Out There Mothers

10 Benefits of Running for Postpartum Depression

How on earth can you get back into running after a baby when you might be suffering from postpartum depression? For many mothers, postpartum depression can be incredibly debilitating and running might be the last thing on your mind.

Sometimes just getting up, changing out of your pajamas, and feeding the kids is all you can muster.

Dear mumma, you are not alone.

In this article, we will cover experiences of other fellow running moms in their running journey with postpartum depression and anxiety. If you too are in a dark place, we hope we can inspire in you a little flame to pull on those running shoes and leave the house again.

Exhausted mom with postpartum depression resting against couch with toddler

What is postpartum depression and what does it feel like?

Firstly, let’s quickly chat about postpartum depression. For many moms, this isn’t a new term and you’re probably already aware of it.

However, when it comes to actually experiencing postpartum depression yourself, maybe you need a little clarity about it to determine if you may be suffering from it.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a medical/mental health condition that can affect any woman — a few weeks after giving birth, during pregnancy, all the way up to a year after birth — regardless of their strength, character, and circumstances.

Postpartum depression can feel like an overwhelming sadness or emptiness that lingers after giving birth. It may involve extreme fatigue, changes in appetite, crying, feeling of worthlessness and that you aren’t capable as a parent. You may have difficulty bonding with your baby and even have thought of harming yourself or your little one. This can interfere with your ability to look after yourself, your newborn, and handle other daily tasks.

Key symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Anger and irritability
  • Feeling like you’re not good enough
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty loving your baby
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Feeling anxious or tight sensations in your chest

It’s important to understand this is not your fault! Postpartum depression doesn’t define your strength or who you are, or how good a mumma you are. It’s a legitimate medical issue that requires support, understanding, and proper treatment.

Mother with postpartum anxiety holding baby looking out window

Is postpartum depression the same as postpartum anxiety?

Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety may share some symptoms such as increased heart rate, sleep disturbances, and fear. However, they differ in their core experiences. Postpartum anxiety often includes intense worry and racing thoughts, while depression tends to exhibit longer-lasting and more intense symptoms like frequent crying, deep sadness, a sense of emptiness, and various others we will mention in detail below.

Both conditions benefit from therapy, and in severe cases, medication. However, the treatment approach may differ based on the symptoms, so make sure to seek medical advice to rule out depression and identify which one you are dealing with.

What are the signs of postpartum depression?

Even though I’ve mentioned a few symptoms of postpartum depression above, there are many others that are worth mentioning. So here is a detailed overview of the symptoms and signs that can help you recognize whether you or someone you know might be depressed after giving birth.

  • Constant low mood

You may persistently feel sad, down, low, hopeless. and cry a lot resulting in loss of interest and joy in activities, hobbies, friends, people and the whole outside world.

  • Fatigue

This fatigue is beyond the normal with a newborn. You may be feeling tired lack energy, and drained all the time, and just never feel better.

  • Insomnia, sleep disturbance or excessive sleeping

Trouble sleeping at night, or getting up in the morning. Lack of interest in getting out of bed, excessive sleeping or feeling sleepy all day.

  • Irritability, anger and lack of emotional control

Feeling easily irritated, angry, or finding it hard to control your emotions. You may experience unexplained and sudden reactions without a clear cause. You may also struggle to bond with your baby and form an emotional connection.

  • Feelings of guilt

You may feel you are not a good parent, overthink and have other overwhelming negative thoughts and feelings.

  • Changes in appetite

Your appetite may increase or decrease noticeably with postpartum depression.

  • Lack of concentration

Difficulty focusing, problems concentrating, making decisions or remembering things (foggy head).

  • Physical symptoms

Constant joint or muscle aches and pains, muscle tension, headaches, breathlessness, digestive problems (constipation, diarrhoea, stomach aches, crumps, bloating).

  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your Baby

Frightening thoughts of suicide and harming your little one.

Tips from Fellow Running Moms who suffered from PPD/PPA

If you’re experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety (PPD/PPA), you are by no means alone.

Here are some fellow running moms who have been through the dark days of PPD, and their tips on how they overcame it.

Laura Norris running her son in a stroller during her phase with postpartum depression
Image: Courtesy of AsicsRunKeeper: Laura Norris running with her son in a Thule stroller during her phase with postpartum depression

Laura Norris

Even as a professional athlete, Laura suffered from many symptoms of postpartum depression including intrusive thoughts, uncontrolled crying, and a depressed mood. Some days she struggled to even get out of bed to care for her daughter.

Laura had support from her family to help her get out and take short runs consistently. She found this a “short-term mood boost”. Laura saw the immense value of exercise for her mental health and tried her utmost to prioritize this.

She focused on gradually increasing her mileage, and with each incremental jump, she felt like she was returning to her old self again.

Laura’s key takeaways from her postpartum journey are to make use of family to help you get out for a run, and slowly increase the distance or time on your feet.

Image: courtesy of Postpartum Progress. Katherine Stone with her two sons

Katherine Stone

Katherine struggled to survive each day and had little energy for anything extra. She saw a therapist who encouraged her to take the approach that daily exercise was non-negotiable. They brainstormed ways to find just 30 minutes in her day for exercise.

Within a week of consistently taking walks, Katherine found her mood was already improving. Her walks outdoors became a daily accomplishment and her way to sort through her emotions.

When she couldn’t walk because of bad weather, Katherine danced with her son or explored the local Mall.

Katherine recommends consistent exercise as a key essential part in recovery from postpartum depression.

Lyndy Davis running a half marathon with her son in a KidRunner Stroller
Image: courtesy of KidRunners.com. Lyndy Davis with her son Quentin after breaking the world record running the fastest half marathon with a stroller.

Lyndy Davis

Like many moms, Lyndy struggled with the new responsibility of motherhood, and missed the freedom she had pre-motherhood. She felt overwhelmed with her sudden sense of loss and freedom and confessed “I am embarrassed that I miss my old life”.

The repetitive routine of feeding, diaper changes, baby puke, unending laundry, and interrupted sleep were all elements that contributed to Lyndy’s postpartum depression.

To overcome her postpartum depression, Lyndy realized asking for help is actually a sign of strength. She started seeing a therapist when her baby was four months old.

Lyndy found fighting for her right to run was a way to protect her mental health.

She suggests for anyone struggling with mental health to get outside and sweat once a day. Also, buy whatever baby gear you can that makes it easier to get outdoors with your child such as strollers for running, baby carriers, tents for babies at the beach, and strollers for walks.

Mom with baby in stroller for the best benefits of running for postpartum depression

10 benefits of running to help with postpartum depression

One of the main causes of PPA/PPD is a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The neurochemical benefits of running and exercise can help rebalance your body and brain.

Running offers time for you to exercise alone, without your baby. Time alone or ‘me time’ can be a fantastic short-term mood booster.

As you run more consistently, you will find running can become a long-term mood booster.

Let’s dive into some more benefits on how running specifically can help you manage or prevent postpartum depression:

1. Improves mental well-being

As we’ve already covered, running is a fantastic way to improve your mental health.

Running provides time for you to have alone, and a short relief from the responsibility of caring for a baby. This can be a great stress reliever, reduces anxiety, and improves mood by triggering the release of endorphins, known as happy hormones.

If you’re not sure, just try getting out for 15 minutes – you can thank us later!

2. Improves cardiovascular health and fitness levels

After 9 months of carrying a baby, your fitness levels as most likely lower than they were pre-baby. 

By gradually adding running to your routine, you can strengthen your heart and lungs which improves blood circulation, and lowers the risk of heart disease. Running can also improve your overall fitness, endurance, stamina, and muscular strength.

Couple running with baby in stroller

3. Supports weight management

Many moms are keen to return to their pre-baby body. Running can be a great way to burn calories that can aid in weight loss, especially when combined with a healthy balanced diet.

4. Aids in better sleep

Although we all know that a full nights’ sleep is rare with a baby, adding regular runs into your routine can help you to get to sleep faster. It’s like a lullaby for faster, deeper rest.

5. Increases energy levels

Although running may be the last thing you feel like doing, running regularly can boost energy levels and combat feelings of fatigue throughout the day, which is a major symptom of postnatal depression.

6. Strengthens the immune system

When we are depressed and sad, our immune system crushes, too. Moderate running can strengthen the immune system, reducing the risk of certain illnesses.

7. Connects people

Joining running groups or clubs fosters social connections, providing a sense of community and support. Having a fellow mumma you can talk to who has experienced the same as you can be a lifesaver. Try checking Facebook for local groups in your area.

8. Offers non-drug relief for depression

 Running can offer relief without medication constraints. 

9. Improves self-esteem

Achieving running goals, whether small or large, contributes to a sense of accomplishment, boosting self-esteem and confidence.

10.Enhances focus and concentration

Running has been associated with improved cognitive function and memory. This is especially important while you’re a sleep-deprived mother as you need all the additional help with focus you can.

How do I motivate myself to exercise with postpartum depression?

Once you know How to Start Running Postpartum, your next challenge can be overcoming your lack of motivation.

Despite knowing the benefits of running, motivation for starting can still be a challenge.

As we learned, depression interferes with decision-making, reduces energy levels, making it harder to exercise or decide when and how to do it.

If you know running will help you feel better, talk to your family about helping you carve out time for you to escape for a run.

If you have a supportive husband or family member, ask them to watch the baby while you duck out for a short run.

Keeping your runs short, slow, and without a time or distance goal can make it easier for you to take the first step and just leave the house.

Consider purchasing a quality jogging stroller to take your child with you on your runs. You can buy these second-hand without breaking the bank.

Related: What age can a child use a jogging stroller?

Set reminders on your phone to exercise. Habit Share is a great free app to set and track your progress.

Prepare your workout gear beside your bed. Schedule specific exercise times into your calendar.

Write down your goals in a diary, only with a positive talk, and read them out loud every day.

Also, consider finding someone who went through postpartum depression, you can chat and exercise together, too. Another option is to find a fitness professional who can keep you on track or join a running club or other exercise program that also offers social engagement.

Don’t rely on motivation—it can be elusive. Everyone faces motivation slumps from time to time. Consider exercise as a steady mood enhancer, steering clear of expecting instant joy from it. You should also start with small achievable goals.

Don’t set yourself straight ahead to run a half marathon. Instead, one step at a time start with a short jog then walk, and increase the distance as you feel better and ready for it. Lastly, but not least, celebrate every exercise milestone, and personal achievements!

In conclusion, ways to motivate yourself to exercise include:

  • Keep your exercise short
  • Set reminders to exercise
  • Get your workout clothes out the night before
  • Write down your exercise goals
  • Find a friend to keep you accountable
Mom sitting alone on mountain top using exercise to combat postpartum depression

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I think I have postpartum depression?

It’s important to remember that not every parent will experience all the symptoms. The intensity and the duration of the symptoms can vary, too, so can the time you develop them (up to 12 months after pregnancy).

If you are experiencing many of these symptoms for more than two weeks after childbirth, or you have severe signs of depression early on, immediately seek professional help to receive the appropriate treatment.

Recognizing the symptoms is the first step, make sure you share your feelings with your partner, friends or loved ones, instead of trying to deal with it alone. Prioritize self-care! Even though it may feel difficult, exercise, like running for postpartum depression is a great option. Additionally rest, and follow a healthy balanced diet.

How long does it take for postpartum depression to go away?

Postpartum depression duration varies by individual. It can include the baby blues (mild depression) within the first two weeks after birth, and then ease in two weeks or less.

While the symptoms of postpartum depression can last for several months to years without treatment.

For example, around 5% of women experience severe symptoms for up to three years after childbirth. Reaching out for help can significantly reduce this duration, many women finding relief within a few months. If the symptoms worsen seek immediate medical care.

Conclusion

If you experience symptoms like low mood, excessive fatigue, thoughts of suicide, harming your child, low energy, or you have difficulty bonding with your little one seek out support.

Postpartum depression is daunting. Know it’s a medical condition, not a weakness, that can be treated with the right support and care.

Additionally, to prevent and ease symptoms of postpartum depression, consider adding running into your weekly routine. It aids mental health by boosting mood, improving sleep, and enhancing physical well-being. Starting small and engaging socially through running groups can motivate exercise despite the challenges you may be facing. Celebrating milestones in this journey of self-care is essential.

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