Breastfeeding. Exercise. You don’t usually see these two words together, but motherhood is like that – a beautiful dance of balancing necessity with fun, effort with ease, joy and tears. In honor of World Breastfeeding Awareness Month, we’re talking breastfeeding here on SAS Life. Today’s topic: Breastfeeding and Exercise. Can it be done? Does it affect milk supply? What do you need for success? I'm the RFC's Pre and Postnatal Exercise Specialist, have trained as a postpartum doula, and nursed both my babes while working as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, and training for endurance events. I'm passionate about supporting moms in their fitness journey and am really excited to share this blog with you today! Here are 6 (+ a few more) tips to help you successfully stay active while breastfeeding.
Set yourself up for success.
With any new fitness routine, setting yourself up for success means heading off potential issues before they become issues. That’s not to say you can prevent everything, and with breastfeeding, especially with your first, there will be a learning curve. What I mean here is to make exercise as easy and convenient as possible so you’re less likely to talk yourself out of it when the time comes to go. When it just doesn’t work out because #momlife, give yourself some grace.
For many new mommas, earlier in the day tends to be ideal. Between lack of sleep, making milk (hey, your body is working hard to create that liquid gold!), and all the decisions that are required of parenting, by dinner time, you’re toast. On the other hand, if you’ve never been a morning person or you’re having trouble getting all the things done in the morning to simply get to work and you have a 30 minute gap between work and daycare pickup, that’s your time. Evening could work for some. Do keep in mind evening workouts can excite your nervous system and make it hard to sleep and mommas need sleep. It’s a wellness keystone!
Also consider when baby eats or when you are able to pump prior to exercise. While yoga, Pilates, strength training, and walking may be ok between feeds, complete high impact cardio immediately after feeding or pumping for comfort. And yes, it is OK to nurse immediately after (or even during) exercise! Your baby will let you know if they don’t like the taste of your post workout milk very quickly; most babies don’t mind. I was totally that mom that sat on a park bench nursing mid-marathon training. It worked. Baby fed. Run complete!
Stay fed and hydrated.
To this day, when I’m hungry and the option is to eat or exercise, I choose to eat. For breastfeeding mommas, this becomes extra important in helping maintain milk production, keeping your hormones balanced, and managing the stress of your new role. Being hungry and asking yourself to do more - exercise and make milk simultaneously – will require goal-defeating sacrifices. Milk production, exercise performance and/or body composition may take the hit. Prior to exercising, eat (and digest) a balanced snack (carbohydrates + protein or healthy fat) approximately 1 hour before you begin. Stay tuned this month for more on nutrition and breastfeeding from our Nutrition Team.
Buy the bra, pump, and new shoes...and whatever else you need to support your workout.
Lactation requires significant changes in your bust and the girls need support. Great news! Nursing sports bras are now a thing. I personally wore them most of the time #trainerlife while I was nursing because they were more comfortable than many of my other nursing bras. If you’re pregnant, I recommend purchasing a couple nursing tanks get your lactation-wardrobe started. Wait until your milk is in before investing in nursing sports bras for sizing purposes. Check out this article from Prevention.com to kick off your shopping. Nursing bras make feeding and pumping easy, convenient, and comfortable!
If you don't have pump, get one! Many insurances cover the cost. Pumping may not ever be your favorite thing to do, but it will provide you with flexibility, especially if you are exclusively breastfeeding.
In addition, shoes can make or break a workout. If it’s been a while since you’ve purchased good trainers, invest in a fresh pair – especially if your feet changed shape during pregnancy or if you had any foot pain or symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Shoes and new workout attire can also be a fun way to inspire yourself to workout.
Seek and accept help!
When someone offers to help, accept as often as you feel comfortable. Mommas need to be well to support baby. Sometimes that means taking a break and being unattached for a while. This can be particularly hard – emotionally and physically - if you’re exclusively nursing but it is worth the time and effort. Your partner, parents, willing neighbor or friends can handle baby for even for short bouts so you can go and get fresh air, take that coveted uninterrupted shower, or 20-minute workout. This refreshes your mind and spirit. That saying "if mom is happy, then everyone’s happy" hold’s true! Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.
On this same line, if you’re having trouble with supply, finding time to exercise, recovering from birth, your mental health is suffering or managing motherhood, please seek help as soon as possible. It’s not easy being a mom and having community to support you along the way is a great way to lighten the load. Talk to your partner and family, seek out a lactation consultant, personal trainer, counselor, or postpartum doula. Motherhood is a beautiful dance and we don’t always know the steps. Having help along the way makes all the difference.
+ a few more notes
The wellness coach in me must also mention that it’s not the time to put pressure on yourself to exercise. Physical activity and exercise are important to our overall wellness, but you just had a baby. Give yourself grace daily. Move when you can. Rest when you need it. Some of the best advice I was given while I was breastfeeding and trying to find the wellness balance: This is a very short time in the grand scheme of your child’s life. Choose your priorities carefully. There will be time when you finish breastfeeding to run longer, change your body composition, and do some of the things you’ve paused. This experience is short and it’s 100% ok to support it while it lasts. You don't have to do it all at once!
I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge that fed is best. Big picture: baby needs to be fed and mom needs to be healthy. By choosing to or not to, stopping before you planned, or not being able to breastfeed for any reason does not mean you are not an amazing mom. It means you’re a strong mom, who made the right decision for you and your family. I'll repeat: Fed is best.
Yes, you can exercise successfully while breastfeeding! Did you? Are you now? Are you planning on it? Share your tips or story below and follow along this month on SAS Life for more on breastfeeding from our SAS Wellness Team!