Runner’s World+ member Colette Berry calls her first post-pregnancy run a disaster.
Just six weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Delphine, Berry set out on a three-mile run. But her core wasn’t strong enough to control her bladder, and her pelvic floor was unprepared for the impact that running demands. Nevertheless, she followed the vague advice of her OB-GYN and continued to moderately jog after those fateful first miles. “I made a bad situation worse,” she says.
It was the lowest point in a life full of running highs. She fell in love with the sport in college at American University, then moved to Europe during her senior year and hit the European marathon circuit after graduating, running Venice and Amsterdam, and earning a 3:37 PR in Berlin. In 2010, while living in Switzerland, Berry joined the Geneva Runners, an international expat running club, where she met her husband, Edmund.
Not long after, she took up triathlon and consistently progressed from sprint distance, to Olympic distance, to completing an Ironman at Lake Placid in 2015 after moving back to the U.S., one month before becoming pregnant with Delphine.
While Berry took some time off after giving birth, she felt like her doctors didn’t give her clear instructions for returning to running. “I’m pretty intense about my sport,” she told them, but they didn’t understand how seriously she trained. After a year of running in frustration and discomfort, Berry started seeing a pelvic health physical therapist who helped her retrain her pelvic floor muscles, which undergo intense strain during pregnancy and delivery.
During the process, Berry became interested in the science behind postpartum exercise and realized that if she had been more informed from the start, she might have avoided her complications. So in 2020, she became a certified pre- and post-natal personal trainer and now guides clients through three stages—prenatal, labor, and parenthood—and gives them the tools to return to exercise safely, including these three strategies.
Train for pregnancy like an athlete
During pregnancy, you should strength train for the surprisingly physical movement patterns that you’ll face, like bathing a baby. “First, master the fundamentals with bodyweight squats, deadlifts, and lunges,” she says. “Then, add weights and combine them into compound movements.” New parents spend a lot of time on the ground, so practice standing up with an offset weight. Make sure to hinge at the hips, and avoid rounding your back by keeping your core engaged.
Don’t give up on yourself
If you’re a runner who’s recently given birth, you don’t have to endure months of misery on the road back to exercise. “A lot of women think they have to live with certain conditions—like peeing when they sneeze or run, or pressure in their pelvic floor—but they don’t have to,” Berry says. “Pelvic dysfunction is common, but not normal.” Seek out a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health or pelvic health if you’re experiencing postpartum complications. OB-GYNs might not be trained to remedy these issues, but they can help you find a referral.
Find (or form) a like-minded community
When Berry resumed running after pregnancy, she missed the social aspect of the sport. “I wasn’t going to find some track club and run with my jogging stroller at 10 a.m.,” she says. “So I created this group called Central Park Stroller Runners. Everyone was a new parent. It became a weekly thing, and I met some of my closest friends through that group.”
Berry’s running crew found a way to coexist amongst the antsy cyclists and ambling tourists in Central Park. They ran through the winter months, with their children nestled in sleeping bags and hats, and received some disapproving stares when their potty-training kids ventured behind the trees to relieve themselves. “If you’re a parent in New York, I promise that your child has peed in Central Park,” she says.
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Theo Kahler is the membership editor for Runner’s World, Bicycling, and Popular Mechanics.
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