Motherhood poses a unique set of circumstances for a runner. You navigate running through pregnancy, returning to training in the postpartum phase, breastfeeding, and balancing the demands of childcare with your training, even when your children are older. It is a lot to balance. I inquired for questions about motherhood and running on Instagram for this edition of Ask a Running Coach. From breastfeeding to postpartum marathons, here are some answers!
How do you balance breastfeeding and running?
Breastfeeding is an important topic in balancing motherhood and running – but we don’t seem to discuss it much. You can balance the two, without depleting yourself or spending all the time pumping.
I chose to breastfeed my daughter for the first twelve months. By the time I was eight months postpartum, I managed to incorporate 40-45 mile weeks and 2+ hour-long runs into my training while still breastfeeding.
I have scaled my training based on just how draining breastfeeding can be. My body did not handle hard workouts and breastfeeding well; I run a significantly scaled back intensity compared to what I used to. However, it is worth noting that I am a slow-twitch runner; hard workouts generally require me more recovery regardless of breastfeeding. Even with breastfeeding, I recover well from long runs.
I started with a feed on-demand approach; at one point, I was nursing 10-12 times per day. I also waited six weeks to start running, which helped establish breastfeeding. I nurse frequently even now at 11 months old (7x per day) and have found that even this level of breastfeeding is compatible with running.
Breastfeeding for a year requires work. It is a lot like running; consistency and effort matter. You cannot judge yourself on one session. Just like running, some breastfeeding sessions will be hard, others effortless. You just keep showing up.
What has helped me breastfeed while running:
- Knowledge. It’s an absolute myth that lactic acid accumulates in breastmilk after a hard workout, for example.
- A daily dream feed, to keep up supply and empty before an early morning run
- Hydrating and eating LOTS (3 meals, 2-3 snacks per day)
- Never spend too long in or feed in a sports bra, as compression can clog ducts. Take the moment to change into a nursing tank as soon as you get back from a run, especially if nursing immediately.
- A consistent routine. For example, I always feed before I run.
- Always taking fluids on runs over 75 minutes and fuel on runs over 100 min
- Supplement iron (due to anemia during pregnancy) and calcium (always check with your doctor before supplementing iron)
How long should I wait to run a marathon?
Training for a marathon is far more demanding than returning to running. You may hear stories of women running a marathon at four months postpartum, but it is important not to extrapolate for outliers. For a majority of women, you want to take your time building back into the marathon distance.
I recommend waiting until at least 8-10 months postpartum: one to two months off of running, three months to four months of base building (here’s what that will look like), four months of marathon specific training. If you can build your base even more, all the better!
However, other factors will affect this answer for each individual mother:
- Sleep deprivation: How well does your baby sleep? Can you get a full night of sleep during most nights of marathon training?
- How long you took off during pregnancy: If you barely ran for half or even most of your pregnancy, you need to spend longer rebuilding your base.
- Pelvic floor issues: If you experience symptoms of prolapse, pelvic floor dysfunction, or any discomfort/pressure down there, you do not want to complete the high volume of marathon training until you rehabilitate.
- How you handle lower levels of mileage
How often can I run with a stroller when starting out? It feels like its own workout!
Stroller running is harder than regular running, especially when you start out. The stroller adds an element of resistance to running. Allow yourself time to adapt to the new stress. Like any other aspect of running, as you adapt, you will feel more comfortable with it.
When introducing the jogging stroller, you want to scale back the overall intensity of your training to balance out the new stress. Depending on what type of runner you are, this may mean scaling back intensity (slow-twitch runners) and/or scaling back mileage (fast-twitch runners).
Start with only one or two runs per week with the jogging stroller, on flat, smooth surfaces. If possible, alternate stroller runs and regular runs when you first start running with the jogging stroller. Allow yourself a few weeks to adapt to pushing the stroller. Keep your mileage manageable at first.
One of the hardest parts of running with a jogging stroller is moderating your intensity. You will be slower than you normally run. It may feel subjectively harder, even if your breathing rate and heart rate are in the general aerobic zone. With practice, you learn how to control your effort with the stroller – and it becomes easier to run more often with the stroller.
This blog post (written by Whitney of The Mother Runners) describes how to use heart rate zones to run with a jogging stroller. Heart rate provides a more objective measure of how much you need to slow down with the stroller. If you struggle to keep your heart rate under control, use short walk breaks.
Give yourself time to adapt and be patient. Within a few weeks or months, stroller running will feel comfortable enough to do as a regular part of your training.
Do you need to alter gait/form while running with a stroller?
You do not need to significantly alter good running form. Just as you would for a normal run, focus on a tall posture with slight forward lean, relaxed shoulders, strong arm swing, feet landing beneath you, and hips driving forward.
However, if you have some biomechanical irregularities to your form, you may find you need to change it with the stroller. If you tend to overstride or neglect your hip drive, your form may feel off with the jogging stroller.
If you struggle with good form while running with the stroller, focus on training proper form without the stroller. A consistent strength training routine with squats, hinges, push, and pull exercises will lead to better glute activation, a stronger hip drive, and better posture. Strides develop the neuromuscular communications to translate good form into running.
Introducing the Mothers Runners Coaching Collective!
The trend with all of these answers is that it really, truly depends on the individual woman and individual pregnancy/postpartum phase. Postpartum running – and running as a mother beyond that – can be difficult to navigate on your own. It helps to have someone to guide you – someone with both theoretical and practical knowledge of balancing motherhood and running.
I’m teaming up with Whitney of The Mother Runners to offer special coaching services for the Mother Runner! Whether you are expecting, postpartum, or trying to balance motherhood and training, this group will meet your needs.
- Individualized monthly training plans
- Ongoing coaching feedback via unlimited email
- Monthly coaching calls with both Laura and Whitney
- Monthly The Mother Runners community calls with coaches and fellow athletes
- Special discount codes to our favorite brands (forthcoming)
- A private Facebook Mother Runners group to connect with fellow mother runners
- Nutritional guidance, including race day fueling
- Race strategy, including pre-race check-ins
- Strength workouts and injury prevention routines, including regular video demonstrations
- Your link must be running related. Unrelated links will be removed.
- You must link back to your hosts — it’s common courtesy and a lot more fun!
- Spread the link-up love by visiting at least two other running bloggers. Leave a comment and find new blogs to read!
- Use hashtags #running and #RunnersRoundup to stay in touch and promote your content!
What questions do you have about motherhood and running?
How do you find a balance?
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