Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Truth About Running Post Partum

My baby will be 8 weeks old on Friday and I've been running now just short of 4 weeks now. My goal was a gradual re-entry to running in November using run/walk intervals and then switching to running straight in December. The plan worked and with being able to do 10 and 1s by late November and about 4km, I decided to kick off December with some 5km runs - my first was today. And it felt a-maz-ing! I will start an increase in mileage slowly in hopes that a spring or early summer half marathon can be a reality.

The thing is, my journey has not all been sunshine and roses, even though the positivity of my sharing might suggest otherwise. I figured I'd be honest about it here, as I know others have appreciated my candor.

I have to note though that I've been extremely lucky with my health. I had a very healthy pregnancy with zero complications. It enabled me to run until 37 weeks pregnant (and I gave birth just shy of 39 weeks). Running that long allowed my pelvic floor and abdominal muscle strength to build / be maintained and for sure this enabled me to bounce back after delivery much faster. I just needed my stitches to heal up and for things to feel OK again, um, 'down there'... But other women experience much worse such as abdominal separation or issues with their pelvic floor that causes pain, incontinence, and other not so fun symptoms. Again, I have been very fortunate to have been able to maintain my strength in those areas and not suffer many terrible symptoms.

I have been consistently running 3 times a week (with the exception of this week - more on that in a bit), and again, my ability to do this is something I feel very fortunate for. My husband works retail at a store with long hours, so his schedule is all over the place, rather than a typical M-F/9-5 job. Him being home at odd times allows me to spread out my runs during the week. He's incredibly supportive and understands the importance of running for my mental and physical well-being, and also he craves his alone time with his daughter when I'm out. It's a win win. This week I was able to schedule runs for a Mon, Wed, and Fri because of his schedule and days he's home.

So in theory, I have it really good. But as many will tell you, there's nothing that can prepare you for life with a new baby. It's incredibly rewarding and blissful, but very tiring, especially on a mom if she's breastfeeding. We are supplementing with formula which does allow Cam to parent without me. But often, I'm what she needs. Running the days Cam is off work have been easier to do, because I can go in the middle of the day if that's what works best for my energy and our schedule, but the other days are harder. Before having a baby, I may not have understood this. I'm on 12 months' maternity leave - how could I possibly not have the time to run? Sounds like a stupid excuse since I'm "not working". Motherhood is a 24/7 full-time job and even though I understood this on some level before, I'm living it now and fully aware of what it means now.

What this means is that on those days when Cam starts work at say 10am and I want to enjoy an 8am run, it's not just as simple as scheduling it and doing it like it used to be. If I was up in the middle of the night to feed the baby at 1am and again at 4am, and after feeding her at those times, I needed to spend an extra hour holding and comforting her to help her sleep, is an 8am run appealing? If I manage maximum 6 hours sleep a night and these hours are never in a row, that's hardly ideal to make running easy on the body.

Typically I've been waking up 2.5 hours before I want to run so I can have breakfast and then be available to feed the baby and/or pump milk before I go. Believe it or not, I've been successful at doing this so far, except not on Monday this week. After a very rough night with her, and a feeding that had me awake until 6am, running at 8am was the farthest thing from my mind. Being tired is never an excuse I'll accept because being tired is synonymous with parenthood. But I was so exhausted I could not keep my eyes open. No sense in trying to run in those circumstances. I fed my daughter, then slept as she slept until the late morning, missing my opportunity to run before Cam went to work. The stupid thing is that even though I felt refreshed when I woke up at 11am, I was overcome with guilt for missing my workout. My mantra is "no excuses" and sometimes that sentiment bites me in the @$$. No Zahida, being exhausted is not an excuse - simply a reality of life and it's best to listen to the body in those circumstances. Skipping this run is what we call self-care. If I am running for self-care, then sleeping for self-care should be allowed too. As soon as my daughter was fed that day, I threw on some non-pajama clothing, strapped her into her Baby Bjorn and went for a long walk. Walking all over the place to do errands with a 10lb weight (the baby) attached to my body is also excellent exercise, yet I couldn't see this as OK as I missed my run. How could only 2 runs this week be OK when my goal is 3 runs per week?

I'm finally over my guilt after an awesome, empowering 5km run this afternoon after a good sleep this morning. Yes, Cam is off work today and has been doing the lion's share of parenting since early this morning giving me a much needed break.

Then there's the "mom-bod" thing. I am also now feeling less of the shame and body-image challenges now that I'm seeing results on the scale. Pregnancy weight-gain is natural and expected. But I put on more weight than I wanted, and this was despite keeping active and eating relatively healthy all pregnancy. Sorry, I had to take advantage of my temporary tolerance to dairy and enjoy some ice cream this hot summer! But no matter how healthy I ate most of the time, my body held onto all kinds of extra weight because it could. I hated seeing the numbers on the scale go up as they reached a higher point than I've seen in about 7 years. My story of weight loss is one that defines a lot about my character and I felt ashamed to be "heavy" again. Of course, lots of that weight disappeared the moment my daughter was born. But even with that, I was left with another 30lbs to lose. No big deal for me considering I once lost 130lbs. I know how to do it, and I have the will to do it right :-) But it still has hurt the self esteem. I have reminded myself that my body did what it needed to enable a healthy baby. My body did the most amazing thing - growing and birthing a beautiful girl. I should cut it some slack and celebrate it, rather than feel bad about some extra weight around my midsection.

Since that initial drop in weight with childbirth, I've been tracking my food and exercise and have successfully lost 8lbs so far. Yay! I'm well on my way and hopefully the confidence in myself in that department will return, and hopefully fitting into some of my old pre-pregnancy clothes again will help. It doesn't feel that far away any more. I'll get there. It took 9 months to grow a baby, I can't expect my body to return to its old self instantaneously.

I hear my daughter stirring from her sleep, so I better end here. Thank you for reading!!!

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