Louise Heraghty has first-hand experience of exercising during and after pregnancy. She shares her experiences of getting back to running after giving birth.
I was very lucky to be able to keep up my running and fitness right throughout the pregnancy of my first baby. My son, James, was born on February 10 this year, just two weeks after I completed the Raheny 5 mile at 38 weeks pregnant.
It is recommended that you wait six weeks before resuming exercise after a normal delivery (10 weeks for C-section). However, because I had an easy delivery with no complications and because I was very active, my doctor gave me the all clear to return to fitness after four weeks (taking it easy obviously). I just did a few easy exercises in addition to walking, such as bodyweight squats and pelvic bridge lifts. I waited the full six weeks to resume jogging.
Naively, I imagined it would be fairly easy to get back into it given my fitness before and during pregnancy, but I struggled to run a slow 3km route. I found breathing difficult and even had to stop a few times. However, I persevered and turned up at my local parkrun in Fairview on Saturday morning when James was exactly six weeks old.
Again, I struggled but managed to make my way around in 37 minutes (four minutes slower than at the end of pregnancy). I had to walk a few times but was happy with my achievement and was glad to get through it pain free. I continued with a few more short jogs during the week but, as any new mum knows, it is chaos for the first few months. As I was exclusively breastfeeding too I was exhausted and really needed a good support bra for running.
The other challenge I faced was the weakened pelvic floor and core muscles. Expectant mums hear it so much ‘do your pelvic floor exercises’ and now I understand why!
I gradually increased my cardio fitness as the weeks went on and was eager to increase my strength with some light resistance classes. Admittedly, it was tough trying to fit everything in as I was also back at work (as an RTÉ weather presenter) when James was only three months old. That’s the reality of working freelance, but I managed to balance it all.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to sign up for my first triathlon in Athy at the end of May. James was four months old. I opted for the ‘Try a Tri’ distance, which was a 250m swim, 20km cycle and 4km run.
In June, I completed the Waterford Viking Half Marathon in extreme heat. I began my training for Dublin Marathon in August. I was building up the miles and following my own plan but, unfortunately, I got injured just a few weeks in. As any runner knows, injury can be extremely frustrating and after numerous visits to physiotherapist and doctors I was relieved to finally get a diagnosis.
I visited an osteopath who discovered my pelvis was out of joint and this was causing the pain. This is extremely common in women who have given birth and particularly in runners, so I was glad to get to the bottom of it. The injury meant I missed five weeks of training, so my confidence was pretty shot. However, I stayed positive. I got back into it and resumed my training plan. It was a little tougher to organise than in previous years, but I did my long, slow runs at the weekend when my partner stayed with the baby and fit mid-week runs in on my lunch break at work. It’s all about time economy!
I was so excited lining up at Dublin Marathon alongside my Dublin Bay Running Club mates. Admittedly, I still wasn’t 100 per cent and worried that the injury might kick in again during the race. The first half wasn’t too bad, I took it slow and steady but I hit a bit of a wall much earlier than expected – around 15 miles. The support on the course was amazing and it was the atmosphere and determination that got me through.
My PB for the race is 3:57 but I knew it would be nowhere near it this year. But, eight-and-a-half months after giving birth, I was pretty happy with my 4:40. To top it off, seeing Lizzie Lee – herself a mum of two young children – win the national title and third female overall made it even more special.
My core strength is nowhere near where it used to be so my goal now is to build up the core muscles and do more resistance training before thinking about attempting another long race.
I’d like to be an inspiration to other women but I also don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture. I was lucky in that I had a fairly easy pregnancy and labour. Yes, I set a lot of post-pregnancy goals, but I was pretty fit beforehand. My advice for first-time mum who wants to keep fit is to set small, realistic fitness goals.
TOP FIVE FITNESS TIPS FOR NEW MUMS
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
Enjoy time with your new baby and, when you feel ready, aim to gently ease back into fitness. Ignore any pictures of celebrities who are whipped back into shape in no time – it’s unrealistic!
Invest in a good sports bra
Whether you are breast feeding or not, you will need the extra support especially when you start to up the intensity!
Sign up for a race
Join your local parkrun or sign up for a 5/10km run. Once you’ve committed, it will give you a goal to focus on.
Bring the baby
It’s tough to find the time to exercise when a little one comes along, but there are plenty of ‘mummy and me’ baby fitness classes out there. Find one in your area or arrange to meet other new mums for walks/buggy jogs.
Don’t neglect the core
Obviously your core muscles are significantly weaker post pregnancy and it takes time to strengthen them, but you will gradually get them back to normal. Perhaps decide to dedicate even five minutes per day to doing some sit ups, twists, planks or whatever your preferred exercise is.