Do The Best Birth Plans Come From Race Training?

Do The Best Birth Plans Come From Race Training?

Updated: March 22, 2024

I’ve dabbled in running. I’ve enjoyed a handful of 5ks, love a good turkey trot, and stretched my limits with a half marathon about a decade ago. I self-categorize as a below average runner that's just happy to be included. While I might fall flat on the track, I excel at all things science and planning. Sports medicine articles, nutritional strategies, work out charts, and excel sheet trackers are an evening well spent in my book (which might also include a good book on any of the above).

To my surprise, when I started drinking from the fire hose of information that is all things pregnancy and postpartum, I noticed some muscle memory started doing a little flexing.  Overlaps between race day strategies and birth plans revealed themselves. I realized my skill to plan a race, from training through recovery could be used to create a better perinatal experience. Everything started to fall in place. The fire hose became a manageable trickle that I methodically diverted into a plan that worked for me.

So, just for fun, let’s explore how running a race and birthing a baby are the same thing.

Pregnancy: The Ultimate Training Plan

You Better Work:

Any good race is best run after a preceding period of thoughtful training. A typical pregnancy gives you 9 months to get ready. You can certainly start training prior to 9 months, but we don’t all know it's coming until it’s here! Just like any good training plan, both workouts and rest is required.

What blows my mind on working out is that, for so long, women were told any exertion would cause issues for the pregnancy and baby. So for the last few generations, women were asked to do less leading up to birth, the ultimate endurance activity! So very wrong! Luckily, science has come around and is showing that exercise is good for the pregnant person, good for the birth, and good for the baby! (As long as care is taken to avoid movement that would result in a fall or lightheadedness).

Any movement is good movement, but creating a mix of walking, pelvic floor work, and whatever it is that brings you joy will get you the most ready. I’ve found the biggest difference between race planning and pregnancy workout planning is this: for races you might plan your entire training period at the beginning, whereas for pregnancy small training plans of about 3 weeks work best. Physical and hormonal changes are constant, so evaluate every 3 weeks. Scale back anything that is wearing you out while increasing what brings you joy. It’s less of a steady climb of endurance and more up, down, and all around.


Rest Is Where the Gains (Babies) Are Made: 

This step cannot be skipped for both race training and baby growing. That time on the couch is well spent. Keep in mind even when you aren’t moving your body is still growing a baby. Watching The Office while drifting off for a nap IS active recovery. The amount of rest required does take some people by surprise, so the very real challenge is kicking the guilt off the couch.

Any endurance athlete knows to prioritize sleep in order to recover best. So why pregnancy has a built-in insomnia button I’ll never know. This is a place I found an unexpected need for work and planning to find what worked best for me, and much to my dismay my needs changed as pregnancy progressed. A magic mix of meditation, yoga, pregnancy pillows, magnesium, writing, a balanced nighttime snack, sleep podcasts (ever wonder about the history of crayons?) and putting my phone far out of reach did the trick most nights. 

Training plans may or may not include extra treat-yourself days, but pregnancy definitely should.  Include epsom salt soaks, massages, acupuncture, or chiropractor trips to help those sore muscles and joints and recover a little faster. And hey, maybe some recovery lessons learned during pregnancy can make it into future race plans!

The Big (Birth) Day

Just like a race, anything can happen on the big day!  Maybe everything is just right and you get through with ease and empowering feels! Maybe something outside of your control goes wrong, or your body is just not feeling it, and it’s just not what you’d hoped for. Unlike a race, there are a lot of different routes to get to the finish line. It’s good to know some common pitfalls along your preferred route, the default solution of the place you’re birthing, and the solution you’d prefer. That solution should be known by everyone in the room. That’s a birth plan. Getting to solve the problems along the way in a way you’d prefer can give you the same empowering feels as a PR.  Hopefully whatever happens you hit that runner/birther’s high.  The biggest difference of course, at the end you don’t just get an not-yet-ripe banana and a medal, you get to meet the love of your life!

Most amateur runners don’t have a whole team to support their race days. Clothing, music, bathroom breaks… all in the control of the solo runner. Help can sometimes feel like losing control. Instead of resisting the help, pretend you are a pro for the day with someone to bring outfit changes and water bottles and help you pace, etc. Pick your dream team and do your thing for a day!

Recover, Recover, (Postpartum) Recover...

There are two types of runners, those that take the time to recover and those that are just itching to hit the pavement.  Same goes after birth. I’ve met both kinds, and our culture unfortunately pushes a return to “regular” life all too quickly. Without recovery time, many will succumb to either mental or physical setbacks. Plan to rest and be pampered, while delegating out as many tasks as possible. While most runners are recovering for the next race, after birth recovery is geared towards reducing injury and mentally preparing for parenthood. That little baby grows fast, and fresh muscles are required to keep up.  

And I know what you’re thinking... what about active recovery?  It’s not necessarily the best strategy to just sit around after a race for weeks on end.  I, too, have thought about this! And I would argue all the work your body is doing to return to a non-pregnant stage (or breastfeed if you so choose) is active recovery. Fuel and rest and let your body work on auto-pilot.  Not sure how? A postpartum doula can lead you through different modalities of healing and help pick what’s right for you!

Don’t Forget To Fuel

This final analogy didn’t occur to me until understanding race nutrition through the eyes of Elyse Kopecky and Shalane Flanagan while reading  Run Fast, Eat Slow. Their recipes are all about whole food nutrition to help depleted runners keep full stores of trace minerals and iron, which is a must for endurance athletes. Can you guess what gets depleted during pregnancy and postpartum recovery? –  Trace minerals and iron! It makes sense that both running and the perinatal period requires food that not only fills your belly but also helps keep your body firing at peak performance. I personally stocked my freezer with recipes from all three of their books (also check out Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow and Rise and Run for breakfast recipes).  Don’t like to cook?  Send recipes to family and friends with a thank you in advance note.

We aren’t quite done yet. Fast forward 6 months to starting solids, and you guessed it… your baby’s trace minerals and iron stores from birth start to run low! Your pregnancy and postpartum favorites might just make great first foods for your baby. Bone broth for the win!

There you have it. Do the best birth plans come from race training?  Maybe... 

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