New mothers with active lifestyles often await the green signal from their doctor to begin their workouts post-childbirth. Irrespective of your choice of exercise, it sure feels great to be back on the move. But can you work out when you are breastfeeding your baby?
Most new mothers have many questions about how their workouts and exercise will affect their breast milk supply. Though there are plenty of myths surrounding exercising while breastfeeding, there are no contraindications for exercising while nursing for most women. Let’s understand more about it.
Does Exercise Adversely Affect Your Breast Milk Supply?
It is believed that exercising when you are breastfeeding your baby can change your breast milk’s taste and reduce its quantity. However, studies show that a moderate amount of exercise neither affects breast milk’s taste nor its supply (1) (2).
At the same time, research shows that strenuous exercise could increase lactic acid concentration in human breast milk (3). While its effects on the baby are unknown, babies sensitive to breast milk’s taste may act fussy during feeding. Nevertheless, most babies become used to changes in the breast milk’s flavor, which is also affected by other factors, such as diet. Overall, the advantages of exercise while breastfeeding outweigh the risks.
Benefits Of Exercising While Nursing
Regular moderate exercise while breastfeeding could provide the mother the following benefits.
- More energy: Exercising releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which are also called the ‘feel-good’ hormones. When you get back to exercising after giving birth, you will sense an increase in your energy levels and an improved sense of well-being (4).
- Improved mood: Postpartum depression is real, and exercising is a great way to beat the blues. Working out while breastfeeding improves mood, reduces stress, and benefits mental health (4) (5).
- Weight loss: Many new mothers wait to get back to their pre-pregnancy workout routines to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy. Postnatal workouts promote weight loss and help you maintain a healthy weight (4).
- Helps you sleep well: With a newborn in the house, sleep is hard to come by, and most mothers will swear by it. Physical activity and exercise improve your sleep quality, and it holds true even during breastfeeding (5).
These benefits help a mother feel more relaxed, ultimately improving the secretion of prolactin and oxytocin hormones, which are vital for milk production and let-down (6). Better milk production and let-down eventually lead to adequate milk supply for the baby and less likelihood of experiencing breastfeeding-related issues.
Best Exercises For Nursing Women
It is recommended to wait at least six weeks after childbirth to begin working out (1). Also, consult your obstetrician/gynecologist before you begin.
There are many exercises that women can do during the postnatal period. Some of the most effective ones include (4):
- Brisk walking
- Low-intensity aerobic exercises
Making Time To Exercise While Breastfeeding
While it is good to get back to exercising after childbirth, it is also essential that you find the right time for it. In the first few weeks after childbirth, you must get enough rest and establish a firm breast milk supply. It takes at least four weeks to establish breastfeeding, and it is best to wait up to six weeks (7).
Many new mothers will initially find less time to work out since most of their time is taken up by breastfeeding and caring for the baby. Begin gradually, and then increase the duration and intensity of your workouts. You can use the time you get while your baby is napping and opt for gentle exercises at home. Once your baby’s routine becomes somewhat predictable, you can chalk out a routine to devote adequate time to breastfeeding and exercising.
When Should You Not Exercise While Breastfeeding?
- If you are in pain while exercising
- You are leaking urine while performing strenuous activities
- If you have trouble emptying your bladder or bowels
- If you feel a sense of pressure or bulge in your belly or the vaginal area
Most reasons to avoid exercising while breastfeeding are related to postpartum factors rather than breastfeeding. If you do not face any postpartum discomfort and your doctor gives their approval, you may begin exercising during lactation.
What To Wear For Working Out While Breastfeeding?
Active women understand the importance of good breast support while working out. There are many reasons why a well-supporting sports bra is recommended when working out while breastfeeding (9):
- Improve posture and performance during your workouts
- Minimize breast movement during jogging, running, and jumping
- Minimize breast discomfort
- Could make it easier to hold breast pads to soak any leakage
Your breasts change shape often when you are in your lactation phase. The breasts are also fuller and more sensitive. You may consider pumping milk before work out to reduce any engorgement. Also, pick a sports bra that is comfortable, breathable, well-supportive, and allows you to feed your baby easily when required.
Tips For Exercising While Breastfeeding
Below are some tips to keep in mind when exercising while breastfeeding.
- Pick an activity you find most comfortable: Choose an activity or exercise that you find the easiest to perform during the lactation phase. The goal must be to get at least ten minutes of exercise a day initially. Increase the duration to up to 30 minutes a day as you set into a breastfeeding routine (10).
- Start with low-impact exercises: Walking, cycling, and swimming are a few examples of low-impact exercises that put less strain on your belly after delivery. Walking is safe even if you had a C-section delivery. If you still have stitches on your belly, consult a doctor before trying exercises other than walking. Once you have completed your postpartum recovery, you may proceed to intense workouts, such as weight training, after taking your doctor’s approval.
- Work out at home: It is easier to begin light exercises or indoor workouts in the initial days after childbirth. Use your baby’s nap time for your exercises. You may also ask your partner to take care of your baby or feed them expressed milk while you exercise.
- Don’t be tempted to lose weight rapidly: It is normal to feel the need to lose all those pounds you gained during pregnancy. However, do not be in a hurry. The goal is not to lose weight rapidly but to lose it healthily. When you work out during breastfeeding, you must maintain a healthy diet and consume at least 1800 calories a day. Losing one pound per week is considered safe for breastfeeding mothers, although it is okay even to lose less than it (11).
- Keep yourself well-hydrated: Days following childbirth are highly demanding for a mother. You require a lot of energy through food and adequate water to sustain breastfeeding. Make sure you take frequent sips of water during and after a workout. If you sweat a lot or the weather is very hot, you may even consider having oral rehydration salt (ORS) post-workout to avoid dehydration.
- Enroll in a club: Find out any exercise programs or clubs in your region or community that consist of like-minded mothers who enjoy the joys of breastfeeding without skipping out on workouts. It can provide motivation, encouragement, resources, and solutions for many common issues faced by women who wish to maintain an active lifestyle during lactation.
Exercise while breastfeeding could have some initial limitations. However, after the first six weeks, you can begin low-impact exercises after attaining the doctor’s approval. Exercise has many benefits, and breastfeeding mothers can also reap the advantages, which may even enhance their breastfeeding routine and breast milk supply, benefitting the little one eventually.
2. Dada Su et al., Breast-feeding Mothers can Exercise: Results of a cohort study, Cambridge University Press
3. J. P. Wallace, The Concentration of Lactic Acid in Breast Milk Following Maximal Exercise, International Journal of Sports Medicine
4. Postnatal Exercise, Better Health Channel
5. Exercise, Nurse & Midwife Support
6. How breast milk is made; U.S. Department of Agriculture
7. Pacifiers: Satisfying Your Baby’s Needs; American Academy of Pediatrics
8. Safe Return to Exercise Post-Pregnancy, Pregnancy Birth & Baby
9. Exercise and Breast Support, Sports Medicine Australia
10. Exercise After Pregnancy, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
11. Weight Loss for Mothers, La Leche League International