Exercise Behaviors and Health Conditions of Runners After Childbirth

Sports Health. 2017 Jan/Feb;9(1):45-51. doi: 10.1177/1941738116673605. Epub 2016 Oct 15.


Background: With a recent increase in running popularity, more women choose to run during and after pregnancy. Little research has examined exercise behaviors and postpartum health conditions of runners.

Hypothesis: Antenatal and postpartum exercise is beneficial in reducing certain postpartum health conditions.

Study design: Cross-sectional study.

Level of evidence: Level 5.

Methods: A self-administered, online survey was developed that consisted of questions regarding antenatal and postpartum exercise behaviors, maternal history, and postpartum health conditions. The survey was completed by 507 postpartum women who were running a minimum of once per week.

Results: Seventy-two percent of participants ran regularly during pregnancy, with 38% reporting running in the third trimester. Women with musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy were more likely to experience pain on return to running postpartum (odds ratio [OR], 3.08; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.64-5.88). A birth spacing of <2 years or a vaginal-assisted delivery increased the odds of postpartum stress urinary incontinence (OR, 1.71; 95% CI, 1.00-2.91 and OR, 2.08; 95% CI, 1.24-3.47, respectively), while Caesarean section delivery decreased the odds (OR, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.35-0.96). Multiparous women and those who reported a Caesarean section delivery were more likely to report abdominal separation (OR, 2.11; 95% CI, 1.08-4.26 and OR, 2.20; 95% CI, 1.05-4.70, respectively). Antenatal weight training decreased the odds of postpartum pain (OR, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.28-0.94), stress urinary incontinence (OR, 0.46; 95% CI, 0.21-0.98), and abdominal separation (OR, 0.51; 95% CI, 0.26-0.96).

Conclusion: Musculoskeletal pain, stress urinary incontinence, and abdominal separation are prevalent conditions among postpartum runners and are more likely to occur with specific maternal history characteristics. Antenatal weight training may reduce the odds of each of these conditions.

Clinical relevance: Strengthening exercises during pregnancy may prevent weakening and dysfunction of the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, decreasing the odds of pain, stress urinary incontinence, and abdominal separation after pregnancy.

Keywords: pelvic floor; pregnancy; running; stress incontinence; weight training.