Ask a Running Coach: Motherhood and Running

Ask a Running Coach: Motherhood and Running

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, all while dealing with mom guilt. 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 lactate accumulates in breastmilk after a hard workout and causes a sour taste, 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 the 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 60 minutes and fuel on runs over 80 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), and 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. 

(This blog post provides more information on stroller running!

What questions do you have about motherhood and running?
How do you find a balance?

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7 Responses

  1. I can’t even imagine the logistics around breastfeeding when training, let alone dealing with the physical side effects.
    Well done, Laura, for being so careful and disciplined in your approach.
    I’m sure the Mothers Runners Coaching Collective will be a great resource for running mums.

  2. Hopefully this doesn’t sound patronising, but as a male runner, I can only marvel at all the things you have to consider as a mother who wants to run.
    I know there are times I can make excuses not to go out, and yet the extent of my challenges is pulling on my running shoes and ensuring my Garmin is fully charged.
    A great post that is not only help and motivation for mothers 🙂

  3. I really don’t know how some people run marathons a few months after having a baby. But you are right, everyone is different! For me, it was difficult emotionally to get out for runs those first few months, even though it was good for me. I’ve been working on a breastfeeding and running post for awhile that I just haven’t managed to finish. It is definitely one of the harder parts about being a new mom and runner! After a rough first 6 months of breastfeeding I’ve now made it to almost 21 months, and it’s SO much easier now.

  4. This is really great info and it sounds like you had a reasonable and efficient plan in place. It’s been a long while since I had little ones but lots of moms talk about balancing this in my running group and I will pass this guide along

  5. This is such great advice all around especially as it relates to stroller running. It certainly is not equal to running without a stroller & the resistance needs to be recognized, leveraged, & not underestimated!

  6. I love that you’re offering special coaching for mothers! I didn’t start running until my kids were way beyond breastfeeding age. And back when I kids I’m pretty sure there was no such thing as a baby jogger!

  7. Lots of great info here, Laura! I din’t start running until our youngest was in school…I just never had the interest or desire. I did a lot of walking, though. Kudos to your dedication and commitment with the new coaching program for mothers!

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