How to Be a Breastfeeding, Exercising Powerhouse
This Is Nike (M)
Heavy, leaky and/or uncomfortable boobs don't exactly make postpartum workouts easier. This primer from experts can help.
- Swollen breasts, constant nursing and exhaustion can get in the way of your post-partum fitness goals.
- Research shows that exercise doesn't affect milk supply as long as you don't skip feedings.
- Feeding or pumping as close to the start of your workout as possible and finding a bra that fits can make exercise much more comfortable.
Read on to learn more …
*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.
If you're breastfeeding when you get the glorious green light from your doc to exercise, you may have a lot of questions about how to make a round-the-clock nursing/pumping schedule work every day, let alone fit into your fitness routine. Your breasts might still feel engorged, you might have plugged ducts (our condolences!) or you may be freaked about jeopardising your supply. The good news is, if you want to, you can totally work out in light of almost all these concerns. Here's how to make it happen.
1. Don't force it.
Breastfeeding itself is an endurance event, so the last thing you need is a workout sapping whatever you have left. 'When you start exercising, monitor how it's impacting your energy', says Brianna Battles, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the founder of Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism in Eagle, Idaho. Ask yourself, What does my body need right now? says Battles. If the answer isn't to work out, then feel free to back off (seriously).
Same goes with moves that don't feel right to your newly busy breasts, even ones you used to love. Maybe it's sprinting, cycling out of the saddle, facedown yoga poses or burpees. This might change over time, but there's no reason to force something if it isn't feeling good in the moment. Next!
2. Invest in a new sports bra (or a few).
This is a PSA (post-partum service announcement), not an advertisement for Nike sports bras, promise: even if you can still squeeze into one of your pre-baby or antenatal workout bras, don't (unless it still truly feels great and supports you well).
Bras, especially underwire ones, that are too tight or dig into certain areas can contribute to clogged ducts, says Jessica McKee, RN, an international-board-certified lactation consultant in Ventura County, California. That's because the bra can put pressure on milk ducts, causing a backup of milk flow that gets 'stuck' in one spot. A clogged duct, she says, feels like a hard, sometimes painful pebble in your boob. They can be tough to get rid of—and sometimes lead to mastitis, which is an infection of the breast tissue that can come with fever or flu-like symptoms—so you want to do what you can to avoid them.
You can try a nursing- or pumping-specific sports bra, but if you can't find one that works for your body, don't stress—you'll be fine without it. If possible, get fitted for a sports bra in person, as you might need a larger size or more supportive style than you realise, says Battles. If online shopping is your best option, run these quick tests from McKee before you take off the tags: first, make sure you can fit two fingers underneath the band and two fingers underneath the straps. Then, run or jump in place, raise your hands over your head, and sit down to see how it'll feel during actual exercise: it should be snug but not so tight that it feels restrictive.
3. Drink plenty of water.
If you're breastfeeding and active, then you need all. The. Water. You won't be able to feed a human and/or get your sweat on without an adequate fluid supply. There's no magic number, just "take sips regularly to keep up with your fluid needs, and certainly whenever you are thirsty, which is a signal you are getting behind", says Amanda Williams, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn in Oakland, California. Really, it's that simple!
4. And eat!
The ravenous hunger likely tipped you off already, but if not, know that you probably need to eat more while breastfeeding than you did while pregnant, as your body requires approximately an extra 300 to 400 calories per day to produce milk, says Dr Williams. Add in exercise, and it's crucial you’re making sure to eat enough, says Battles, otherwise (like the whole hydration thing) you won't be able to do either well. No need to obsessively count calories or overcomplicate your meals, though: just listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues, and focus on whole foods with lots of fibre and protein to keep you satisfied, says McKee.
5. Feed or pump right before your workout.
You'll thank yourself for emptying those breasts before you try to run or squat jump, according to McKee. Not only will this make you more comfortable during your workout, it should also be good for your long-term supply: avoiding letting your breasts remain full for too long will help cue your body to continue making milk. This may mean pumping or nursing at a time you usually don't, but it won’t mess up your production, says McKee.
Pro tip: consider investing in a hand pump. It's a quick way to take the edge off full breasts before or even during a workout. (It can also help mellow any anxious feelings you might have when your breasts are feeling heavy, adds Dr Williams.)
6. Don't stress about your supply.
Important fact: research has shown that exercise should not negatively impact your milk supply.
If you notice your supply changing and your breasts feeling less full around the weeks you start exercising, it's probably not because of the exercise. Between six and 12 weeks post-partum, the surge of post-birth hormones that kicked off your milk production decreases and the method of producing that good stuff switches to a supply-and-demand model, explains McKee. (And those enormous post-birth boobs might deflate a little. It's a real roller coaster, right?) You might want to blame your workouts because of the timing, but more than likely, all that happened is your supply regulated itself (a good thing!). So keep going for it.
7. Strategise longer workouts.
OK, the one time a workout might sneak up on your milk supply is if you're regularly doing super-long sessions (hey, props to you for having the energy). "If you're, say, doing a 90-minute yoga class or running 10 miles and missing milk removals because of it, that could be correlated to, or causing, a lower supply", says McKee. That hand pump will come in handy (no pun intended): if you can take a quick break, express some milk and get back to your workout, that's much better for your long-term supply than skipping a removal, she says.
8. When in doubt, see a pro.
If you're encountering issues like supply problems, recurrent clogged ducts, mastitis, extreme pain or other discomfort (whether during exercise or not!), the best bet is to contact a lactation consultant who can explore your unique situation. "They can put together an individualised plan that works for you", says McKee.
In this season of life, can we all agree to take any help we can get? Cool, it's a deal.
Words: Sara Gaynes Levy
Photography: Vivian Kim
Not sure if your sports bra's fitting quite right? McKee shows you exactly what to look for, so you can better avoid issues like discomfort or infection.