Sarina Beasley, PT, DPT
Picture this: you are a runner. You have had a baby, or two, or five even. You are scared to run because you may need to find a bathroom at any point along your route. An irritated tummy is common with running- Add on the changes your body, including your pelvis have gone through to grow those babies and it can go south real quick.
Your gut health can wreak havoc on you after you have a baby. Not only did you create, grow, and birth a miracle, but during that entire process your organs get smooshed and moved around. Your hormones change significantly and overall you are a different woman after pregnancy. Thankfully, most of your organs fall back into place relatively where they should bed. Your pelvic floor is a different story…
When we grow babies, whether we birth them vaginally or by C-Section, we stretch and pressure our pelvic floor to the max. With this comes weakness and incoordination that may not have been there before. Our bowel urges may be a little stronger than they used to be because of this stretch weakness. Add running into the mix and this can be a recipe for disaster when you logging miles without a bathroom nearby.
Personally, I started to have a more sensitive GI system following the birth of my second child. Look, when you got to go, you GOT TO GO! That includes mid-trail runs landing me in the brush to take care of business. No shame here—I just make sure I have some baby wipes on me for those long runs…and hope there are no passerby along the way.
When we exercise, our digestive system will actually take a back seat and relax keeping you from digesting your food quickly. It’s part of the protective ‘fight or flight’ response that our bodies go into to allow us to run away from dangerous situations without needing to perform bodily functions. Sometimes, our nervous system can go into overdrive, and if we have the wrong foods in our gut, can cause us to have the runner's trots.
On the other hand, exercise actually improves your digestive function overall. It's just not supposed to be active when you are in action. Think about sitting on the couch for a few days over the holidays. Did you poop much? Probably not as consistently as when you were out being more active and exercising. One common treatment option I have for slow bowels- walking and running!
Hormones can play a large role, as well. When we are stressed - big race, running to avoid bad weather, work and kids got you in some kind of way- cortisol, our number one stress hormone, will rise in our bloodstream making us more susceptible to a queasy tummy.
What To Do
The best things to eat are the least irritating to your GI system. Things to stay away from: the most common irritants include dairy, caffeine, and spicy foods. Ever notice if you drink coffee in the mornings and try to run after??? No Bueno! Blander foods (bananas, nut butters, breads, rice) are typically safer if you choose to eat before your runs. These take a little longer to digest and will not all cause inflammation to make your peristalsis kick into gear.
Pelvic floor control is another piece of the puzzle. Making sure that you have optimal range of motion and strength of your pelvic floor – think bending and straightening your arm to represent full range of motion of your biceps – will allow you to hold back those leaks from the front or back. Also, downregulation of your nervous system will help to decrease activity of your colon helping you to squeeze that sphincter when you’re in a pinch, no pun intended.
Just know that you are not alone in this journey. Moms, both fresh or seasoned, experience the same issues on the daily. We typically don’t like to talk about it because it can be embarrassing, especially when running in a group. There are ways to help avoid these tough situations. A review of your diet and assessment of your pelvis can positively impact your running game leaving you strong and confident to get out there and speed along.
--Dr. B, The Vagina PT
Pittsburgh Pelvic Health, LLC