Obstacles to Exercising While Breastfeeding
*Although it is possible to breastfeed while exercising (baby-weighted lunges are killer!), this post is in reference to exercising in general while being a lactating mama.
As a birth-world-movement that includes “Fitness” as one of our Four Pillars, we often meet women who believe they cannot, or worse, should not exercise while they are breastfeeding their baby(ies). That could not be further from the truth! As moms, we must continually call upon our functional fitness to get through our daily lives. Picked up your toddler? There’s fitness. Pushed a stroller? Fitness. Rolled over in bed to change nursing positions? Fitness there, too. Since we can’t escape fitness, we at BIRTHFIT find it best to train intentionally for all movements of life.
Many people conflate functional fitness with exercising to lose weight, which is not the same thing at all. BIRTHFIT views fitness as essential to living a full and productive life. We embrace functional training with intention throughout the Motherhood Transition, which includes breastfeeding mamas. Please know that BIRTHFIT does not preach fitness as a means to lose weight or even to look a certain way, but rather as a means to improve your overall quality of life and get to know and understand your body better! You can do functional fitness postpartum; here are some common objections we hear from moms who are concerned about exercising while breastfeeding:
“My baby doesn’t want to eat after I exercise.”
Some babies just don’t like sweaty or salty boobs! Simply showering (okay, maybe showering isn’t that simple for moms) or wiping off the breast can take care of that. You could throw a package of pacifier wipes in your gym bag if you’re concerned about the food safety of regular baby wipes. While you’re at it, consider changing clothes if you’ve gotten grimey in the gym.
“My baby doesn’t like my milk after I exercise.”
Has this actually happened to you, or is this just something you heard could happen from someone on the internet? Research has shown that moderate exercise does not affect the taste or nutrient content of breastmilk (1). If a mother performs maximal exercise (which is not what BIRTHFIT encourages in the immediate postpartum period anyway), the lactic acid content of her breastmilk may increase somewhat for up to 90 minutes after exercise. This could change the taste of her breastmilk but does not affect the safety or nutrient content. Some babies don’t mind that, some babies may. If you find your baby dislikes the taste of your milk following maximal exercise, here are a couple of work-arounds:
- Don’t exercise to exhaustion.
- Feed your baby just before exercise so that lactic acid has cleared before the next feeding.
- Exercise moderately. (Yep, that’s the same as #1. It’s that important.)
I would like to reiterate here that hours of intense cardio with the hopes of reclaiming some past version of your body are not necessary or helpful in your motherhood transition. Moderate levels of exercise are all that are needed to increase your functional fitness to aid you in the movements of motherhood. If you are struggling with embracing your new post-baby body, I highly recommend a consult with a BIRTHFIT Leader on Mind-Body Nourishment (2).
“If I exercise, I’ll lose my milk supply.”
Many times when people set out to “get in shape,” it is accompanied by a radical diet change at the same time in the hopes that they will magically turn into a fitness model within a few weeks. This approach, again, is a conflation of fitness-for-life with fitness-for-weight-loss.
If you begin an intense new fitness regimen at the same time you begin a calorie-restricted diet, then, yes, you could hurt your milk supply. But if we try to embrace the spirit of fitness-for-life, then we realize that intense exercise and calorie restriction is not necessary or beneficial during the motherhood transition. If you continue to eat sufficient calories (you actually may need more calories while breastfeeding than you did while pregnant!) through varied nutrient-dense real food, there is no need for your milk supply to suffer (3).
One other important factor is hydration. Your body needs extra fluids to produce breastmilk (a typical mom breastfeeding a baby under 6 months old produces 19-30 ounces per day), and you will also need to replace any fluids lost through perspiration (4). Breastfeeding mothers who “drink to thirst” will naturally consume more fluids than non-lactating women; however, it is easy for busy moms to get distracted and not drink enough (3). I fill a 64 oz insulated jug with ice water in the morning and try to finish that twice during the course of the day. I find it easier and more enjoyable to get my ounces in when it is cold and convenient.
Lastly, are you sure that your milk supply is decreasing, or is this only a perception (5)? Unless you are an exclusive pumper, the only ways to know for sure that you are producing less milk are to do a weighted feed or that baby is no longer producing enough wet and dirty diapers or gaining weight appropriately. Many moms think they are producing less milk because their breasts feel less full. In actuality, your milk supply and your breasts will regulate to your baby’s needs over the first few months, and feeling less engorged simply means your body is doing its job correctly. However, this evolution in your breastfeeding relationship may coincide with you beginning a fitness routine, leading you to believe there is causation when it is only a correlation.
If you are exercising in moderation, eating enough, and drinking enough, and your baby begins to have fewer wet and dirty diapers and/or fall off their growth curve, please consult with a qualified lactation professional, your doctor, or your baby’s pediatrician.
“My breasts are too big: impact hurts.” OR “I can’t breastfeed in a sports bra.”
A few years before I had kids, I was looking for a great high-impact sports bra for running and group fitness classes. I found and loved the Brooks Juno sports bra. Although pricey, it was worth it to me to be comfortable in a bra that was great at its job so I could workout freely. When I got pregnant with my son, I realized that it would also be great for breastfeeding as its adjustable straps open with Velcro at the front shoulder. Now that I’ve just had my second baby, the bras I wore and loved for so many years have become stretched out. I made sure to replace my entire sports bra wardrobe with this fantastic high-impact option so breastfeeding in the gym is no issue, now or in the future.
When you are ready to return to fitness, we encourage you to reach out to your local BIRTHFIT Leader for support and direction.
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