Fit Mamas: 5 Rules for a Happy, Healthy Return to Running Post-Baby

This is the second post in our three-part "Fit Mamas" series. Next week, look for a rundown on jogging strollers-why you should invest in one and reviews of the latest models.

After having a baby, you may be itching to start running again. Which is great-exercise boosts mood, gives you some much-needed "me time," and gets you out of your pajamas-and, eventually, into your pre-pregnancy clothes. But even if you worked out through your pregnancy, you need to ease back into a running routine. After all, your body has just been through quite an ordeal-if you take on too much, too soon, you could end up hurt. And the last thing you want is to be making bottles while balancing on crutches. Keep in mind that these are just guidelines. The most important thing is to listen to your body. If any activity makes you feel worse the day after you do it, scale back. This comeback plan could also be used for runners returning from a long layoff.

How to get back to running post-baby

1. Get permission

Ask your doctor at how many weeks it will be OK to resume walking for fitness, abdominal exercises, weight lifting, and running. You should be permitted to go on brisk walks fairly soon, but it may be a few weeks until you get the green light to lift weights and run-longer if you had a c-section or certain complications.

2. Eat Right

With limited sleep and energy, your idea of a balanced meal could be a Pop-Tart. That's a problem, especially if you're nursing and trying to resume running, says Leslie Bonci, R.D., a sports nutritionist.

Bonci, who ran through both her pregnancies, says the daily caloric intake for new moms who are nursing and exercising should be at least 2,700 calories to meet your needs for certain vitamins and minerals. Women who are breastfeeding should be getting 1,000 mg calcium, 310-360 mg magnesium, 12 mg zinc, 2 mg B6, and 500 mcg folate, she says, plus 10 mg iron, 30 g fiber, and at least 70 to 75 g protein. You'll get all these nutrients from a healthy, balanced diet, but for extra insurance, Bonci recommends continuing to take prenatal vitamins.

Now is not the time to diet. "If a new mom decides she wants to lose her pregnancy weight faster and starts cutting calories, she may find she is unable to lactate and may become overfatigued," Bonci says. "I think prioritizing is important: first baby, then mom, then running."

Guide to post-baby nutrition

3. Kegels, kegels, kegels

Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles is key so you can reduce possible incontinence problems while exercising. Visualize the pelvic floor muscles contracting and lifting up and in toward the chin, as if stopping a flow of urine. Start lying on your side or on your back. Start with five repetitions of five-second contractions, with five seconds of rest in between. Progress to doing the exercises in various positions, like lying on your stomach, sitting, and standing. Build to doing them during more activities like climbing stairs and doing squats and being able to do three to four sets of 10 repetitions of 10-second contractions with 10 seconds rest in between.

4. Get Strong

"The first focus should not be returning to running," says Tim Hilden, physical therapist at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. "What's most important is rehabbing the postdelivery woman-or anyone who's gone through a setback of any sort-by strengthening the muscles the body needs to recruit for running."

Two to four weeks after delivery, start doing push-ups and planks to build core strength. It is more than OK to start with push-ups on your knees. For planks, rest on your forearms and toes, and keep your back flat. Start with 5-second holds and see how many you can do.

Four to six weeks after delivery, add additional reps to push ups and try to hold the planks longer. Key exercises to aim to do three times a week are the push-ups and planks as well as hamstring curls, step-ups, lunges, and balancing arm curls. See the link below for explanations of each exercise. If you can, do three sets of 10. When you can do that relatively comfortably, work toward five sets of 10.

The comeback workout

5. Walk, then run

1-2 weeks post-baby: Start with slow, easy walks around the block for roughly 15 to 20 minutes. Listen to your body. If you feel wiped out the next day, scale back the amount of activity.

2-4 weeks post-baby: Continue doing easy walking for roughly 20 to 30 minutes.

4-6 weeks post-baby: Start cross-training like using the elliptical, cycling, swimming or pool running.

  • Elliptical: Be aware of proper form to not stress the sacral area. Aim for a steady upper body, avoiding a bouncy motion or excessive rocking of the pelvis.
  • Ride a bike, if comfortable-if not, use a recumbent bike.
  • Swim or pool run (Start with 15 to 20 minutes, gauge how you feel the next day, increase gradually from there.

6-8 weeks post-baby: Start a walk-run program. Run-walk every other day so your body has time to recover between workouts. Alternate one minute of running with one minute of walking for 30 minutes total (15 minutes of running, 15 minutes of walking). Progress to running for two minutes and walking for one minute for 30 minutes total (20 minutes of running, 10 minutes of walking).

8+ weeks post-baby: If you feel ready, run for 20 minutes straight, every other day. If not, increase the number of minutes you run before taking walk breaks. Continue to cross-train or weight lift on off days. Be sure to take at least one weekly rest day.

How pro-running women stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies

What advice would you give someone about returning to exercise post-delivery? How long was it until you felt full-strength again?

Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.

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