Exercise and the Breastfeeding Mom
Just because you are breastfeeding, doesn't mean you can't exercise. Check out these tips from two top lactation consultants on how to make exercise and breastfeeding work.
Exercise And The Breastfeeding Mom
When I was breastfeeding my first daughter, I had a lot of supply issues, so I didn’t pay much attention to the correlation of breast milk production and exercising when I began losing the baby weight. However, with Olive, 8 weeks old, my supply is exactly where it should be and I’ve been worrying that once I begin exercising on a regular basis, that I need to pay close attention to my activity and caloric intake to make sure my supply stays good. I had a chance to chat with two certified lactation consultants to help me to understand the best steps for me to take as I begin tackling the baby weight, and start to become more active.
Almost 30 years ago, Wendy Haldeman MN, RN, IBCLC and Corky Harvey MS, RN, IBCLC began what is now The Pump Station,which has become one of the top go-to places for moms needing support with all things breastfeeding and beyond! They opened my eyes up to a lot of misconceptions that are out there when it comes to the breastfeeding exercising momma, and I now feel I’m fully armed with knowledge as I begin to become more active. Check out all of their advice and see how they can help you succeed at both breastfeeding and exercising!
Eating Enough Calories
Breastfeeding women need to eat enough calories to sustain their milk supply. How can women do this, yet still create a caloric deficit to lose weight, already knowing that breastfeeding alone burns 300-500 calories a day? Is there a certain amount of calories a breastfeeding women must consume?
Wendy: Honestly, this may not be possible for some women. We have seen such significant differences between women that it is very hard to assign a calorie requirement for all moms. In general, we have recommended that women slowly begin to reduce their calories and keep a close eye on milk production. In our experience, the Weight Watcher’s Lactation Diet seems to be a great compromise for women in that they seem to be able to drop a pound per week and still maintain the milk supply. Our understanding is that more than one pound per week (after the initial drop in the first week) is desirable as rapid burning of fat may transfer toxins stored in the fat into the breastmilk. Also, anecdotally, I can tell you that when breastfeeding women drastically reduce their complex carbohydrates, the milk supply often drops significantly.
Eating Enough Calories
Corky: What is now known is that breastfeeding women lose more weight than formula feeders, but not until after the third postpartum month. Part of the weight gain during pregnancy is to provide calories to make milk—not supposed to be used up or gone in the early postpartum period. I find it frustrating and a bit sad that women feel so driven to accomplish the pre-pregnant weight early (celebrity moms) as it is not the intended progression. I’ve taught for years (from a study) that anything below 2300 calories/day is dieting in a fully breastfeeding mom. Of course, every metabolism is different. My own experience taught me to be patient. I lost 10 lbs below pre-pregnant weight by breastfeeding and it occurred between the fourth and sixth postpartum months, while eating a healthy, normal diet. This also happened for my daughter—just got tiny while nursing, but not until the fourth to sixth month. I too have seen milk supplies crash with limited calorie intake and excessive exercise. It can take more than 500 calories for some women to make enough milk.
Avoiding Clogged Ducts
I’ve read that exercising can cause a breastfeeding mom to get clogged ducts? How does this happen and what can she do to avoid this?
Wendy: To my knowledge there is no clinical proof that this is true, rather just what some people think. I honestly don’t know what the physiological reasoning would be. I generally recommend that moms “empty” the breast as much as possible prior to exercise, but more from a comfort standpoint than anything else.
Corky: Way back I did see a study suggesting a relationship between mastitis and vigorous upper arm exercise, but I haven’t seen anything like that lately though. I like Wendy’s idea of emptying first and moms need to stay hydrated. Maybe it was the bra causing the problem all along.
Lactic Acid Buildup in Breast Milk
Is there any truth to lactic acid build up in breast milk causing babies to not want to nurse after mom has done a hard workout?
Wendy: No, none what so ever. Not sure where this notion got started. Probably some mom came home from the gym and tried to breastfeed her baby and the baby refused. My guess is that the mom just smelled different and the baby didn’t like it. Think about this. Women have been doing hard labor since we have been here on Earth and breastfeeding. These hard working women would have to have lactic acid in the breast milk and if babies were refusing to eat, we probably would not be here as a species.
Corky: I 100 percent agree. It actually came from an old study (that was disregarded as a terrible study) that said there was lactic acid in milk after exercise. Well again moms have been sweating the rice paddies since the beginning of time.
How much more water does a breastfeeding mom need to drink to help maintain supply and not get dehydrated?
Wendy: It is not true that the more water a woman drinks the more milk she will produce. Breastfeeding mothers should drink for thirst. I would suggest that the mother certainly drink the amount of water she would normally consume while exercising and then drink more if she is thirsty.
How Hard To Workout
I’ve read about making sure not to workout till full exhaustion as a breastfeeding mom? Why is this so?
Wendy: Again, I would want to see clinical proof of this. We see such a wide range of what moms do with regards to breastfeeding. We have triathletes who have great milk supplies and then moms who in resuming a very moderate exercise regimen note a drop in milk supply. We recommend that women start slow and see how the milk supply does.
Corky: And…when you are a mom with a baby to care for why would you ever consider doing this anyway? You need energy to care for you infant.
Do you have any more thoughts to help the breastfeeding mom be successful as she starts exercising again to lose the baby weight?
Corky: Honestly, patience and a gentle start. It should take time.
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