Exercise and breastfeeding
There are many myths surrounding exercise whilst breastfeeding. Here, fitness expert Wendy MacLeod, shares her tips to safe exercise.
This is a subject that many mums are unsure about as there is so much conflicting information out there on the topic. There are of course a variety of factors to consider when breastfeeding and wanting to exercise too. The short answer however is, that it is absolutely fine to exercise moderately whilst even exclusively breastfeeding your baby. This is also the case according to new studies. To ensure that you are aware of some of the myths and the nutritional considerations for exercising whilst breastfeeding, see my top tips below:
- Does exercise affect my milk supply?
- Doesn’t exercise produce lactic acid that could affect my milk?
- Am I more prone to injury whilst breastfeeding?
- Weight loss and breastfeeding
- Breast support during exercise whilst breastfeeding.
Unless exercise intensity is very high (above the aerobic threshold), there is little change in lactate levels in either maternal blood or breast milk (Dr. James Clapp, Exercising through Your Pregnancy). As long as you are eating a well-balanced diet, with approximately 500 kcals more than the normal recommended intake for women (2000kcals) and keeping your body hydrated then your milk supply should not be affected.
In the past it has been documented that lactic acid, a waste product from exercising at a high level or within their anaerobic threshold, can affect the taste of breast milk. If you are exercising moderately and even frequently, this is not going to be an issue. Latest studies show that even Mums who are participating in interval training and entering into their anaerobic threshold, have no issues. Worst case scenario is that your baby would not particularly like the taste of the breast milk, but even when exercising anaerobically very little lactic acid actually travels from your system into your milk.
During pregnancy and up until around 6 months post natal most women still have the hormone relaxin present in their system. This can make the body more prone to injury due to increased flexibility in the ligaments. Again, if you are exercising moderately and avoiding impact that is very high, then you can exercise perfectly safely. Avoiding longer distance running on uneven surfaces, high impact aerobics, lifting heavy weights and PNF stretching would be sensible post natal exercise considerations.
When you breastfeed, your body converts the nutrients you eat into the milk your baby eats. This is a very energy-demanding process and requires around 700 calories a day more than your body needs to maintain its pre-pregnancy weight. The goal in post-pregnancy nutrition is to encourage the body to dip into those maternal stores slightly. To encourage this process, breastfeeding mums should increase their calories by about 500 calories over pre-pregnancy needs during the first few months and perhaps a little more on the days when you are exercising. When feeds reduce, around 5-6 months, as will this additional requirement.
I must stress the importance of consuming these additional calories though and by no means would any sort of dieting be advisable whilst breast feeding – only sensible, healthy eating.
Additional breast support whilst nursing, in particular whilst exercising, is crucial, not only for your own comfort but to protect and support your breasts. The ligaments that support your breast tissue are put under additional stress during this time due to the increased size and weight and exercise will only add to this. Investing in a good supportive nursing bra and sports bra for exercising is money well spent. There are also some companies who do a combined sports/feeding bra check out Figleaves for brands offering this.
So to conclude, exercise whilst breastfeeding is completely safe for you and baby and should not interfere with feeding at all. It will compliment your efforts to regain post pregnancy weight and figure combined with the uterus contracting back to its normal size more quickly and the additional energy expenditure.
Photography:Aurimas Mikalauskas @Flickr