Is exercise while breastfeeding possible? After giving birth to my daughter on July 18th, 2013, I learned how to juggle both from personal experience. I took several weeks to heal and spend time with her before attempting exercise after she was born. The most important job I had was to make sure my daughter’s needs were met and, since I was exclusively breastfeeding, scheduling a workout in between nursing proved to be a challenge. During those first early weeks, my daughter and I settled into a rhythm where I could squeeze in a daily workout.
For the first six weeks of life, babies typically need to eat every two to three hours. For instance, if a baby eats at 12:00pm, he or she will be hungry again at 2:00pm. During the first month, babies are very small and still learning how to eat. Typically babies will take 30-50 minutes to nurse, so this leaves a very small window to complete other activities throughout the day.
I found the best way to get in light exercise and have time to nurse your baby is to get out and go for a walk. This is a great way for you both to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and not worry about your baby getting hungry while you are away. Bring a nursing cover with you on your walk and stop to nurse along the way, if needed. Another option to fit in exercise is to time your workouts so that when your baby finishes eating, you have at least an hour before she will be hungry again. This may be just enough time to head to the gym for a 30-minute swim or elliptical session. Find something you really enjoy doing, because as a new mom, those few minutes for yourself are very enjoyable.
If you are planning on returning to work at six weeks, it’s important that your baby be familiar with eating from a bottle. It’s recommended that babies be introduced to a bottle sometime after three weeks and before six weeks. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, so I was nervous how the pumping and bottle-feeding would work out. I waited until four weeks to give my daughter a bottle. If babies attempt the bottle too soon, this can lead to nipple confusion between your breasts and the bottle. If babies wait too long to attempt bottle-feeding, they may reject the bottle. All babies are different, however, and some babies seem to take the bottle much easier than others.
I pumped extra milk in the days leading up to my daughter’s first bottle, so that I had extra to give her. I also made sure I was present while my husband gave her the first bottle, just in case the bottle did not work. I was so relieved and excited at how easily she drank the bottled breast milk! This would mean that I would have a three to five hour time block to get my job completed during the day. While I was exercising, my husband or caretaker would give her the bottle. I also could train worry free and be more relaxed and focused on my job, knowing she had the nutrients she needed. I would bring my pump with me to the gym and plan on pumping either before or after a workout so that I could stay on a similar schedule to her feeding needs.
Another factor to consider while exercising and breastfeeding is your clothing and work-out wardrobe. When I first became pregnant, I felt I needed a more supportive sports bra, but while nursing this became even more important. If you don’t have a properly fitted sports bra, you can risk bruising your breasts and it’s very uncomfortable. I solved the problem by wearing two tight sports bras; especially while running or anything involving jumping. While engaging in lower impact activities, extra support is not as much of a necessity. In addition, I learned that running was much more comfortable with “empty” breasts. I tried to time my runs immediately after pumping or after my daughter nursed. This helped tremendously in being more comfortable during my runs.
It is important to know that exercise will not reduce the quantity or quality of your breast milk. What will decrease your supply is dehydration and supplementing with formula those first few weeks. It is very important to nurse every two the three hours the first two weeks in order to establish an adequate milk supply.
**“A study in 1992 was conducted that breastfeeding found mothers’ milk is higher in lactic acid right after exercise and that babies find it less appealing. Researchers concluded that mothers should nurse their babies (or pump) before exercising and avoid nursing after exercise for up to 90 minutes. These findings are now considered questionable for a number of reasons. One is that the babies were fed milk with a medicine dropper. And even though the babies were not accustomed to drinking milk that way, the researchers didn’t take this into consideration.”
Around seven weeks, I began more strenuous workouts and completed 2-2.5 hour cycling rides in 85-90 degree weather. I personally did not notice any decrease in my supply and my daughter seemed very content with me nursing her post exercise. I payed very close attention to my hydration needs and was sure to have adequate fluid intake over the course of the day, especially if I had a strenuous or lengthy workout.
As long as you take an extra water bottle with you to workouts, you don’t have to worry about a decrease in milk supply. It’s also important to stay relaxed. If you feel stressed out or anxious, take a few deep breathes, as stress is also a culprit for a decreasing supply. Exercise is a stress reliever, so many find that exercise will actually increase milk supply. I found that pilates and yoga were great workouts to both reduce stress, improve flexibility and strengthen core at the same time. I joined a class postpartum and found this really helped me to accomplish my training goals and keep my stress levels down. Exercise is recommended by doctors to help mother’s improve their mood and improve their physical health.
Exercise while nursing is very rewarding to both you and your baby! With a little extra planning, it can be successfully achieved. Communicating with your spouse about your daily plan will greatly help you to get in what you want to achieve for the day! After a workout, I guarantee you will feel energized and refreshed and you will be ready to spend quality time with your little one.
Cited Article. **Toth, Susan. ” Will exercising affect my milk or my ability to breastfeed?” http://www.babycenter.com/., BabyCenter LLC. Accessed September 3rd 2013, http://www.babycenter.com/404_will-exercising-affect-my-milk-or-my-ability-to-breastfeed_11817.bc