When to begin: When you feel good and ready. This might be day three postpartum or three months postpartum––there is no normal. The first period of time (spanning days or months) will include recreational training. Undertake this training with a spirit of fun and mental health boost on the agenda. Following the recreational period, you’ll enter your Transition Period of training. This period will give you some meaningful structure and a return to basic strength work without all the volume of training you have historically grown accustomed to.
The core: Some well-intentioned folks cautioned me against running and climbing later in my pregnancy for fear of diastasis recti––the separation of the abdominal muscles experienced by some pregnant women. Truth is most of this recent hubub about 'abdominal safety' is yet another patriarchal idea masquerading as solid advice when really it is rooted in fear not science. At one hour postpartum I took stock of my abs: there was no separation. Before you start running postpartum, be sure to check your own––or if in doubt ask your midwife to do if for you.
Sahrmann exercises: Though my abs weren't separated nor weakened, the neuromuscular connections felt a bit confused in the first few days postpartum. In order to reconnect those scrambled wires I recommend progressing through the Sahrmann transverse abdominus rehabilitation exercises. Do them daily or frequently until you graduate from the final exercise in the series.
Pelvic floor strength: I can't tell you how many relative strangers asked 'But don't you pee yourself?' Uh excuse me? No, you won't necessarily pee yourself by running postpartum. If you do then don’t wait: schedule a visit with a pelvic floor specialist because you can rehab your core and floor.
How to begin again: Despite maintaining big mountain running mileage until two days before Rumi's birth, I took my first postpartum run on the treadmill. Why? To mitigate risk of a long walk home should things not pan out as planned. After that run went swimmingly I graduated to a single mile from home the next day. Soon I was comfortable running longer distances again on trail. Begin small, just as one might after any sizeable event, and progress quickly as comfort dictates.
Get thee a massage––or three: As you get the hang of breastfeeding (oh, the terrible posture required to nurse a newborn!) and you recover from the rigors of your birth experience, massage work is a huge boon for your self-care. Mindful massage work allows the athlete to process emotions from the physical experiences of pregnancy and birth. Find a massage therapist with training in work on the psoas and visit that person weekly (bonus points for visiting a Maya massage practitioner).
How to manage the boobs: The intense discomfort of new milk in oversized, overworked, sore boobs might deter some from running. Not to fear, there are a few things that can help: 1. A tourniquet-tight bra 2. Cushy breast pads 3. Empty breasts. Try the Moving Comfort Fiona bra in one cup size too small and the Bamboobies overnight pads. Be sure to feed or pump before leaving your house for the run. In order to extend your session beyond the brief intervals between feedings, get a manual pump. This one is ultralight and portable.
Guilt: Despite a willing partner at home with Rumi, months of mental preparation for the time necessary away from home to train, and a general mindset of making no compromises in my training I've experienced an unexpected degree of guilt during my runs. "Is Rumi getting enough to eat? Is she crying the whole time I'm away? Does Ryan think I'm a bad mother?" Though I have yet to puzzle out how to banish all guilt from my conscience, it does help to remind myself that I have to take care of me in order to be a good parent. Try to leave the guilt at the trailhead.
Release expectations: But not for the reason you might think: your postpartum performance WILL impress you beyond expectations. After all, you've just taken off the progressive weight vest you wore for ten months.