So there’s no doubt in my mind that every mother is a superwoman. She spent 40 weeks of her life growing a new life. That alone merits the title of superwoman. Now, she’s chosen to provide life-sustaining nourishment for the first 3, 6, 12, 24 months (or however long) of her child’s life. A wonderfully natural source of perfect nutrition for her growing baby. I mean come on, can superman do that? Didn’t think so.
Beyond the obvious nutrition for the baby, breastfeeding has many benefits for the mother including a lower risk for breast and ovarian cancer as well osteoporosis. Breastfeeding supports emotional health as it produces oxytocin, the love hormone that promotes mother child bonding. No matter the time of night, I’m always overwhelmed with an enormous sense of awe, love, and amazement while nursing my little one (insert sappy music here). Finally, breastfeeding is a huge confidence booster! You, you bad-ass nursing mama, have the means to provide exclusive nutrition for your baby! Stand up superwoman and take a bow.
But I’m not here to convince you to breastfeed (I do realize it’s not easy and I’m not here to put anyone down who are not able to breastfeed for whatever reason, you’re still a superwoman), I want to talk about how enhance your superwoman-ness by stepping up your exercise game while maintaining your breastfeeding routine/supply. Most moms do have concerns about getting back into the exercise swing of things or even possibly starting a new exercise habit. You might as well take advantage of the calorie burning machine you already are as a breastfeeding mama to increase your fitness and health. One study concluded that while breastfeeding alone does burn excess calories, adding moderate exercise may actually increase milk supply, increase the calorie density of their milk, and improve maternal aerobic capacity.
Let’s address some common concerns:
Does exercise affect milk supply?
Short answer: no. There have been numerous studies that have overwhelmingly shown that moderate exercise does not negatively impact a mother’s milk supply. Here’s one example. In this study, the authors conducted a meta-analysis by reviewing available research studies investigating if exercise impacted milk supply and/or infant growth. They reviewed four trials in which the babies of mothers who exercised while breastfeeding gained a proportional amount of weight as compared to control groups.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t always apply to everyone. Nursing supply is dependent on many factors including maternal body composition, caloric intake, exercise intensity and individual metabolic rates. A woman that breastfeeds exclusively requires approximately 640 cal/day to produce adequate amounts of milk. You can imagine if you’re restricting calories, or excessively exercising, milk production may suffer.
Your body is very good at making sure it has enough energy to fuel its needs. For example, if an exercising nursing mom isn’t eating enough calories or has burned calories through exercise, the body will mobilize energy from fat stores to have enough to make milk. Clearly, a woman with a higher percent body fat has more energy on reserve than a woman with lower percent body fat. This thinner woman may experience a reduction of milk supply at the same level of exercise as compared to an overweight mom. Does that make sense?
So yes, exercise! But also take care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods to fuel your body. Moderate calorie restriction through eating less and/or burning more will lead to weight loss without sacrifice to milk supply if done right. It’s not a one size fits all answer. So, if you’d like individualized advice, send me a message and we can chat.
After exercise my milk will taste funny or be bad for my baby?
If you nurse immediately after exercise, your milk might be slightly acidic due to increased levels of lactic acid content and your breast may be salty from sweat. Your baby might not like that and may refuse to nurse. And I don’t blame him/her. Babies are programmed to prefer sweet tastes so the salty sweat remaining from your Zumba class isn’t appealing. Do yourself a favor: stretch it out, cool down and take a shower before nursing. Hand that screaming infant to daddy for some bonding time. See how superman handles a hangry baby 🙂
Tips to Maintain Milk Supply While Getting Your Sweat On!
- Drink enough water. Being a breastfeeding mom increases your fluid requirements. Add on an intense sweat session and your fluid requirements are quite a bit more than you might be accustomed to. How can you improve your fluid intake? Have a water bottle with you where ever you go! Make it a priority especially before but more importantly after you exercise. Also, have a glass of water (12 oz or more) at every nursing session. Bored with plain water, add some frozen fruit to add interest and flavor. Ever used an infuser water bottle? Maybe invest in one of these bad boys. They’re worth it. I love mine!
- Nurse or pump before you workout. This is an obvious one. You’ll be more comfortable during your workout without your breasts being full of milk. Also, invest in a really good sports bra which may have to be bigger and more supportive than ones you may have worn before becoming a mother.
- Eat foods that support breast milk production. The exact mechanism as to how these foods increase milk supply is not well understood. Here are some foods that are labeled as lactogenic/galactagogue (inducing the secretion of milk) or are dense in vital nutrients in breast milk: oatmeal, spinach, carrots, beans, lentils, asparagus, apricots, and salmon to name few. Many moms have tried lactation cookies to boost supply. I have yet to try them but it’s worth a shot. A cookie to increase milk supply, that sounds like heaven. Here’s a recipe that I’m going to try.
- Try herbs, with your doctor’s approval. Blessed thistle and fenugreek have been said to increase milk supply. Again, I haven’t tried them so I can’t personally say they work. Keep in mind, the use of these herbs may come with some side effects including diarrhea, stomach upset, bloating, gas, and a “maple syrup” odor in urine to name a few. If you decide to try these supplements, do some research and find a reputable source of the herbs. Other RD friends of mine (who have done the research) recommend this product. It’s a combination of blessed thistle and fenugreek. It’s important to note that supplementation shouldn’t be done unless a problem is noticed and discussed with your doctor.