The Athlete's Guide to Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding moms can also be athletes, though you may need to make some adjustments to your usual routine. Here's what you should know first!

Exercising after bringing your new addition into the world is highly recommended by healthcare professionals, though you may find working out is somewhat more complicated logistically and physically. Of course, you’ll want to check in with your doctor before starting any exercise program after giving birth to ensure you’re fully cleared for all activities. On top of making sure that you’re completely recovered from your birth experience, you may find that your workout times revolve around when your little one wants to eat or your pumping schedule. You may also find yourself tiring much sooner than you used to. After all, breastfeeding alone burns several hundred calories per day.

If you’ve been cleared by your doctor or healthcare professional to resume all pre-pregnancy and pre-delivery activities, here are some tips that can help you return to a consistent workout routine while maintaining your regular feeding and pumping schedule:

Feed Before Your Workout

Many parents find that they are much more comfortable during their workout after feeding their babies, as their breasts are lighter, less full, and less likely to leak milk. If your baby prefers to feed on one side, consider hand expressing or pumping the other side so both breasts are even.

An important thing to remember is that oxytocin – also known as the love hormone – is released when you breastfeed. This causes you to feel relaxed and even lethargic, rather than as motivated and active as you might hope to feel before a workout. At the same time oxytocin is released, prolactin is also being released. Prolactin can also cause moms to become drowsy. In fact, when a woman is completely relaxed thanks to the presence of prolactin and oxytocin, it’s very normal for her to become calm and drowsy. We recommend testing different feeding routines and times before your workout and after to find what works best for you!

Consume a Balanced Diet

If you plan to exercise often during your breastfeeding journey, consuming enough calories is essential to maintain your breast milk supply. If you don’t consume enough calories, you may notice adverse effects like low energy and your milk supply potentially being impacted as well.

In many cases, if you were within a healthy weight range before giving birth, you can increase your caloric intake by about 300 – 500 calories per day to compensate for the calories burned each day by breastfeeding. However, be sure that these extra calories are filled mainly by healthy foods with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, rather than using it as a reason to binge on junk food. We know it can be tough at times – We love a good sweet or salty snack just as much as everyone else! – but ensuring these calories are filled by healthy, whole foods will benefit both you and your baby through your milk.

Invest in a Quality Sports Bra

Investing in a quality sports bra designed for nursing mothers is important for a comfortable workout. Standard sports bras are designed to prevent excessive breast movement and are therefore somewhat restrictive – more so than a regular bra. For a nursing mother, however, this can be uncomfortable.

Instead, look for a breathable, wire-free sports bra designed specifically for breastfeeding moms. Constrictive sports bras may have adverse effects on your breasts and can lead to blocked milk ducts or even mastitis. If you’re worried about leakage while exercising, consider upping your supply of nursing pads for extra protection.

Keep in mind that you’ll also likely increase a full cup size while breastfeeding, so consider selecting a bra size up or getting fitted to find your new size.

Be Flexible and Adjust Your Exercise Routine

While most nursing moms can do any type of exercise once they’ve been cleared by their doctor to return to all pre-pregnancy and pre-delivery activities, there are a few exercises that you may wish to avoid. For example, the prone position in yoga can put excess pressure on the breasts and cause discomfort.

Additionally, be conscious of the fact that you may be more tired and lethargic while breastfeeding. After all, you just brought a brand-new baby into the world! It may take time to ramp up to your pre-pregnancy stamina and intensity while exercising. Talk to a personal trainer or gym instructor who specializes in working with nursing moms or recently postpartum parents to understand your body better, determine how far you can push yourself, and progressively increase the intensity of your routines.

Don't Forget to Drink Plenty of Water!

Another important element to safely working out while breastfeeding is to drink plenty of water! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast milk is more than 80% water. This means it’s essential to stay hydrated as you work out. If you don’t stay hydrated, your body will continue to produce milk but you may struggle with dehydration and its associated effects and symptoms.

A good rule of thumb is to be mindful of your urine. If it is a dark, concentrated yellow color, then you likely aren’t drinking enough water. Be sure to take a water bottle while you’re working out and drink during your rests.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a nursing mom, you can still work out and enjoy exercising the way you did before having your little one. However, it’s incredibly important to listen to your body and remember not to push yourself too hard, too quickly. Be patient with yourself and give yourself plenty of time to ease back into a workout routine – and talk to a trainer or coach who specializes in working with recent postpartum or breastfeeding moms. Before you know it, you’ll be back to a regular workout routine and enjoying all the great benefits of consistent exercise too!