Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Nursing Runner

Since becoming a runner (okay, maybe a little while--or long while later) in my late teens, I've simply considered myself a runner. Period. There were only two adjectives that I ever found necessary to include--"woman" and "slow." But within the last 16 months, I've had to add other adjectives like "pregnant", "sleep deprived," "mother" and "nursing" to describe the runner I am. And I've finally acknowledged the most important one to me yet--"dedicated." So that makes me a "dedicated-sleep-deprived-nursing-mother-slow-runner." (Yeah, I dropped "woman" because "mother" sums that up nicely.)

During my pregnancy, I ran, hiked and walked throughout. It was very important for me to continue my active lifestyle, both because of the obvious health benefits and because of how easy it is to CONTINUE a habit as opposed to picking it back up. And I was fortunate enough to be able to continue doing the things that I loved safely. I was the only woman I knew that ran during pregnancy and I had to deal with a lot of negative comments from people who thought I was abusing my unborn child. (There were some positive comments, too.) I documented my experience here as best I could so that anyone dealing with the same issues could find something with which to relate. And perhaps I documented my thoughts for myself, too.

So today, I'm here to give some more advice for any mother that may be wondering if they, too, can run while nursing. (Okay, not exactly WHILE nursing, as in "at the same time as." I've never actually tried to nurse my son at the same time as I ran. But you know what I mean.)

Most of the following tips will be common sense and will even be exactly the same as the tips you would expect to find for pregnant runners. But they are important, and worth repeating. And just as I was virtually all alone as I ran/walked/hobbled down the paths and trails of my pregnancy-hood, you can assume that I'm still very much alone on my journey as a nursing runner. So, I share my experiences so that you may be able to foster your own, should you find yourself nursing both a love for running and a lovely little person. And if you have anything to share, please do so!

1. Listen to your body.

As a runner, you're probably very good at listening to the cues that your body offers you. (Example: Wow, that cramp only comes on when I'm not well hydrated...) And if you're like me, you became hyper-aware of every bodily function and function of your body during pregnancy. Use everything you've learned and apply it well now. You probably have very different circumstances now than ever before--less sleep, post-pregnancy aches and pains, and time constraints and it's more important now that you truly pay attention to the needs of your body.

2. Fuel up and hydrate wisely. And sleep when you can.
Chances are, you probably make healthy choices about the food that you eat because you are nursing. And of course, you always sit down with a glass of water! But it's more important than ever to take care of yourself because, as much as you love them, our little nurslings are leeches. The better you take care of yourself, the better you will feel after your runs--which inevitably are immediately followed by a nursing session. These sessions can leave you feeling drained both literally and figuratively but if you are consistently providing your body with proper nutrition and hydration, you will feel much better.

3. Plan ahead and enlist a supportive helper.
Your breast pump will be your best buddy. Pump or nurse right before you leave, if possible. Full, heavy breasts are at the top of the list when it comes to running discomfort. If your partner or a friend or family member can watch your little one while you run, they may also allow you the benefit of coming home to a well-fed and well-cared for baby that doesn't need your immediate attention, freeing you to stretch and take a shower.

Note: until your supply balances out, the early runs will be challenging if you don't pump beforehand--especially if you are going for a long run. Again, may I stress the importance of the breast pump?

4. Be patient and optimistic.
All of those aches and pains that you felt during pregnancy are still going to be there but they will gradually improve, even as you continue to nurse. More than 8 months out, I still have discomfort during and after my runs in my pelvic area but the onset is much later than it used to be (Two months after having my LO, I started to feel the discomfort 2-3 miles into the run. Now, I don't notice it until 7-8 miles in.)

Both your ability to cover longer distances and your speed will improve over time--and honestly, not very much time. Don't be discouraged. Every run I've had since giving birth to my son, I reflect on how far I've come. I think about how awesome it is that I have a beautiful 8 month old and I'm actually able to run 15 miles or 13 miles or 2 miles. Count each improvement as a success, no matter how small it might be!

5. Set goals, challenge yourself and never underestimate your abilities.
Despite what you might find yourself feeling these days, you are incredibly special and incredibly important. And allowing yourself the freedom to do the things that you love, like running, is important necessary. Every new mother book says it--you can't properly take care of the important people in your life if you don't first take care of yourself. I'd edit it to make it more realistic for us moms out there--you can't properly take care of the important people in your life if you don't at some point, after the baby is fed and changed and hugged take care of yourself. You will be a better mother (and better in all of your roles) if you do something good for yourself. And if it helps, register for a race or two to keep your motivation level high.

Don't underestimate your power and strength. Of course, you aren't sleeping enough. And you'll be tempted (just as I am, sometimes) to talk yourself out of running because you are stretched so thin as it is and even a 3 mile run will wear you down so much that you'll suddenly become ill and everything will fall apart. Well guess what? That's hogwash! Go out and run, sleep-deprived or not. (Of course, see tip #1 above.) The mental, emotional and physical benefits that you'll receive during that run will more than likely be just what you need to feel refreshed, strong and healthy. Sleep will come later...much, much later.

We really can have the things that we most want for ourselves. It just takes a little planning and dedication, along with some support from those that love you. Do take care of yourself during this special time but don't overthink it. Just be a great nursing runner!