Postpartum Running: 2 Strong Moms Show You How to Keep Going

Ever wonder what postpartum running looks like?

You know...trying to get back into the routine after having a baby.

If you can just do that, maybe build strength and endurance, too.

There's no one-size-fits-all path to postpartum running, but runners and moms Brynn Cunningham and Hailey Luff can show you how they did it.

In this article, Brynn and Hailey show you four tips for healthy postpartum running...

The path to postpartum running isn't a straight line. Patience, support and a little fun can make a difference.

'Postpartum running...'

Just say the words out loud, and women who’ve experienced postpartum running might:

  • Cringe
  • Laugh, as if, yea right, can you really call it postpartum running when it’s more like walking/ jogging/ walking/ walking/ walking/ jogging?
  • Feign gagging
  • Smile at the fond memories
  • Hold their heads high at the satisfaction of managing the delicate balance of it with life with a newborn
  • Shake their heads at the absurdity of it
  • Sigh with relief if they’re through it
  • Or some/ all of the above…

Because postpartum running is an experience...

...unlike anything, whether it came easily, was difficult, or fell somewhere in the middle.

It goes without saying that adding a newborn baby to your life inevitably changes everything, even running. 

Author, 37 weeks pregnant with baby number two. (Photo/Eric Harder)

First comes love...

First comes the fun, easy part - conception.

Then comes pregnancy, carrying a baby in the womb for approximately 40 weeks, give or take, with the exception of preterm babies (like my first son) or babies born late.

Author, mother of two, with her second-born son, four weeks old, cheering on runners at the Mount Summit Challenge, Pennsylvania, April 2017. She went for her first postpartum run later that day. (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Next comes labor, delivery, birth.

 Finally, after months of pregnancy, and hours or days of labor and delivery, every fraction and aspect of life changes, the...

  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Personal
  • Physical
  • And day-to-day routines...

All while you’re trying to rest and recover from the most difficult task (labor) bestowed upon womankind.

And you enter the 24/7, all-encompassing role of parent, forever and always. 

Author with sons, ages three and two days (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Postpartum...

The early days involve: 

  • Feeding 
  • Changing diapers
  • Getting baby to nap and sleep
  • Sorting out your own basic needs while putting baby’s first
  • And, for runners, dreaming about RUNNING again…

After all, how difficult can it be to find 15 to 30 measly minutes for that first postpartum run? 

Pretty darn difficult, as most new mothers can attest.

Author with youngest son in off-road jogging stroller at 10 months old (Photo/ author)

Postpartum running: The time-management challenge

Carving out such a minimal amount of time for something like running can feel as impossible as sprouting wings and flying, especially when taking time for basic needs already feels overwhelming. 

I don’t know about other mothers, but for me, breastfeeding, rocking my babies to sleep and changing diapers was all-consuming, and most days, I could hardly take:

  • One minute to go to the bathroom without feeling anxious
  • Two minutes to shower without wondering what to do with baby
  • Five minutes to eat something without feeling like I didn’t have time to properly chew 

Yet, as challenging as time management becomes with a newborn, it’s important to eventually prioritize self-nourishment in order to be the best version of your mom self that you can be. 

Once you receive clearance from your medical team, it’s time for some postpartum running

Author running with her three-year-old son at five weeks postpartum from baby number two. (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Hey moms: The truth about postpartum running

Running can be just the reprieve mothers with newborns need, and it is different for every woman, and each individual postpartum experience. 

When I asked a group of women to describe postpartum running in one word or phrase, here’s what they said:

  • New normal
  • Adjustment
  • Painful 
  • Despairing 
  • Me time 
  • Stronger
  • Heavy, milky boobs
  • Running in someone else’s body
  • Leaky bladder 
  • Sad glutes
  • Sore
  • Take your time 
  • Be patient with your body
  • Happy to be in the woods
  • Guilt (being away from the kids, asking someone else to watch them)
  • Crooked pelvis
  • Increased hunger 
  • Extra thirsty 
  • Empowering 
  • Friend support
  • Mental clarity
  • Beast
  • Perseverance
  • Goals
  • Good golly!
  • I’m OK
  • I’ve got this
  • Frustration
  • Disheartened
  • Reviving
  • Necessary
  • Comfort
  • Invigorating
  • Empowering
  • Relief
  • Struggle
  • Measured
  • Wonderful
  • Necessary
  • Joy
  • Grateful
  • Motivated
  • Transformative, like a snake shedding its skin  

In summary, one day, we feel empowered by our runs, and the next we struggle...

But we trust that all the invigorating ups and disheartening downs are necessary. That we've got this.

And good golly, despite our increased:

  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Exhaustion, and...
  • Muscular and biomechanical weaknesses making us feel like we’re running in someone else’s body...

We mothers have everything it takes to embrace our beast mode...
 
...And new normal, find joy and gratitude in the process, and come out stronger than ever, becoming a new version of oneself. 

Frankly, these feelings can change every single day as a new mom. 

Let’s see what new mom Haylie Luff, from Sandy, Ore., has to say about her postpartum running experience. 

Hailey Luff is a runner, personal trainer and new mom.

Meet runner, mom and personal trainer Hailey Luff

Mother to:

  • Wesley, born February 2022

Number of years she’s been running: 

  • Five

Running background: 

  • Received a partial scholarship to run on the cross country team at Mount Hood Community College and 1.5 years on the team while also playing softball
  • The Bend Half Marathon (13.1 miles) is the longest race she’s run
  • Has run lots of 5ks and relay races with friends and some 10ks 

Career:

  • Postpartum prenatal and pregnancy fitness coach 
  • Certified personal trainer 
  • Former first grade teacher
  • Current substitute teacher

Next race: 

Personal trainer and new mom Hailey Luff will run 26.2 miles at the Bend Marathon in April.

The interview...

Brynn: Did you run while pregnant? 

Haylie: A little bit. I got really big, really fast, and running kind of hurt. I ran in the beginning and then at the end of pregnancy and noticed then that the more I ran, the better I felt.

Brynn: How long after pregnancy did you wait to run? 

Haylie: I was really fortunate to have a fast recovery and didn’t have extra things going on, and after the six weeks that they clear you, I started doing pelvic floor exercises and then started walking, then carrying him (Wesley) on walks, then walked three to four miles pushing him, then started jogging and run/walking. It was a slow progression.

Brynn: Do you feel different from your former, pre-baby self? 

Haylie: My body feels different. It feels like a body I’m not as comfortable in as I was before. A lot of it is the core and being able to stabilize myself. My first couple walks and runs I was trying not to pee my pants while running, like, oh I just stepped off a curb and leaked a little bit!

  • If you were competitive before (having a baby), it’s just different. 
  • You might not be as fast so you feel maybe you’re not doing enough or it’s not a “good run” because I wasn’t at a certain pace, and it’s hard when running has been a constant in my life no matter what was going on. 
  • I’m going to go out and do this run and do X Y and Z but when you have a baby, everything changes and the one thing in your life (running) changes. 

Brynn: Describe the mental change.

Haylie: I used to be more mentally tough in some ways - I would run through hard runs but now I’m like, oh well, my Achilles is sore, I can stop and take a walking break.

  • I have to remind myself that eight months postpartum is really early. 
  • It’s hard for me to look at myself as an eight-month postpartum mom versus someone who hasn’t had a baby.
  • You know...thinking, oh if I was training before I had the baby I would already be here, but reminding myself that I did just do the most tasking physical event of my life (giving birth). 

Brynn: What motivated you to train for your first marathon?

Haylie: I’ve always wanted to do it. I’m turning 26 in January (2023), and for the longest time my goal has been to run 26 miles at age 26, so I figured, why not? 

I’ll be a little more than a year postpartum. It’ll be a reminder to myself that I can do hard things. My motivation to run a marathon is for my mental health. 
 

Brynn: How does your current post-run recovery routine compare to what it was before having your baby?

Halyie: Before, I honestly had no recovery routine. I wouldn’t stretch or do anything because I didn’t know what to do. 

  • Now when I finish a run, I keep walking to get my heart rate down to get it to baseline.
  • Then I sit down and do deep breathing core breaths. I stretch and roll out, take ice baths and do the hot tub for sore muscles. 
  • I take it seriously and have a structured routine versus before where I did maybe a butterfly stretch here and there.

Fun facts about Haylie Luff

Favorite running shoe 

Bucket list race 

  • I would like to do any destination run, somewhere tropical

Toughest race completed to date

Favorite post-run meal 

  • Toasted sourdough bread, avocado, fried egg and sweet chili sauce all topped with Trader Joe’s “everything but the bagel seasoning.” 
Four tips for healthy postpartum running...

Postpartum running: 4 tips to run like a Mother

Inspired by Haylie and the moms who contributed to this story, here are four tips for healthy postpartum running: 

1. Practice patience

Patience is necessary if we don’t know what time we’ll be able to run that day, if we’re slower than we once were (don’t worry, you’ll get there), if we just can’t wait to run after giving birth… 

  • I was impatient and ran 10 days after my first baby, and suffered for my haste. 
  • After my second baby, I waited 20 days, which is still earlier than most midwives or doctors recommend, but I felt fine and continued feeling great, so I kept it up. 

It’s easier said than done, but practicing patience will set us up for long-term running happiness, while pushing too hard, too much, too soon, will hinder progress. 

2. Find support

Depending on what you need, lean on the advice and guidance of a:

  • Doctor
  • Midwife
  • Nutritionist
  • Mental health therapist
  • Running coach, or...

Find friendship and camaraderie outside of the professional arena, such as within a running group. 

The point is, the postpartum experience can be confusing and lonely, and a little bit of support from the right places can alleviate some of the negative feelings. 

3. Listen to your body

It’s a phrase that’s so overused it feels hollow, as if it's lost all of its meaning.

But hear me out and REALLY LISTEN TO YOUR POSTPARTUM BODY. 

  • Sore foot? Do something about it immediately. 
  • Tired? Run for one mile, and turn around if running is not giving you an energy boost. 
  • Leaky bladder? Consult a pelvic floor specialist or find tips online, like these ones
  • Hungry or thirsty? Eat and drink, especially if you’re breastfeeding! 

NOTE: I breastfed my first son for 27 months and my second son for 25 months. While I was running and nursing, I ate SO MUCH FOOD. Just be sure to choose whole, nourishing foods that help the body recover from running, support nursing (if you’re breastfeeding) and don’t leave you more depleted (junk food will). 

4. Have fun!

Running is fun, enhances our lives, brings us joy at every stage of the running game, so get creative and make postpartum running fun for yourself and your whole family. 

  • I ran almost every day with my first son in an off-road stroller and looked at it as our own little mini adventures. 
  • Plus, it was the only way he’d nap other than while breastfeeding, so I made the most of it. 
  • He had fun napping, while I had fun pushing him for miles and miles through all types of weather. 

Create your own journey, your own way to make running with a baby (or babies) fun. 

Enjoy the postpartum running process, look on the bright side, and love your new baby and your postpartum running body like there’s no tomorrow. 

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, cross country and backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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