirit and wanted to be back to normal but I guess the body does sometimes take time to heal. I feel happy I didn’t push myself and get hurt though.

    19. It’s great you feel ready so quickly! I have had to wait about 3 weeks or so because of the bladder issues. I also gained a ton of weight the first two times and wasn’t able to run last last 2-6 weeks. This time I feel a lot fitter at almost 35 weeks. I’m running way more than I did the other two times and haven’t gained quite as much weight, so maybe I’ll get back sooner? But then again, will I have time with 3 kids?!

      Seriously though, if it works for you, who cares?! I think the main concern after an uncomplicated birth is the relaxin and your body still being a bit out of whack. Just keep listening to your body and tending to anything that feels off and I’m sure you’ll be fine. But most importantly keep on rockin’ on! :)

    20. I could barely walk, let alone think about running. I know of a person that hemmoraged after going Christmas shopping with a 2 week old. It was too much for her. Everybody is different.
      Leonor @FoodFaithFitness recently posted..Sunday FunnyMy Profile

    21. I started walking with Em the day we got home from the hospital and was back in the gym a week or so postpartum. I didn’t really RUN until 2-3 weeks PP … I had 2 stitches and waited until it felt good. I totally agree about listening to your body. Your body will let you know when something is too much!
      Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family recently posted..WIAWMy Profile

      • So glad I’m not the only “crazy” one who felt good enough to walk and /or run right away!! My dr told me that physical activity was good for me and to do what I felt up to doing!! =)

    22. I appreciate your research and wish you had written this post before I birthed my twins last year!. I ran a half marathon 10 weeks post partum. I must admit, I should have waited. I had needed extensive “repair” and was sent home from the hospital with a kidney infection. I was a mess, and I was breast feeding both babies. I underestimated the loss of strength in my abdomen and pelvis and caused myself some real knee issues. Because of this I missed out on the Marine Corp Marathon last October. I’m sure you are making the right decisions for you. I am just about to run my first marathon since I have had them and they are 18 months now. You are an inspiration to people, keep it up!

      • Thank you!! I definitely feel a difference in my abs when I am running – not painful – but defi Italy not as strong as they used to be. It’s tough b/c my legs and mind are ready to run high mileage but the other parts of me are not!! You are awesome for bf’ing both babies! I can’t imagine how tiring that must be to feed two !!!

    23. Sophia was born in the middle of a snow storm in December. And December weather in NH is not so conducive to running (I didn’t have a gym membership at the time). I got back into running about 2 weeks post pardum, I was out for a walk and feeling good and just had to give it a go. I did a lot of snowshoe-running for the next few weeks and let me tell you snowshoe-running really builds fitness levels: like a hill workout! But one of the things I neglected was pelvic floor strength as a result I had some incontinence issues early on that lasted for a while. This time around I’m focusing on pelvic floor strength before I even get out there for a run. That might take a little longer than two weeks. But I can supliment with other cardio to keep my fitness while I strengthen other areas of my body.
      Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Introducing Baby JackMy Profile

    24. It’s funny how we women can be so gung-ho about moving up in the world…about changing the way the world sees women and their abilities…about proving what we’ve got – and yet, we can be so cut and dry and so “stuck” on traditional guidelines. Our bodies have the ability to say when it’s okay to get back to routine. If you pay attention, you’ll know. Traditional medicine changes all the time, and I’ve seen a lot of the hesitation come from the older generation. “This is what I was told, this is what works”.

      This is a great post, Michele. I love everything you stand for as a runner and as a mother-runner.
      Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run recently posted..#weeklychase: October’s ass & some thank you’s.My Profile

      • Melissa! It’s the same thing with exercising during pregnancy…there are plenty of women who did it yrs ago but it was so frowned upon. There’s that mentality that you need to not do anything when you are pregnant!!! Thank you for your sweet comment =)

        • brittany says:

          tthank you for this great post! I agree with everything mentioned. There is still A falsementality that women should be lazy etc while pregnant and many people, doctors included, will give women a blanket statement saying wait 6 weeks post partum without considering the individual. I ran until the day I delivered and resumed running 2 weeks afterwards. It’s nice to hear from more women who stayed fit during and after pregnancy.

    25. I am so glad you posted this!! And wow, amazing, no stitches or anything? you are a superhero, I am convinced. Seriously. I think you are right on, it’s completely different for everyone and obviously you would not have started running if you didn’t get cleared, if you didn’t run until practically the day you gave birth, and you didn’t feel ready. I applaud you!
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    26. I didn’t go running until my ladyparts stopped screaming. Two compound deliveries meant that took a bit. Holy hell, woman, you’re bananas, and I love it.
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    27. Way to go – you look amazing!! I started running 2 weeks after my most recent pregnancy, and felt fine for a few months. I felt so great to be back out pushing myself (I had to stop around 8 months pregnant), that I started increasing mileage and was doing 2 days of speed work – recipe for disaster! I’ve now been dealing with a bad heel injury for 2 months! I’ve been running for 14 years and this is the first time I’ve ever had a running related injury. It’s such a bummer. Looking back, I should have known to slow it down (but I was just so excited to be back!). Hope you are getting in some great solo runs while you can!
      Ashley recently posted..Independent Play – Moving to Room TimeMy Profile

      • It’s just so hard though! Especially when our legs, hearts, and inds want to run hard and long…just the other parts are not ready yet!!! I’m having a hard time not cranking up the speed on the treadmill right now…it’s definitely a struggle!!!

    28. Michele, you continue to amaze me. I am so happy that you feel up to running so soon after delivery. With my first child, I could barely move a week post-partum. The recovery part of L&D was much much harder than I ever anticipated and it was frustrating. But you are absolutely right – there isn’t a black and white line and you really do have to listen to your body. I can’t remember what I did after my 2nd was born…Mommy brain.
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    29. I agree! Our bodies talk to us. We just need to learn how to listen to what they have to say.
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    30. you are amazing! and i think you are doing what you think is best. You know what your body can handle. SO encouraging to others too!
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    31. I am new to your blog – just started following along right before you gave birth to your second son! Congrats! I think it is amazing and great you are running so soon after having a baby! I hope I can do the same! I was wondering if you used any type of “support” around your stomach area to help with running so long while pregnant? I had a friend run through her pregnancy and she complained of pain while running when she was 8 months along so she had to stop, but I wonder if she had used a belly bra or something like that it would have helped.

      • I am almost 6 months pregnant and have had pretty bad round ligament pain, but I bought a support belt which has been great. I purchased this one: http://www.margoinnovations.com/item_10/Margo-Maternity-SupportHotMomEase.htm

        Hope that is helpful!

        -Kathryn

      • Hi!!! Welcome and thank you for the sweet comment!! Yes – I did use a support band during pregnancy…during my 1st, I started wearing it around the 5th month…this time was about a month later…I used the Medela support band…I loved it…it’s not a fully belly band – it sits on the lower portion of your belly and then just under. I didn’t want a full belly one b/c I felt like it might be too constricting when I was out running. There are a bunch of different ones out there so I’d recommend asking other mama runners to see what they used too!!! The Medela one is available on amazon.com and/or babiesrus!!!

    32. I’m not going to lie, I’m surprised you’re back to it already. I would think that it’s best to allow the uterus to have some time to shrink back to it’s normal size and for bleeding to subside. That being said, you know your body and you have your doctor’s okay. Plus, you’ve done this before! So if you’re feeling up for it, it sounds like you’re good to go! I had to have a c-section with my first so I was definitely not up to exercising before even 8 weeks post-partum. I don’t know yet if I’ll have to have a c-section this time (hopefully not!) so maybe I’ll feel differently if my body lets me have an uncomplicated birth experience :).
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    33. Kylie Fouts says:

      I was 6 wks post partum. I had a c-section, but by all accounts, I felt great! It was tough to wait, but I kept telling myself if I started too soon and without my OB’s ok, I was risking an even bigger set back if I tore my stitches or got internal bleeding.

    34. I don’t have kids so I have no idea, but I just wanted to say you are a beast! I think I will probably be so exhausted from taking care of a baby all I will want to do is sleep when I have a newborn!
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    35. Tonya Hancock says:

      Yeaaa!!! This is exactly what I have been wondering (and hoping) about! I am due with my first on January 2. Everytime I google to try to find out when to run I see people that say, “I waited the 4 weeks.” What four weeks? I never heard the four weeks! I am going to try the same if (knock on wood) I am able to have an umcomplicated vaginal delivery. I do want to try to stay home for the first 40 days after birth (ala Kundalani Yoga Pregnancy book: Bountiful Beautiful Blissful) to keep the child calm and connected and protected. That would give me a perfect excuse to buy a treadmill! Win – win! Thanks Michele.

      • Haha…I know…I was actually expecting my dr to tell me to wait a few wks after I gave birth to my first (and I would have totally listened to his orders) so was really surprised when he said there was no set amount of time to take off.

    36. Wow, I was one of those people who were surprised. I’m sure you know your body better than anyone, I just didn’t know any doctors or midwives strayed from the standard 4 weeks at the earliest vigorous exercise break. What about concerns like your pelvic floor, your uterus being back to normal size, bleeding, etc? I’m 100% not trying to be critical, I’m honestly curious because you just rocked my understanding of what’s possible :)
      Jackie@ MuscleUpMom recently posted..Pregnant in the Weight RoomMy Profile

      • Lot’s of dr’s in Canada give you the go ahead to run a week after a vaginal birth if all went well. I have two friends who both ran a week after giving birth with the ok from their dr’s. One had a singleton and one had twins and both are in great condition etc uterus wise and neither had any issues with their pelvic floors or anything like that. Dr’s truly do know what is best for you and they know how your birth went So if they say its ok and you listen to your body then you are golden:) I am actually surprised to here that dr’s still tell women 4-6 weeks if they have a great birth etc.

        • That’s good to know. I go to a pretty progressive nurse midwife practice and I never asked their specific thoughts on it. I will see what they say this time. I also have a weird perspective on it since I did have issues with my pelvic floor (from pushing with my daughter for seven hours :( ) so I will have to see how I feel this time around!
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    37. Good for you Michele! I agree that there are multiple factors to consider and everyone is different – it sounds like you’re in tune with your body and that’s the most important thing. I had a c-section so I waited 6 weeks for my first post partum run. I was really itching to go by 4 weeks but I know it was the right decision for me to wait. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to take on runs in the running stroller!

      • I have been looking at lots of running strollers lately and many brands have infant inserts or contraptions you can put on the stroller to hold an infant seat! You should check in to that! And see if its an option for your running stroller!

    38. It’s so great that you feel up to running so soon after delivery! And I agree 100%–as runners, I think we are totally in tune w/ our bodies and know when to venture out. I think I was around 2-3 weeks post-partum when I began to run, but I definitely started in sooner w/ time on the bike and some weight training. I can remember my mother-in-law being here the second week after my son was born and chastising me for exercising!
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    39. you are a ROCKSTAR! I think you said it best – listen to your body!!!
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    40. Great post Michele! I love your advice and how listening to your doctor and your body is the most important thing!
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