How To Optimise Your Recovery After Birth (And Why It Matters For Sex!)

Birth is like a marathon race. There are loads of parallels between marathon running and giving birth! After delivery, the similarities continue.

A renowned running coach, Greg McMillian, has opened my eyes to these similarities. McMillian has coached Olympians and won championships himself. He intimately knows what an athlete needs to do to prepare for a successful race and recover from a race

Your Birth Recovery Will Shape Your Life—Here’s Why

Elite racers have recovery plans lined up after running a marathon. Why? They know what amateurs forget: If they can recover optimally, then they can get back into their next training cycle more quickly. Plus, the quality of their future training will also be higher! The quality of your initial motherhood experience is shaped by your birth recovery. 

Firstly, in this article, I will share 3 Reasons Why Marathon Running & Giving Birth Are Alike. Then, I will show you a Post Birth 2-Week Recovery Plan: Feel Better Sooner, So You Can Truly Enjoy Your Newborn that’s based on McMillan’s Post Marathon Recovery Routine. It’s uncanny how many marathon recovery tactics can benefit new mamas!

3 Reasons Why Marathon Running & Giving Birth Are Alike:

  1. Race & Birth Preparation Are Needed: Before a race, you need to reduce the volume of your activities. This is called a “taper” should last 2-3 weeks before the race. It’s the capstone to all the training the runner has done, so it’s not an optional extra, it’s absolutely crucial. It’s been shown to improve race (and labour) performance. Likewise, in the lead-up to labour, most women naturally decrease the intensity of their activities and spend more time “nesting”. It is essential for all of that race preparation to come together in your body and mind, McMillian tells runners. It allows your mind to be rested and excited for the race.
  2. Race Mindset & Labour Mindset Are Crucial
    1. In the early part of a race the beginning through to about the halfway mark, it shouldn’t feel too fast. It’s about keeping your breathing under control, looking around and taking the sights in. This is akin to early labour. As McMillan says, “You just sort of run.” 
    2. Then, in the second half, you have to engage mentally more. You raise your focus, boost your intensity and raise your attention to what you’re doing—the end part of the race you have to raise your intensity significantly. Typically, while running, raising your intensity will naturally increase your speed. 
    3. At the end of a marathon, however, you have to raise your intensity just to keep the pace. You really have to focus. At this point in the marathon, it’s tempting to have pity parties. It’s common to have a lot of negative thoughts coming your way. You have to combat that with eagerness to excitedly to cross that finish line. Then you’ll feel really proud of yourself when you finish. Oh, the similarities with labour! I’ve written about the flow of labour here. This article describes what it looks and feels like to be in each step of labour from, “mama is talking normally and fully dressed” to “her body begins involuntarily pushing.”
  3. Nutrition Beforehand Creates Important Energy Stores: In running, it’s called “bonking” when you suddenly fatigue. This unexpected loss of energy is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscle. McMillian says that “You’ve got to practice nutrition in your training, so you don’t bonk in the race.” Likewise, with labour, you need to think about ways to “fuel up” in the weeks leading up to labour. He continues that all runners need to drink and have some calories during a marathon. The decisions is not about whether to have something to boost your glucose, but what will you choose. “You shouldn’t bonk in the race—we know enough about race fuelling that you shouldn’t bonk,” McMillian says. Eating and drinking in labour are necessary. It can be the difference between labour stopping and a baby being born, as this birth story reveals.

Your Official Post Birth Recovery Plan

Running coach, McMillian, knows that recovery is critical after a race. Athletes that recover well get back to feeling like themselves sooner after the “big day”. It’s not about rushing to “get back to normal”—quite the opposite. Being realistic about recovery actually allows us to feel permission to “rest harder” early on, to have a quicker recovery long term. 

Only amateurs return to training a few days after a marathon! Just as elite runners reduce their training in the lead up to a race, they do the same afterwards. Seasoned runners ease back into their regular training routine. 

This plan below is adapted from world-class marathon coach, Greg McMillan’s, official “tried & tested” marathon recovery plan. I have infused it with my research about postpartum bodily healing. Note: This plan is based on recovery times for a vaginal birth.

The #1 Recovery Danger Mothers & Marathon Runners Face

Research indicates that the muscle stress from running a marathon can last up to two weeks, and longer for non-runners. Studies also demonstrate that soreness (or the lack thereof) is not a good indicator of healing. In other words, just because you aren’t sore anymore doesn’t mean that you are fully healed. This is the danger for marathon runners and new mothers alike: acute soreness fades after a few days, but submicroscopic stress within the muscle cells may remain. 

If you return to your “normal life” too soon—doing more and faster than the tissues are ready for—you risk delaying full recovery and the chance to feel energised in the following months. To avoid this, we recommend a “reverse taper”. Light movement is gradually increased over the weeks after birth. By the fourth, fifth or sixth week, your regular level of activity is approached. You can use this opportunity to celebrate your success and recharge your systems. 

Post Birth 2-Week Recovery Plan: Feel Better Sooner, So You Can Truly Enjoy Your Newborn

DAY ACTIVITY  INSTRUCTIONS NOTES
Day 0 You gave birth.  Rinse off if you want to briefly after birth and try to pee. Jump back into bed and sleep with your baby. Congratulations! You rock mama. Amen.
Day 1 Off.  Only get up for the toilet, to change a pad or for a quick shower (if you want one). Roll to your side to get up (not via a ‘crunch’). Everything is brought to you. Sleep, snuggles and baby-staring are your core activities. Nap when your baby does. Eat well and stay hydrated to facilitate recovery. Normal bleeding soaks one maternity pad every few hours. 
Day 2 Off.  Repeat Day 1.  The first poop back is often very awkward so go slow. Drinking lots of water and eating a plant-based diet can make this process easy-peasy.  Bleeding continues but lesser and darker in colour (7-12cm stain on maternity pad).
Day 3 Off. Repeat Day 1. Milk is starting to come in. Get support from a midwife, doula or lactation consultant for your breastfeeding latch—it shouldn’t hurt. Don’t forget to enjoy the accomplishment of your birth. 
Day 4 Very slow + easy. All food is prepared for you. Sleep, snuggles and baby-staring are your core activities. Sleep when your baby does, napping often. Eat well and stay hydrated to facilitate recovery.  You may like to have a few visitors over for a short 45 – 60 minute visit. You may like to lay down (they come to you in bed), or you might be up to sitting in your living room. 
Day 5 Off.  Repeat Day 4. You may enjoy sitting or laying in a different room today.  Soreness should be subsiding.
Day 6 Very slow + easy.  Repeat Day 4. You may like to have a few visitors over for a short 45 – 60 minute visit.
Day 7 Very slow + easy.  Repeat Day 4. Gentle walking for 2 – 10 minutes outside, in sunshine if possible. Bleeding is a lighter flow, with less than a 7cm stain on your pads.
Day 8 Very slow + easy.  You may make yourself some simple food today. Gentle walking for 2 – 10 minutes outside, in sunshine if possible. Hydrating snack platters are great for anytime during the day—medjool dates, sliced cucumber, in-season berries (or cooked from frozen), banana, apple, celery,
Day 9 Off.  You may enjoy sitting or laying in a different room today. All food is prepared for you. Sleep, snuggles and baby-staring are your core activities. Sleep when your baby does, napping often. Eat well and stay hydrated to facilitate recovery.  Soreness should be subsiding. You may enjoy writing your birth story today to reflect on the past week and a bit.
Day 10 Easy. Soreness should be gone and you are finding your stride again. Tiredness and getting patches of restorative sleep is priority.
Day 11 Easy. Depending on how your body feels, you should notice your pace increasing and your body returning to its rhythm.
Day 12 Off. 
Day 13 Easy.
Day 14 Easy. You should start to feel like yourself again, just not a runner ready to race in another birth marathon. Over the next 2-4 weeks, gradually increase your daily activity volume toward your normal level, while expecting for your new normal to be a slower overall pace to your pre-baby lifestyle. Lighter flow, you may have some maternity pads that are hardly stained.

What Marathons, Sex And Recovery Times Have In Common

This part is simple. If you can optimise your recovery, then you can begin desiring sex sooner. Some women will happily desire sex before the traditional “six-week mark”. If you’re invested in your sexual relationship, then following a recovery plan like this might be just the thing to get you rolling in the sheets that much sooner.

Looking For More Support?

If you’d like to prepare more for your birth, check out the Original Design Workshop or coaching with Steph. Experience the birth you were designed for. 

Much love,
Stephanie Renee Cluff

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