One concern that many Athlete-Moms have as they return to training is whether they will be able to continue breastfeeding their little ones. This is a normal concern especially when, for many, the breastfeeding journey is one that can be a challenge (nope, they don’t tell you just how hard it is when you are pregnant!)
Continuing to breastfeed while getting back to training, and even some LONG training, is achievable and sustainable for both momma and baby. Here are a few essentials to consider to ensure success.
As you start back to training, you may be spending a bit more time away from baby so take care to make sure feeding or pumping stays on track to keep milk flow stable. It’s not hard for an hour gym session to take 3 hours when you factor in commuting, prep, showering, and actual workout time. You’ll want to be sure to feed as close to your departure or work-out time and then again as soon as you’re done. As training volumes ramp up more, many Athlete-Moms will benefit from considering a pumping break mid-workout. Or have your partner meet you along your route with baby for a quick feed. Not easy, I agree, but essential for us breastfeeding mommas to be creative and flexible.
Funny Share – My youngest daughter breastfed when I was back to training more intensely and she was less than enthusiastic about nursing after my workouts. She would wrinkle up her nose and tell me “No sweaty-milk, Mama!” which meant “Take a shower first!” =)
This is probably the most obvious place to focus to prevent having milk supply issues. While of course you need to stay hydrated it can STILL be so difficult to stay on top of during the day. Your baseline hydration goal should be ½ your body weight in ounces per day of water. For example, if you weight 130 lbs then you would need about 65 ounces of water per day.
I would then add another ½ a glass (about 4 ounces) for every nursing session as well as another 8-12 ounces for every 45 minutes of physical activity. Do the math! That is quite a bit of water, so you want to make sure to stay on top of it. Create reminders for yourself on your phone or fill up water bottles with your required daily amount and make sure you get through those bottles over the course of the day. Always have water near you when nursing so you are drinking as baby is.
Don’t let yourself get dehydrated during longer training sessions as it could take awhile for your body to come back in balance and milk supply could be affected. Stash another bottle along your run course or take a route where you can get refills, so you are never without. Remind yourself to drink BEFORE you are thirsty as thirst is often a sign that you have missed your hydration window.
I would also suggest adding an electrolyte to your water at least 1-2 times per day, as well as during training sessions, so that the water you are drinking is making it into your tissues versus just sending you running to bathroom a dozen times a day.
As you move back into training or increase your training volumes as an Athlete-Mom, your nutrition needs should continue to focus on nutrient dense, whole foods that incorporate fresh veggies (a whole rainbow), fruits, high quality proteins and healthy fats.
A breastfeeding momma needs between 400-600 extra calories per day to support successful lactation. This can go up or down depending on the age and milk demands of your little one. As your training volume increases, you will obviously need to consume additional calories as well. You want to keep close track of your fueling needs around training so that you don’t end up with caloric deficits during your day which can affect milk supply. Adding a greens and protein smoothie is a nutritious and easy option to help meet those needs. Here’s a recipe that I like. (Don’t be afraid of the zuchinni!)
Eat healthy fats with every meal and snack so that milk quality stays on point. Great healthy fats include things like nuts, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, olives, ground chia or flax seeds, organic full-fat dairy, and cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines.
As any momma knows, stress levels can be ramped up during those early years of our children’s lives. Your ability to manage stress is closely linked to success with breastfeeding long-term. That’s why we so often are told to “relax” and “rest” in those early days when working to establish lactation.
Your stress hormone, cortisol, has a negative affect on lactation: as you become more stressed (whether due to lack of sleep, colicky baby, work demands, etc.) cortisol increases and lactation can decrease. In addition, training naturally increases your body’s production of cortisol so add this to your daily cortisol levels.
I’m not saying quit training to keep cortisol lower. There are innumerable other benefits to exercise that, in my opinion, out-weigh the stress on your body. You just need to practice flexing your “Let it go” muscle. Only take on worry for the things that need your energy. Everything else needs to sort itself out. It’s a challenge to get yourself out of the “what-if” worries about the future mentality but so worth it in the long run.
And I always thing a great herbal support for your adrenal glands goes a long way too! Consider holy basil, rhodiola or ashwagandha as options that are safe with breastfeeding.
Check out my previous post on Three Herbs to Calm the Overwhelm for other great options to help your mood balanced.
Support Your Flow with Herbs
There are several herbs that can work wonderfully to support maintaining or increasing your milk supply. Two of my favorites are goat’s rue and fenugreek. You can take these in capsule form or as teas or tinctures. The key with these herbs is to take them throughout the day rather than taking one dose just in the morning. This helps to keep the milk-supporting herbal constituent levels high in your body. Check out the “Lactation Support” section of my online dispensary for my favorite brands and formulations Click Here
Allowing your body plenty of down-time needs to be a top priority as you add to your training volume and continue to breastfeed. You may not be getting full nights of sleep depending on how your little one is sleeping so finding time to nap or simply just hang out on your bed or the couch after training each day is key. Sound impossible? Maybe, but the importance of rest for health immune function, physical recovery and especially maintaining milk supply can’t be emphasized enough. My little formula is that for every hour of training you want to have at least that much more active rest (or sleep) in your day. This may mean taking a very real look at your daily priorities and letting a few things slide or just saying NO.
Where Else to Look When Flow is Low
First, consider whether you actually have a flow issue. The way to do this is by checking in with baby! Is your little one hitting all their growth milestones at their check-ups? Are their diaper counts on track? Are they generally content during their day? If the answer is yes, then you may not be dealing with a flow issue at all.
A couple other areas to consider:
Baby’s Age – As babies grow and start to eat solids there can often be a natural decrease in milk supply because they may not be needing/wanting to get all their nutrition from milk. Check in on whether your little one may be doing a bit of self-weaning – are you doing one less nursing session per day? This may be part of a very natural process.
Labs – If you are having supply concerns and have ruled out most other possibilities, it could be a good idea to have some laboratory work done. At a minimum I would suggest checking thyroid and adrenal function, your cholesterol levels, iron and vitamin B12 levels (to rule out anemia) and vitamin D levels. Hormone and nutrient imbalances are common in the post-partum time period and rarely screened by conventional doctors. Add to this the demands on an athlete’s body when training volume increases and there could certainly be imbalances that need to be addressed.
Find an integrative or functional medicine doctor, like a Naturopathic Physician, who can order and interpret these labs for you. You can also schedule a consult with me to discuss either in person or via telehealth by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talk to Lactation Consultant – If you are worried about your milk supply or have noticed a sharp decline and would like to get support, I highly recommend speaking with a certified lactation consultant in addition to the other ideas listed above. I used a lactation consultant with both of my babies, for different reasons, and it was such a help. Not to mention it was a great way to check-in and make sure I wasn’t crazy and just imaging symptoms or issues that weren’t there! (C’mon, you know you do it too!!)
Looking for a lactation consultant? Check here for one near you.
Breastfeeding is an important part of your baby’s development and it’s within your ability to get back to training while maintaining great breastfeeding habits and milk supply. The keys are to keep on top of nutrition, hydration and timing while making sure to give yourself lots of time for recovery (which of course helps not only lactation but athletic performance too! Win-Win!). You can look to awesome herbs like fenugreek and goat’s rue to help with milk supply and support your adrenals to manage stress levels. Don’t hesitate to consult with your physician and/or a lactation consultant if you still have questions or concerns.
Finally, believe that you can do it! Getting back to the training you love is just one more part of the awesome experience of being a Rockstar Athlete-Mom! It’s about taking care of you AND your kiddos, which is always the best route for everyone involved.