Figuring out when to return to fitness post-pregnancy as a new mom is challenging enough. If you happen to be breastfeeding, things get even more complicated. You might be ready to feel more like yourself, physically-speaking, but you also want to successfully nurse your baby or pump, in order to provide breast milk. Here are a few tips to keep in mind so you can take care of your health and your little one.
Exercising while nursing does not affect milk supply.
Contrary to some opinions, working out as a breastfeeding mother does not affect milk supply. It may change the taste of your milk, as shown by studies concerning lactic acid levels in breast milk after vigorous exercise. But, keep in mind you’re probably safest with a workout plan involving moderate activity. And, exclusively breastfed babies of moms who regularly exercise grow at about the same rate as moms with a more sedentary lifestyle, which means breast milk is nutritional whether you work out or not.
Don’t skimp on calories.
Many people often cite breastfeeding as the ultimate golden ticket in terms of losing the baby weight after birth. While that’s true—your body has to work to make breast milk in the first place, which burns calories—breastfeeding tends to burn an extra 400-500 calories a day on top of that. So, moms working out should keep that in mind. The number varies from woman-to-woman, of course, but serves as a good reason to make up those extra calories with healthy snacks in general, and even more so if you happen to be working out.
“Breastfeeding tends to burn an extra 400-500 calories a day.”
“It’s common for new moms to want to hit the gym as soon as they get clearance for working out,” says Nadia Murdock, fitness coach and health and fitness expert. “However, if you are a nursing mom there are a few things to consider. Breastfeeding burns a considerable amount of calories (anywhere between 380 and 600 a day) so it’s key to replace those calories with a proper diet and even more so if you are doing a considerable amount of cardio workouts. Without those extra calories, it’s harder to produce breast milk. Avoid eating empty calories and stick to a clean diet.”
“When it comes to nutrition, breastfeeding is not the time to cut calories and try and drop pounds by eating less,” says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. “You are nursing an infant to give him or her all of the vital nutrients needed to grow, so eat enough and eat well to produce enough milk. If you are trying to drop some baby weight just be sure to eat whole, healthy foods.”
In addition to diet and exercise, don’t forget to drink lots of water! There’s no need to overdo it, but busy moms can sometimes forget to stay hydrated for their own energy levels and to keep milk supply up.
“If you are dehydrated, your body has to cling to something to work the other pathways and water is the primary source of that,” explains Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham. “When your body isn’t fully functioning due to dehydration, it will not produce enough milk. That is why I always suggest that breastfeeding moms, when beginning exercise, increase their water intake.”
Pay attention to your body and notice if you’re thirsty, or keep water nearby at all times as a reminder to drink up. If you’re bored with plain H2O, McFaden recommends infused water, almond milk, or fresh fruit or vegetable juices as a great way to get additional minerals and fluids while breastfeeding.
Timing is everything.
Planning your workout as a nursing mother can be tricky because you are actually planning around a baby’s feeding schedule. “If you are nursing frequently, you may want to time your workout right after a feeding or pumping so that your breasts are emptier,” suggests Aaptiv trainer Kira Kohrherr.
But even though making time for both may be complicated, it is definitely not impossible. Keep the type and duration of exercise in mind, as these are two factors most likely to affect your ability to fit it all in. For example, a long outdoor run may require nursing breaks or pumping before (remember Anna Young’s viral photo?) and after, versus a quick strength training session at home while the baby is napping.
The key is to think ahead and do what works for your schedule and your family. Also, don’t stress about it too much: there will be days when the timing is off, or the workout doesn’t happen, and that’s okay. You’re doing your best.
Ease into any fitness routine.
McFaden says an ideal breastfeeding workout for nursing moms may be something low-impact, such as yoga, pilates, circuit training, and water aerobics. But it does differ for everyone. Some moms, for example, can start running at a slower pace while breastfeeding.
“I know moms who got back into marathon training while nursing, so I think it depends on the mom,” notes Kohrherr. She suggests thinking about what type of exercise you were doing before and during pregnancy, as well as making sure any fitness program is cleared by your physician going forward. The best workouts for breastfeeding moms focus on keeping exercise during breastfeeding safe.
“For any postpartum mother, easing into a workout program is a must,” says Cunningham. “Your body has just been through an incredible transformation and hormones can be all over the place. Because of that, certain things like paying attention to joint pain or overly stretched or tight muscles is a big deal and should be assessed prior to starting.”
Related: View our safe pregnancy workouts >>
Staying active is good “me” time for new mamas.
A brand new baby is incredibly easy to prioritize above everything else, but don’t forget the value of self-care in the middle of this major life shift. Exercise can help you feel and be your best, both mentally and physically. Kohrherr adds that staying active is great for moms because it increases endorphins, aids in digestion and sleep, and allows for “me” time.
“Staying active while breastfeeding is so important for moms to make sure they are taking care of themselves,” says McFaden. “Exercise can help breastfeeding moms get into a healthy routine, lose weight, tone the body, and help hormone regulation. Also, a healthy mama means a healthy family.”
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