Returning to running after childbirth has restored my sanity

running shoes

After pregnancy and childbirth, your body needs to recover; not to be thrown into an intensive daily workout regime. The editor, Annie Ridout, learned the hard way. Here, she discusses her stop-start return to running after childbirth…

I made the mistake of running too soon after giving birth to my firstborn. Six weeks postpartum, I felt sluggish and desperate for the endorphin-rush that only a fast run can give me – so I set off and did a three-mile park run.

It had been a year since my last run. The cool autumn air filled my lungs and I had to slow down to catch my breath, but it felt so good. I returned to my baby daughter feeling refreshed, positive and ready for the day ahead.

But over exertion (and a too-tight sports bra) caused mastitis. I spent a few days recovering then gave it another go. Again, my milk ducts blocked up and became infected. And this was the start of recurrent mastitis, until I stopped running.

I got back into it when I stopped breastfeeding, a year postpartum. But less than a year later, I was pregnant again. Because of morning sickness, I couldn’t run throughout pregnancy so I reluctantly took another year off – walking and swimming instead – and then waited until three months after giving birth to my second baby before slipping on my running shoes.

Those 20 minutes of alone time at the beginning of the day – focusing on my breath, listening to my body – are heavenly. And crucial to my mental wellbeing

It felt so good to be exercising. To be running. So I quickly started daily five-mile runs. Then I did an eight-miler, around hilly north London. And then 10 miles. And then 13 – a half marathon. In the pouring rain. At night.

That last one was a big step too far. I got a bad cold, and mastitis – and was put on antibiotics. I then realised I had a three cm diastasis that had been left undiagnosed at my six-week check. A personal trainer advised me to stop running until I’d recovered.

I took four months off, doing careful Pilates stretches each morning to draw the separated stomach muscles back together, and then about a month ago, decided to get back into running. It felt like the right time.

So I hit the streets, focusing on the out breath – and decided not to measure speed or distance; just to pay attention to my body.

I’ve been out every day since – still doing the stretches I was recommended to strengthen my core – and so far, no mastitis. My baby is on solids, so is breastfeeding less, which means my supply is decreasing. I’m hoping this will mean I’m safe to continue my 20-minute daily runs without any injury or illness.

Returning to running has made me feel sane again. Those 20 minutes of alone time at the beginning of the day – focusing on my breath, listening to my body – are heavenly. And crucial to my mental wellbeing.

Exercise is important for everyone, but when you have young children it’s so easy to forget about looking after your own body and mind. I feel like me again. At last.

Has parenthood affected your running routine? In what ways?