Before starting back running after baby Stanley’s birth, I went to see Rob White at Challenge Physio to get the all clear for starting to train again. I’ve really missed running since I gave it up at 7 months pregnant, and I wanted to make sure that I remain injury free once I do start up again. I had hundreds of questions, and the 6 week checkup with my doctor didn’t really help on that front. I wanted to know – When is it ok to start running after having a baby?What cross-training should I do postnatally? What exercise should be avoided after labour? Do I have diastasis recti? What even IS diastasis recti?
A physio appointment was the perfect place to explore these issues, with someone who really understands how important it is to me to be active. We came up with a game plan that ought to ensure that I enjoy running as much or even more post-natally as I did before and during my pregnancy. While my labour wasn’t ‘traumatic’ in the psychological sense, childbirth is still actually ‘trauma’ that the body needs to recover from. Taking care of a baby, and nursing also takes their toll on the body so I’m aiming to build my fitness again steadily and sensibly.
During the session, my abs were checked for diastasis recti, and I got a chance to find out what it actually is. Turns out, it’s the separation of the abdominal muscles along the midline that can happen after pregnancy. It’s natural for your abs to separate during pregnancy – after all, there was another person living in there – it’s only when your abs don’t go back into place in the weeks following the birth that it becomes an issue. (Sidenote: I nicknamed the last month of my pregnancy “This torso ain’t big enough for the both of us“, when I had someone’s feet in my lungs, and couldn’t pick things up from the floor if I dropped them. Pregnancy feels like a very weird design, as an end-user of the experience.)
I’m lucky, as the examination showed that my abs are knitting back together nicely, with barely a centimetre gap already. To help keep my core strong, my focus won’t be on crunches or sit-ups, instead I’ll be strengthening my diaphragm (which Rob describes as the centre of the core) through breathing techniques. Yes, by just really focussing on ‘belly-breathing’, I can help strengthen my core back to its prenatal strength, and possibly even better. The exercise below would also help if you did have diastasis recti that wasn’t knitting together as well. NPR have a great article on the issue here, though be warned, it does use the horrendous phrase “mum-tum”.
(Credit: Lucinda Schrieber for NPR)
The interesting news from the sessions is that there are some underlying non-pregnancy related issues that I need to deal with. Before these appointments, I’d never actually seen a physiotherapist – I had never (touch wood!) had a proper injury in the years I’ve been running. There had been an occasional niggly knee, which had always gone away if I eased off running – so I had never felt the need to have a proper assessment. In discussing those niggles, and by looking at the way my muscles interacted during movement, my physio noticed an imbalance in my trunk, which manifests in my right knee joint collapsing inwards. This may explain why my husband refuses to run on my right hand side, as I always veer into him, pushing him off pavements or into hedges.
Left unchecked, especially with the extra ligament-loosening hormones, this would probably have led to injury further down the line.It’s a bit of a miracle I’ve never been injured so far, apparently…
So, for the next few weeks,I will be focussing on bilateral exercises that help with my symmetry and core strength. I’ve been given some exercises and visualisations to do to help open up my right shoulder (especially important now that I’m always carrying a baby in my left arm and staring down at his adorable face, further crunching my body to the left), which will in turn even out my hips and knees. Mum comes round a couple of mornings a week with specially tailored yoga classes for me. I’ve been doing some gentle bouldering with my husband, on our ‘date night’ away from baby, and I’ve been going back to tri club swim sessions. (I asked Rob if it was ok that I only swim front crawl, and whether I should start breaststroke. He looked aghast. Apparently breaststroke is anathema to physiotherapists…) I’ll also be concentrating on my belly breathing, which I can incorporate when I manage to snatch any time for meditation.
Once I’ve evened myself out a bit, I’ll be back running in a couple of weeks. In total, I will be ten weeks post-partum at that point. I can’t wait to be back out, either by myself, or with Mum or my running club. In the end it turns out, I managed to stop running in November, to start again in March – I’ve managed to time my hiatus with the dark nights, “the beast from the east snowstorm” and am rejoining in springtime.
If you’re returning to exercise after a break, whether it was for a baby or otherwise, I’d really recommend going to see a physiotherapist for an MOT – you never know what you might discover.