Running after baby - when is the right time to start

Local eastern suburbs physiotherapist Tamara Wood gives the low down on returning to running after having a baby and what you NEED to know before you start! 

Whether your baby is 6 weeks old, 6 months old or 6 years old, this applies to you!

Running is great, but it is quite stressful on your body. What we NEED to know is whether your pelvic floor can handle this stress.

What happens if your pelvic floor isn’t up to the task? Well….let’s think about the anatomy a little bit first.

Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that like a hammock, sits below the organs in your pelvis – namely your uterus, bladder and bowel. It is one of the things that helps support these organs and stops them falling down and out of your vagina (yes that can happen!).

When organs start to descend and at its worst actually protrude out of the vagina, it is called a prolapse. A prolapse can create a range of uncomfortable symptoms that can greatly affect a women’s quality of life and so must be prevented at all costs!

Now back to the pelvic floor for a second…I mentioned it’s like a hammock that supports your organs from below. But the crazy thing is that this hammock has openings in it! Yes that’s right, one at the front which is called the urethra (expels urine), one at the back called the anus (connected to the bowel) and one in the centre – this is the vagina.

Now this vaginal opening pre-baby is usually quite small. Of course though, after having a vaginal delivery it may not be quite so small anymore! Thankfully, with time and pelvic floor exercise the size usually does reduce.

We need it to reduce to a certain size before you can run again. Why? Because too bigger opening + gravity + running (downward force) = organs not supported = prolapse!

So how do we know when it has reached a size that means it is OK to run? We measure it of course!

This involves a vaginal examination, usually by an appropriately trained physiotherapist. It is not invasive, it is pain free and takes all of 6 seconds or so to do. The measurement obtained will put you on a scale of ‘risk’ for prolapse if you were to run at that moment. We can never eradicate all risk so being in the low risk category is where you want to be. If you are in the moderate, or obviously the high risk category it is generally recommended to wait before you run. If this is the case the physio should be able to prescribe exercises or figure out some other way to get you to the point where running is possible in the future.

One last thing to note is that even if you have been told that you have a strong pelvic floor it does not necessarily mean that this measurement will be OK. It is still essential to have it done before you run!

Did you know that 1 in 5 women will have surgery for prolapse in their lifetime? (Smith et al 2010). This number doesn’t even include those just living with the symptoms!

For more support for your body postnatally visit The Physiotherapy Clinic