New mums need to listen to their bodies and slow down

Running a half marathon in the rain, on broken sleep – four months after giving birth – left Annie Ridout ill and exhausted. She realised that new mums, like her, need to listen to their bodies and slow down…

Throughout my pregnancy, doors were opened for me, bags carried, seats forfeited. I was looked after my midwives, doctors, my husband, family and friends. I was treated like a vulnerable person; someone who needed nurturing and looking after. It was lovely.

After the birth, there were a couple of weeks where people rallied round, brought delicious meals for us, made sure I didn’t make my own cup of tea. Again, it was lovely. But then it all stopped. The health visitor swung by on week two for the last time. My midwife appointments ceased after a couple of weeks. At my six-week postnatal check, the doctor didn’t even look at me; he just checked everything was ok with my baby.

New mums are left to fend for themselves

By that point, six weeks postpartum, I actually felt pretty ok. My stitches had healed, I was getting a few hours of sleep each night and life was returning to normal. Except it wasn’t, because pregnancy and childbirth are a BIG DEAL and take even the fittest, most healthy mother the best part of a year to recover from. (And I’m neither the fittest nor the most healthy).

But I felt fine so I started running again – one mile a day at first, three miles a day after a couple of weeks and soon I was clocking up five miles – not every day, but I’d do a few miles each morning then a longer run at the weekend. I revelled in that alone time – no tears, tantrums or breastfeeding; just me, fresh air and an entertaining podcast. I felt like I was returning to my pre-pregnancy self and I liked it.

I liked it so much, in fact, that one weekend – when my husband was away with the toddler and my parents were looking after the baby – I ran 10 miles around hilly north London. I returned elated, it felt like a huge achievement. Motherhood is incredibly rewarding, raising two children is the biggest and best thing I’ve ever done and brings a wonderful sense of purpose and satisfaction. But running is just about me, my body and my thoughts (or Adam Buxton’s). It is a welcome break from childcare and domesticity.

Feeling fine the week after the 10-miler, I started planning a half marathon. I’m not particularly competitive and prefer running alone than with company so wasn’t interested in an organised race but I wanted to run the distance, on my own. I’d start with 13 miles then do the full marathon once my baby had gone on to solids and I wasn’t breastfeeding so much. I didn’t want to get mastitis.

The evening I’d allocated for my 13-mile run, it was pissing down with rain. Undeterred, I set off through the streets of Walthamstow/Tottenham/Stoke Newington/Dalston/Clapton and managed to run my half marathon in two hours. I returned home at 10pm to a crying, hungry baby and did a quick warm down stretch, gobbled some biscuits then snuggled in bed with my baby and we fell asleep.

The following week, I had a massage booked. My husband took the baby and I went off for a couple hours of not-very-relaxing Thai massage. She pummelled the knots in my shoulders until I was wincing in pain. I left feeling bruised and not very chilled. The next day I felt emotional and even more bruised. The day after that, my breast ached. It felt sensitive. I was exhausted. As I climbed the stairs to bed, my limbs were heavy and shaking. That night, I developed a fever and was boiling hot then freezing cold, sweating and trembling. It was mastitis. I had to continue breastfeeding so that the milk ducts unblocked. Only they didn’t and the next day I was prescribed antibiotics.

That week, my husband was due to go away for five nights and I was off to Brighton with the kids, and my sister and nephew, for a long weekend. It was a brilliantly fun but hugely exhausting weekend – on night duty for both my (suddenly) wakeful children. On our final night there, the baby woke every hour and simply wouldn’t settle – that was the worst night I’ve had with him, usually a boob or some rocking will pacify him.

I woke after three hours of broken sleep and drove home, alone with the two tots, on the motorway. I had to eat sweet snacks the entire way home, as it was the only thing I could do to stay awake. It didn’t feel safe, driving after so little sleep. Once home, I developed a bad cold that I’m still getting over – a week later.

I’ve realised, a bit too late, that I’ve been doing too much. Working in the evenings and when the kids nap means I have no time to catch up on sleep. Running every day – and particularly long distance – is clearly completely idiotic so soon after giving birth. And attempting to look after both kids on my own, while recovering from mastitis and on the brink of a cold, was unavoidable but not the best thing for my health, either.

Simply, I need to slow down.

My body is saying: GIVE ME A BREAK, LET ME RECOVER.

So I’m going to.

No more running for a while. Lots more rest and relaxation. Less work. More evenings just watching TV and not getting the laptop out. Early nights. It’s time to be kinder to my body. New mums so often put pressure on themselves to get back into shape, or to be furthering their career – but actually, looking after a human is a big deal on its own. The other stuff can wait a while. Let’s see how it goes…

Other new mums: did you exhaust yourself by doing too much, too soon? What happened?