Contrary to popular belief and some silly rumors, exercising while breastfeeding is perfectly safe and, in fact, very healthy. Exercise contributes to new parents’ overall health and well-being.
Exercise impact on milk while breastfeeding
If you’re breastfeeding, even intense exercise should not impact how much milk you produce or how willing Baby is to feed. So long as you’re staying comfortable and hydrated, exercise actually be beneficial for new moms. Even a simple walk with Baby can increase cardiovascular fitness levels, improve insulin response, alleviate depression, and even enhance the maternal-infant relationship.
Debunking the myths:
For a long time, the impact of exercise on breast milk was covered in mystery. Then a widely publicized study from over 20 years ago mistakenly found that breast milk is higher in lactic acid right after exercise and that babies find it less appealing for that reason. The study concluded that mothers should pump or nurse prior to exercising and avoid nursing until an hour after exercise. Later research called this finding into question due to the use of a medicine dropper, which the babies were unaccustomed to using, which impacted the study’s accuracy.
Other studies showed increased milk supply for women who exercised regularly, and decreased IgA levels – antibodies that fight infections – in women who had exercised strenuously. IgA levels returned to normal after 30 minutes, and the decrease of these antibodies is not bad for babies, so these findings do not merit a change in exercise patterns.
Preparing for exercise:
Make sure to support your breasts as much as possible – wearing a supportive sports bra is a must, and if you need to add extra support from there, don’t hesitate to try. Some women find it best to pump or nurse prior to exercise to minimize pain during high impact exercise such as running. Drink as much fluid as possible, since hydration is particularly important during breastfeeding, and pair exercise with a healthy diet. Don’t get discouraged if exercise is difficult at first, even if you exercised during pregnancy – between recovery from childbirth and all of the energy that goes towards taking care of Baby, it only makes sense that exercise might take a bit more energy than you were expecting. During your workout, take care with any exercises that might cause injuries, especially soon after giving birth. The hormone relaxin may still be in your system, which could make your joints more flexible, which can make it easier to push your body too far. Post-workout, as long as Baby is happy to nurse, there’s no reason not to nurse right away. Some babies don’t like the taste of sweat, so if you’re concerned, you can shower off or wipe down before nursing to prevent unsuccessful feeding.
The bottom line
Exercise isn’t just safe when breastfeeding – it’s downright healthy! Whether yoga, lightweight exercise, or a brisk walk, exercise will help get your body in great shape for the months and years to come. However, if you are doing anything more than light exercise, you should talk to your healthcare provider to make sure your body is ready to do so after the delivery. Most healthcare providers recommend light exercise until 6 weeks postpartum, and to increase the intensity gradually from there.
- Renee Kam. “Exercise and breastfeeding.” Australian Breastfeeding Association. Australian Breastfeeding Association, December 2012. Web.
- Cheryl Lovelady. “Exercise during Lactation.” American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM, October 7 2016. Web.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Exercise after pregnancy: How to get started.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, July 27 2016. Web.
- “Breastfeeding and everyday life.” Office on Women’s Health. Department of Health and Human Services, July 21 2014. Web.
- “Will my milk supply be affected if I exercise?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, November 12 2008. Web.