Running and Breastfeeding: Tips for Making It Work
Returning to running after giving birth can be a challenge. A lack of sleep, combined with settling into a new routine is hard on any new mom. Add to that the pressure of mastering a training schedule, combined with the logistics of breastfeeding on the run, and many moms don’t have the energy to even contemplate it.
And yet thousands of moms swear by the mental boost they get from running. Because not only does lacing up and heading out offer them the opportunity to take some much needed me-time, but it also benefits them physically, mentally and emotionally.
So what is their secret? How do those annoyingly chirpy moms balance the rigors of running, raising a newborn and breastfeeding? Here are some tips for making it work.
Is It Safe to Run While Breastfeeding?
But before we get to the practical side of running while breastfeeding, let’s clarify one important issue. Is it safe to run while breastfeeding? Does exercising while breastfeeding limit milk supply and alter the composition of breast milk? While many people still believe these old wives’ tales, the Australian Breastfeeding Association is quick to put running moms’ minds at ease. According to this association, and backed up by recent research findings, moderate exercise does not have any negative impact on the following:
- Breast milk supply
- Immune factors contained in breast milk, including SlgA, lactoferrin and lysozyme
- Some of the important minerals contained in breast milk, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium
- Some of the major nutrients contained in breast milk, including fats and proteins
Note, however, that the emphasis here is on moderate levels of exercise. Lactic acid has been found to increase in breast milk after maximal exercise efforts, with the opposite being true for exercise at moderate levels.
Don’t Rush into It
That said, be sure to resist the temptation of rushing into a training program before your body is ready. While you might be itching to get out there and move, especially if you took things easy during pregnancy, it’s vital that you give your body enough time to heal after childbirth before easing back into running. Even if the birth went smoothly, most physicians recommend taking at least six weeks off after child birth before resuming exercise. Note, however, that this is only a very general guideline. Each woman’s body and every birth event is different, so be sure to get the green light from your own physician before starting your program.
It’s also very important to ease back into running once you get started. Simply picking up where you left off before pregnancy or childbirth is not ideal. Instead, give your body time to adapt. A structured, entry-level run/walk program is ideal for this purpose and should have you back to your old running routine, sans injuries, in no time.
Practical Tips for Making It Work
Once you’ve received the go-ahead from your physician, the following tips and tricks should help you juggle the logistics of running and breastfeeding with a little more ease:
- The first and most important tip for running while breastfeeding has to be this: Cut yourself some slack. Do the best you can with the time and energy that you have, and don’t beat yourself up if you miss a run or have to cut one short. Life with a newborn can be tough and fitting regular running into that life can be even harder, so treat yourself with the empathy that you deserve.
- Invest in a new, good quality sports bra that fits well. Don’t be tempted to simply revert to using your pre-pregnancy sports bras for post-partum running. First off, well-worn sports bras may not provide as much support as you’ll need while breastfeeding. Secondly, your body will change during pregnancy and childbirth, leaving your old bras with a less than ideal fit. And while you’re shopping for that new sports bra, here’s a quick tip for access during feeding time: Look for a bra with adjustable straps that close with velcro.
- Stay well hydrated. Producing breast milk places a huge demand on a mother’s body. For both your own and your baby’s sake, be sure to pay close attention to hydration.
- Fuel properly. Yes, it’s understandable to want to get rid of those extra pregnancy pounds as soon as possible. But your body is working extra hard to cope with your new situation and produce and provide food for a little human. Producing breast milk burns roughly 300 to 500 calories a day, so be sure to eat enough wholesome, healthy foods to help your body do its job.
- Feed or express milk right before you head out. For the sake of your own comfort, and to avoid leaky breasts on the run, be sure to time your runs around feeding time. Put on your running gear before you feed or express, and head out shortly after to ensure that your run is comfortable and incident free.
- If you’re doing a race or longer event that will last a few hours (including travel time), pack your breast pump. Express milk right before the start of the event, and then check your breast pump with your other gear to have it waiting for you at the finish line. Some marathons are even willing to have your pump waiting for you at a medical tent along the course if you ask them, so don’t be afraid to talk to the race organizer.
- Invest in some quality breast pads and wear them on the run in order to eliminate or minimize leakage. If in doubt, carry some extra, disposable breast pads with you when you head out.
- Consider splitting longer training runs into several shorter runs during the same 12-hour period. If your little one cluster feeds during a growth spurt, leaving you with short chunks of free time for a run, cut your scheduled distance into a number of shorter, more manageable ones.
- Shower as soon as possible post-run. Many babies dislike the salty taste of sweaty skin after a run and will refuse to feed as a result.
- Find a good lactation consultant who can safely guide you through the experience of running while breastfeeding.
- Join a support group for moms who run and breastfeed. The tips and moral support that you’ll receive from moms going through the same experience is invaluable.
So if you’re a running mom committed to breastfeeding for as long as possible, know that, while there definitely will be challenges, it can be done. Experiment and find a strategy that works well for you and your little one and remember to cut yourself some slack. In hindsight your days as a breastfeeding mom will be over before you know it, so make the most of this special time with your children!
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