Written By: Dr.Leda McDanial PT, DPT
The overwhelm of being a new mom can seem daunting when mixed with a desire to train as an endurance athlete. Sometimes implicit messages from our culture (or ourselves!) can tell us that we should be able to balance all the demands of new motherhood, training, and career with no more than hard work, grace, and a smile! Of course, this expectation to be “Super Mom,” is quite unrealistic and can lead to feelings of failure and exhaustion. Reconceptualizing realistic methods of returning to training, devoting quality time to family, and not wearing yourself thin as a new mom may start with a shift in mindset.
Part of the hardship of trying to reconcile the seemingly competing demands of new motherhood and endurance training may be the failure to adapt the methods of training that you choose. Viewing training and mothering to be in direct competition can also be harmful. To preserve mental health, it may be less about choosing one over the other and more about avoiding either extreme (i.e., not running at all or prioritizing training over family time) and reframing these desires away from dialectics (i.e., seemingly opposite choices) and create mindful moments of enjoying each activity when engaged in it fully.
In Episode #14 of the More Than Miles Podcast, physical therapists Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards and Dr. Kacy Seynders interview Dr. Bridget Belyeu, who is actively living this juggling act: as a dentist, new mom, and professional runner. On the episode, Dr. Belyeu acknowledges the very real pressures she has faced as a new mom and the changes that she has made to her training to accommodate for her new role as a mother. She says that it has not been easy, and yes she has had some “Mom Guilt,” as Dr. Kate calls the feeling of guilt that mothers sometimes have when engaging in any activity away from their child. But as mentioned above, a change in mindset and expectations can help. It may be useful to view time spent with family or during endurance training in terms of, “quality,” and not just “quantity.” On the positive side, in many ways, Dr. Belyeu views her training now, having given birth about 6 months ago, as superior and more enjoyable than before!
Part of the success Dr. Belyeu is having after giving birth, she believes is due to her training while pregnant and maintaining some strength and fitness during this period. She continued to run (or at least walk/run some miles) until she was 38 weeks pregnant! When describing her training late into pregnancy, she admits that it was really hard to continue because of carrying the extra weight and it being uncomfortable and harder to breathe; but also, was able to appreciate the positives of getting outside and feeling that she was doing something for her baby and her own health. Then, after pregnancy she returned to a gradual buildup of running and walking with her coaches’ guidance. Describing the transition of taking up training after giving birth, she says, “I think it was easier than expected. I want to say it was just because I ran and exercised all throughout pregnancy that the whole recovery process was easier than I expected.”
She also describes that continuing to train while pregnant, she was coming off of an injury and says this allowed her to go into post-partum training just being happy to run any amount of time or distance. She credits this shift in mindset as a catalyst to why she has had such a positive experience of training and describes it as having an open mind and no preconceived notions of mileage per week or pace goals, but just enjoying the experience of being able to run. Dr. Belyeu says, “I think that freedom did allow me to enjoy running while I was pregnant…I was just thankful for any mile I could have.” And she also describes it saying, “(when starting to train after pregnancy) I did not start off like ‘okay I’m going to go run 4 miles. My coaches wanted me run for a minute, walk for a minute, run for a minute, walk for a minute…” Ultimately, that gradual introduction of training combined with realistic expectations and guidance from outside coaching has proved successful for her!
To hear more wisdom on how to make the most of training during pregnancy and post-partum, check out the full conversation here: