…it can be done!
I’m not an expert, but I have managed to combine breastfeeding with running – not literally at the same time obviously – that would just be showing off!! But seriously, I nursed my first son until he was a year old and trained for a marathon at the same time, running what was a PB at the time – 3.30, and I am still feeding my youngest son (10 months old) and I run 40 miles a week. Both were exclusively breast fed for 6 months, and both are very healthy boys.
I thought a lot about running during pregnancy and beyond and, whilst there was a reasonable amount of information out there about exercising throughout pregnancy, there was relatively little about exercising whilst breastfeeding. I stumbled across the book ‘Exercising through your pregnancy’ by James F. Clapp III, MD, and it became my ‘bible’ temporarily. He does look into the questions and concerns raised when exercise and lactation are combined.
Clapp notes that breastfeeding women expend extra calories to produce enough milk to feed a rapidly growing infant – in excess of 500 calories per day by the time the baby is 4 months old. Given that we can expend between 300 – 600 calories per hour when exercising (along with losing water in sweat and expiration) the main questions raised by combining exercise with breastfeeding are:
- Does exercise interfere with the quantity of milk produced?
- Does it change the quality of mother’s milk?
- Is the growth of the infant affected?
Clapp reaches the conclusion, through his review of a large volume of studies, that exercise does not appear to adversely affect milk production or infant growth as long as the mother is healthy and not seriously restricting her own calorie intake. He notes that breast milk may be altered in taste by intense interval workouts in some cases, and some infants seem to find breast milk unacceptable following less intense workouts for reasons that are, as yet, unclear – (lack of hunger, maternal odour, sweat etc). On the whole, however, it appears that most women can combine exercise and breast feeding without interfering with the quality or quantity of breast milk.
In my own experience neither of my boy’s breast feeding seems to have been marred by my continued exercise regime. Both of them have grown and gained weight as expected, and both appeared satiated after feeding. Neither of them rejected the breast after exercise – in fact both were especially keen to feed as soon as I reappeared from my run. (No matter how sweaty, salty, smelly, muddy, or just generally distasteful I’d made myself!!). My exercise schedule has always included some high intensity interval work and I run / exercise 6 or 7 days a week, sometimes twice a day.
My Top Tips include:
- Wear an even more supportive sports bra than normal – for obvious reasons
- Have a Plan A, Plan B and a Plan C – I fed on demand and both boys would frequently ‘demand’ food as I was about to put on my running shoes!
- Run close to home, even if it means laps – driving to a run increases the time you are away from your baby.
- Be inventive. I often run on the way home from somewhere while my husband drives baby in the car – he tends not to know I’ve disappeared temporarily (baby doesn’t notice either!!).
- Race with an open mind – there are days I run well and days I don’t. Nursing a baby places extra, changing demands on your body that are outside of your control.
- Eat to your appetite! I don’t restrict my intake and yet I was in my pre pregnancy clothes almost as soon as I delivered both babies. My appetite when feeding is huge!
- Accept that baby comes first – he depends on you!