Does More muscle = Less Milk? Inside Breastfeeding and Fitness
Being a mom and finding time for yourself can be TOUGH. Especially when you're worried about breastfeeding and all the stresses that can come with it. A lot of breastfeeding moms want to workout, but have concerns when it comes to their health and how it impacts their milk supply, and also how breastfeeding affects their fitness. Here are some basics to help ease your mind and protect your supply.
I nursed my first child until she was 15 months. It was certainly a long journey, but I won't lie,
breastfeeding came very naturally for me with my first. Pumping was easy, I didn't have a lot of pain, my supply was plentiful, it just seemed to work well for us. My second, however, was a different story. I only was able to breastfeed until about 5 months, I couldn't even wear a sports bra, or even be too active because if they bounced even a tiny bit I would get a painful let down, I couldn't keep up with pumping, they were huge and always hurt, needless to say it was less than ideal. Through both breastfeeding journeys, I was able to find some great ways to help me maintain my supply, avoid pain while working out, keep myself and my milk healthy, and fortunately was able to be active enough to work off some of the baby weight.
A lot of people wonder if their milk supply will diminish if they start working out. Let me give you the basics. Firstly, in general, weight loss may not be an ideal goal for breastfeeding mothers. When you're breastfeeding, you need an average of up to an additional 500 (healthy) calories per day in your diet to keep a bountiful supply. When you are trying to lose weight, you are in a caloric deficit, meaning you burn off more than you consume. If you are burning off more than you consume, you are certainly not consuming enough calories to keep your supply up. See the conflict? A healthy fitness goal for breastfeeding mothers should be to stay active, workout the way you want, but avoid "dieting." This may mean you hold on to some extra weight for a while, but remember that breastfeeding is a temporary stage in your life! You have your whole life to reach body fat percentage goals. For now, focus on strength and stamina, and eat when you're hungry. Reach for nutritionally dense foods and pack that diet with vitamin-rich calories.
Secondly, you may be dehydrated if you are experiencing a dip in supply. A non-breastfeeding person should be drinking half their body weight in oz of water daily (for example, 50oz water if you weighed 100lbs), if you are active that number should increase, and if you are breastfeeding that number should increase as well. Set reminders on your phone for at least every 30 min to take some sips!
Lots of women may also find they can't lose weight easily while breastfeeding. There's a few reasons for this, including the caloric deficit that I mentioned above. Additionally, be aware of diastasis recti, a separation of your abdominal walls and the stretching of the linea alba, which is very common after pregnancy and can contribute to the appearance of a larger belly. One thing to note is that pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones can cause muscles to remain slightly more slack, so some breastfeeding mothers with a diastasis may not see much improvement until several months after weaning.
Having large, engorged, or painful breasts can make it extremely difficult and demotivating to workout. One product I found useful, since I couldn't find a nursing sports bra that was supportive enough, was the PINKCLOVER support band. It fit over my existing sports bra and helped keep my breasts from bouncing when I did any higher impact activities. This prevented unwanted let down and was very useful through both my breastfeeding journeys.
One other factor that makes it difficult to exercise when breastfeeding is the level of tiredness you can experience when nursing. Your body produces oxytocin when breastfeeding which can trigger tiredness. Feeling exhausted can make it hard to feel motivated, especially when you're probably watching your caffeine intake because you're nursing. Try something that wakes you up, like splashing some cold water on your face, or drinking a glass of cool water, then start moving. Once you can start getting your blood pumping it is much easier to continue. Warm up with a walk or dancing to your favorite song before your workout to help you get in the mood.
There's also the issue of your baby crying for a feeding while you're in the middle of a workout. I spent many workouts nursing between sets, or feeding while in a wallsit. Even nursing while I did walking lunges down the hall. Motherhood is hard, especially when you throw breastfeeding in the mix! If you have a relatively easy time feeding your little one, try some "active rest" sets while you nurse such as squats, or simply take a break and work out again when your baby is finished.
Remember, mama, this is just temporary. It may not be the easiest way to work out, but I know you can do it!
kellymom is a great resource for all your breastfeeding questions as well! Make sure you consult a doctor or lactation consultant with any concerns.