Running and Breastfeeding
By Victoria Carson, St. Maries, Idaho
Prior to pregnancy, I enjoyed running and exercise. For me, running is a vehicle to release stress, burn some extra calories, and purge myself of extra energy to help me sleep better at night. After giving birth to my son, Lincoln, I heard stories from other running mothers and read about what might happen to my milk supply after running for extended amounts of time. I read blog after blog about struggles I’d have maintaining my breastfeeding relationship with my son. It sounded like an ultimatum: wean or run. This terrified me.
I suffered from severe postpartum anxiety. Because of what I’d been told, I chose not to run, even though I knew it might be the key to surviving the anxiety. Exclusively breastfeeding my son was too important to me. I still made light exercise a priority, but I was reluctant to really work up sweats like I had prior to having Lincoln. I wasn’t sleeping at night. I forced myself to function through high levels of stress and nervousness. My family endured my extreme mood swings. I was not myself.
When Lincoln was four months old, I decided—with the support of my husband—to sign up for a few longer races. I slowly built up my mileage, stayed hydrated, and watched very carefully how my son responded to my milk afterward. I trained for three months. The buildup of lactic acid never seemed to bother him, even though others swore it would. He was always eager and happy to go back to the breast, even when I was sweaty from running!
I recently finished a half marathon in Washington State. This was the longest distance I had ever run. After I crossed the finish line, we immediately went back to the car to nurse. He wanted me, was eager to eat, and seemed to enjoy the taste just as much. I was able to nurse him the rest of the weekend without a hitch.
I know this might not be the experience of every running mother, but it was for me. Running and exercise helped ease my postpartum anxiety, and I’m so happy I didn’t let fear dominate. I am a happier, healthier mother when I run. I am a better mother when I run. You don’t have to give up running to breastfeed or wean so that you can run. It is possible to succeed at both.
Editor’s note: Studies have shown that exercise and breastfeeding can be combined without affecting milk supply. La Leche League International suggests the following when exercising while breastfeeding:
- Wait until the baby is at least six weeks old or more.
- Start the exercise slowly and gradually.
- Be sure to consume liquids to replace those lost by sweating.
- Some kinds of exercise can be done with baby.
- Walking briskly, mild aerobic exercises, and water exercises are ideal in the beginning.
- Other good exercises for later on are swimming and aerobics.
For more information, as well as additional personal stories, click the following link for the LLLI resource page on breastfeeding and exercise: http://www.llli.org/nb/nbexercise.html
Additional information is also available at kellymom.com: https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/lifestyle/mom-exercise/
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