Today I listened to a podcast about pelvic floor health and post-partum running by new moms and it made me a bit sad to hear the urgency this new mom felt to ‘get back to normal’. As a runner myself, I understand the feelings that go through your mind when you can’t run due to injury or some other reason. There’s a fear of gaining weight, a noticeable reduction in happy brain chemicals, and the restlessness of not having your normal routine. There’s also the fear of losing your fitness, your pace, and even wondering if you’ll be able to get back to running. The thought of ‘Who am I if I stop running?” is a real concern for many people. Will you lose your circle of friends, your kudos, your prestige, your sense of accomplishment? Add in the ever-present needs of a new baby, many changes in your routine, loss of sleep, stressed relationships, physical things like sore breasts, exhaustion, extra pounds, possibly other delivery-related pain, feelings of not knowing how to be a mother, and the loss of the good things that running gives us can seem even more scary. For many of us running is one thing we do to cope with life’s difficulties and feel more in control of a chaotic life.
However, having a baby is not the same as being injured, and life will never again be the way it was before the baby became a part of it. To tell a pregnant woman otherwise is to do her a major disservice. Life is not going to be the same after you add a new helpless person to your daily routine. Even if you go back to work early, that baby will be waiting for you to take care of it when you get home. And this is a good thing! That is your child and taking care of it should give you joy, a sense of pride, and a sense of the miracle of life . What makes me sad is that with the rise of feminism, the decrease in the American birthrate, and women having babies at older ages, women are 1)having less interaction with other pregnant women or young babies and 2)less likely to have realistic or even positive expectations of the actual experience of pregnancy, birth, recovery and motherhood.
In the not-to-distant past women supported each other through life’s stages. Mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, friends, midwives, servants, were all part of the process of helping a woman give birth and then recover. But then the medical industry took over a natural thing and made it into a disease, and men began to take over the prenatal and postnatal experience. Gradually women became more and more uneducated about their own bodies and came to rely on so-called experts. When women were taking care of women, it was expected that a new mother would rest and breastfeed and be taken care of. In the modern world, except for the lucky few, there is pressure to get back to work immediately, turn the baby over to the child care worker, and continue life as usual, regardless of the physical health of the mother and child. This leads us back to running and the pelvic floor.
What is the pelvic floor? Think of a bowl in your pelvis, the area between your hip bones, a bowl made of muscle that supports many parts of your reproductive system as well as your digestive system. When there is a problem with those muscles women AND men can have a lot of problems and pain! Here is a list.
Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms
- urinary issues, such as the urge to urinate or painful urination.
- constipation or bowel strains.
- lower back pain.
- pain in the pelvic region, genitals, or rectum.
- discomfort during sexual intercourse for women.
- pressure in the pelvic region or rectum.
- muscle spasms in the pelvis.
Obviously these are not symptoms anyone wants to experience. Physical therapists are now specializing in treating PFD because it’s becoming so common. I won’t get into it too deep, you can Google it if you want to learn more. But one major cause of pelvic floor problems is childbirth and also not healing properly AFTER childbirth because you did not give your body enough time before getting back into vigorous exercise, such as running. Youtube has some very helpful videos, as well. By the way, men get pelvic pain, too.
One tip: don’t do Kegel exercises unless a pelvic floor therapist examines you first. You could actually make things worse. Some symptoms are caused by a TENSE pelvic floor, not a weak one. Also, holding your stomach in constantly can cause problems! Who knew?!
The physical therapist on the podcast I listened to gave a period of THREE TO SIX MONTHS after childbirth as the recommended time to WAIT until running again and only after having an internal exam by a pelvic floor specialist. I know, I know, that sounds so long ! And, she said that just because your OB/Gyn says you are cleared to have sex after six weeks, doesn’t mean you are good to go back to running. I can hear the angry protests from women around the world!
But, as a mother of six, I urge you to consider the reality that 3-6 months is a very short time to recover! Those first months will fly by in a haze of sleep deprivation and sweet baby smell. Let yourself enjoy it , without guilt! And not just that, no one is saying you can’t go for walks with your new baby in the stroller, in fact I highly recommend that. I didn’t start running regularly , as in training for races, until my youngest was six years old! But I always took my babies out walking in the stroller as soon as I stopped post-partum bleeding.
The important point is that new moms need to feel free to give themselves time to 1)recover from 9 months of carrying a baby, 2) get to know their baby, 3) mentally adjust to motherhood, 4)heal their pelvic floor, 5)spend quality time with their husband/partner, 6)find a ‘new normal’ as a mother and not waste time looking backwards.
These things will require much energy. Running is great and it will be there when you are ready. Try not to worry. You will be able to run again! If you eat healthy, you won’t get fat. If you breastfeed, you’ll lose weight. If you carry your baby around, your arms and back will get a workout. Mothering an infant is a very unique and short time in a woman’s life. Don’t rush it. Don’t believe the lie that a child shouldn’t change your life. That’s like saying getting married won’t change your life! Embrace the feminine power of motherhood and do not apologize for your baby needing you. This is the way it’s supposed to be. 🙂 Join a mommy group, or just stay home, but know that you are not alone in your feelings of not knowing what to do when the baby won’t sleep or stop crying, feeling clumsy, exhausted, fat, unsexy, and frumpy with your unshowered hair and sweat pants. But those days will soon be past and you’ll become confident and find your new normal.
P.S. If you have difficulties with depression, baby blues that don’t go away, or other mental health issues, please tell your healthcare provider. There are treatments and help available.