Dear Marathon Mom,
I’m 6 months pregnant with my first child and recently had to stop running altogether. I’m ready for this time off to focus on the pregnancy and prepare for motherhood, but I know I’ll be ready and excited to start running again postpartum. However, I also plan to breastfeed my baby, so I’m wondering how my running may affect that? What do I need to know and do?
Running Milk Maid
Dear Running Milk Maid,
You are quite wise to be thinking about this already! Let me state right up front that I am an advocate for breastfeeding in general. The health benefits to both baby and mom are unmatched. However, I can’t stand it when people poo poo high-energy exercise, such as running regularly, while breastfeeding out of fear that it will affect your milk. Sure, it can affect your milk – in some fantastic ways!
I’m not a lactation consultant or nutritionist, but I am a mother who ran while breastfeeding. I started running 5 weeks after my daughter was born, ran a marathon when she was 5 months, and ran an ultra marathon when she was 11 months old. My daughter and I continued breastfeeding throughout it all and then some, until she was 18 months. My milk supply never suffered due to my long distance training. In fact, it seemed to increase in the day or two after my long runs. I had a plentiful supply for her, and enough left over fill our freezer for emergency use as well as donate to three other babies. Plus, I doubt anyone will argue that the healthy diet required for long distance training would do anything less than put more great nutrients in your body and, therefore, milk.
I’m not trying for a pat on the back here. I’m sharing my personal experience to make my point. Running, or other vigorous exercise, clearly does not automatically mean your milk supply will suffer. Creating milk is one of the many absolutely amazing things the female body can do–but it requires a bit of attention to detail to work its magic to its full potential.
Like any bodily process, milk production requires energy (i.e. calories), and breastfeeding mothers are actually recommended from just about every medical professional you could find to intake about 500 extra calories a day–about 200 calories more per day than recommended during the average pregnancy. For a mom engaging in regular running (at least 3 times a week), that number certainly needs to be higher. I’m not a calorie counter, but if I had to guess, I was probably taking in an extra 700-1,000 calories per day while training for the longer runs.
As with any other time in a person’s life, not all calories are equal. A breastfeeding and running mom should ensure her extra caloric intake is coming from carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. This includes foods like whole wheat bread, nut butters, avocados, fish, and of course fruits and veggies. Really, it’s a common sense diet–just a couple extra snacks or mini meals throughout the day.
And water. Don’t skimp. This is a point in your life when you’ll need to drink more water than you’ve ever dreamed of. Trust me, it won’t be hard; breastfeeding mothers tend to crave water like normal people crave cake. Hydration during this time cannot be overstated–it is the most likely factor to affect your milk supply.
It’s also best to pay the extra $20-30 a get a super supportive bra. Your cup size will increase throughout pregnancy, and then another cup or two while nursing. A supportive sports bra will make or break you out there. It is worth every penny.
Also, do yourself a huge favor and either feed your baby or pump both breasts just prior to leaving for your run. This lightens the load as much as possible for you on your run, and makes room for fresh milk to begin producing. It’s also a reassurance to you that your baby won’t be hungry and may likely even sleep while you’re away, as that is just one of a many reasons you could easily talk yourself out of a run and staying home with your new little one. For first-time moms especially, leaving their baby long enough to run is difficult and sometimes filled with guilt for doing something for yourself. Know that those feelings are normal, but it is important that you continue running if it makes you happy and makes you feel better. You will be a better mother for it.
Best of luck!