We continue our chat with Jessica Stenson and ask her about the lessons and learnings from her journey so far as a mum, her thoughts on women in sport, and what her plans are for the future.

We have seen that you are back running. What does a typical day look like for you now that you are a mum?  How do you manage your training around your family with a young baby, or are you just running for the love of it? 

Our typical morning routine is spent feeding billy (and myself!), while Dylan heads out to work, which is followed by a cross training session at home whilst Billy naps in the cradle beside me – I don’t always make it to the end of the session but that’s okay : ). Getting out for a morning run is logistically a bit more challenging but we are finding ways to tag team around Dylan’s work hours during the week so that I can sneak out for a couple of sessions. After training I love to take Billy for a walk to the café where we cuddle and enjoy our respective milky drinks! The afternoons usually involve a nap for Billy (either at home or in his capsule) and an opportunity for me to get some work done or see friends but it’s all still pretty up in the air depending on the day. When Dylan arrives home I dash out for my recovery jog or cross training and then Dylan leaves for training when I get home. It’s a pretty action-packed but enjoyable routine that seems to be working so far so we’ll keep taking each week as it comes.  

What do you think is the most important thing for mums to consider when coming back to running after they have a baby? How has your experience shaped this?

My experience has taught me that a combination of professional guidance and gut feel is the way forward. 

Whilst generic time-frames and guidelines exist, a Mother’s pregnancy and childbirth experience, previous activity levels, mindset and many other factors will influence her recovery and response to exercise. I recommend listening to the advice of your Obstetric care providers who understand your individual situation and checking in with a women’s health physiotherapist for a pelvic floor and abdominal assessment prior to recommencing running. These health professionals should be able to weigh up the factors mentioned above, to help guide a safe return to exercise. The ability to tune into your body and respond appropriately will also be a great asset. 

Do you have any desires to get back to the same level of running that you had pre-Billy? If not, why? If so, what do you think will be different this time around in the journey to get there?

My ultimate goal is to represent Australia again and to improve on my personal bests from 5,000m through to the Marathon. In the near future, however I will be celebrating my PB (post-birth), P.B’s!

The main difference now is that I have a fresh perspective. Billy’s health and wellbeing is my priority and what I achieve in training and racing is a bonus. I used to be worried when I had a poor night’s sleep, missed a gym session or had to adjust a session but since having Billy I have felt grateful for everything I am able to do. 

The mindset I plan to carry through this next stage of my journey is summed up well in a quote by Ellyse Perry in her book “Perspective”: “The moment I am in should be as important as planning for the moments I’m looking forward to down the track.” Whilst having a plan is important, flexibility will be the key and I will be taking each day as it comes.    

What are the things about motherhood that you love the most? 

Having the most loyal and loving little friend to hang out with every day (and night) is my favourite part, as well as seeing Billy interacting with Dylan and our family members! I love watching his little mouth movements and grins as he drifts off to sleep in my arms after a feed. Recently he has started smiling in response to our smiles and “talking” in baby language which is very cute! 

It has also been heart-warming to feel the support of fellow Mums in the community, many of whom I don’t even know. Today I found myself standing under a tree on a side street feeding Billy beside the pram mid-way through our walk to the shops because he suddenly became ‘hangry’. A lady walking her dogs gave me an understanding smile and said “when they’re hungry they’re hungry” and my slight self-consciousness immediately evaporated. 

Now that you are a mum, what do you think are the major barriers that mothers face when having a baby and wanting to get back out there and be active?

  • Finding a maternity sports bra (or two) that provide adequate support and feel comfortable. 
  • Logistics – Preparing a bottle, packing (making sure you have enough nappies and spare outfits) and finding someone who is able to look after your little one whilst you run. You can sometimes feel as though you’ve completed a session before you even leave the house!
  • Managing the expectations that you place on yourself and constantly monitoring your body’s signs – it is important to avoid comparisons and to celebrate your post-birth progress! 
  • Finding accurate information that applies to your own situation – As previously mentioned, there are many variables that affect return to exercise post-partum. Google, magazines and Apps are full of information but can be misleading. Deciphering what is current evidence-based advice versus someone’s opinion is often the challenging part. For that reason, I have made an effort to seek advice from people who have experience in the field of women’s health and exercise rather than rely too heavily on general information.
  • High energy demands – waking up throughout the night, carrying your baby everywhere, breastfeeding and having more on your mind are all factors that use additional energy and can lead to fatigue. It is crucial to ensure that your energy / nutritional intake matches your demands – particularly when adding exercise into the mix. Consulting a Dietitian or Nutritionist to gain a better understanding of your own needs can be valuable.    

Women’s profiles in sport are starting to be recognised more and on the rise, but we really still have a long way to go. Why do you think this is? Do you think there is good messaging around women in sport and how can we make it better?

Groups like Running Mums Australia, which help to empower women through friendships, education, trust, respect and a sense of community are big players in the rise of women’s sport participation. More opportunities for females to feel well-supported, safe and positive when exercising throughout the lifespan should lead to greater depth and interest in women’s sport. Key messaging should be around the physical and mental health benefits, social opportunities, resilience and self-efficacy that exercise promotes at any age.   

For females aiming to pursue sport at the highest level, it is important that the pathways are clear and visible. Role models can play a significant role in this regard. 

If you could give Billy one lesson to remember as an athlete and a mum growing up in our world, what would it be?

To always respect himself as well as the people and environment around him. Dylan and I will encourage Billy to focus on the positives in any situation and to pursue his passions with an open mind. 

Have you got any plans in 2020 around your running?

I hope to return to a level of training that will allow me to race a Marathon at my best! I am excited to prepare for and race my first Marathon as a Mum and wife : ).