10 Tips for Exercising and Breastfeeding

If you’ve been nervous about resuming exercise post-baby due to concerns of how it may impact your milk supply, you can relax!  It is a myth that exercise decreases milk production. Studies have shown absolutely no difference in milk production or nutrient composition between mothers who exercise, and those who do not.  Moreover, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that “regular aerobic exercise in lactating mothers has been shown to increase cardiovascular fitness without affecting milk production, composition, or infant growth.”  That said, it’s a good idea to follow the 10 tips below to help both you and your little one have a better experience when nursing and working out.

  1. Feed your baby or pump prior to exercise to avoid exercise discomfort or engorged breasts.
  2. Wear a supportive, and well-fitted bra! Your breasts are larger and more sensitive, so proper support is imperative.  Bras that compress are better than those that lift.  However, it is also important to make sure the bra is not too small or too tight, as this can cause pain and impede milk production.  Try buying a bra from a store that will help fit you.
  3. Put on the bra just before exercising, and change it immediately afterward, to avoid discomfort or inhibition of milk production.
  4. It is best to take a shower after exercising, or at least rinse your breasts before nursing, as your baby might reject the salty taste of sweat on your breasts.
  5. If you develop a plugged duct, cut back on exercise, and resume more slowly once the duct is cleared.
  6. STOP exercise if you happen to develop mastitis (an inflammation of the breast often accompanied by pain, heat, redness, as well as fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms), and speak with your doctor, as this is an infection.
  7. Nursing requires an additional 300 – 500 calories per day. You will need more if you are exercising, underweight, or feeding more than one baby.  These additional calories should come from nutrient-dense foods (not empty calories like sweets, white breads, and pasta), and can be added in the form of 3-4 light snacks during the day (i.e. unsweetened yogurts, cottage cheese, avocado, turkey, fruit and nut butter, etc).  Do not try to significantly reduce your calories in an effort to lose weight.  Following the 300-500 additional calorie guideline will still help you lose weight due to the increase in your metabolism.
  8. Stay hydrated!  Drink water before, during, and after exercise, and also have a glass within reach while nursing, as your body needs more water.  One helpful way to check if you are getting adequate hydration is to examine the color of your urine.  It should be pale (straw colored) to clear.  If your urine is darker or yellower, this is a sign of dehydration.
  9. Be careful about “nursing posture.” Nursing often naturally places you in a hunched and rounded forward position (especially because many of us spend a good portion of the nursing session looking down at our little ones, or our phones).  When you think about the sheer amount of time you spend in this position each day, it’s easy to see how it can lead to some upper body postural problems, along with upper back and neck pain.  Try to remain conscious of sitting tall (with proper back support so you remain comfortable) in good neutral alignment.
  10. If your baby is rejecting your milk post-workout, wait 30 minutes.  In a small minority of women, very high-intensity anaerobic exercise may increase lactic acid levels in breast milk enough to cause a sour taste and decrease infant suckling.  If this happens, try pumping and discarding the breast milk for the immediate 30 minutes following exercise (this is the amount of time it takes for lactic acid to clear the breast).  Or, consider simply waiting 30 minutes following exercise to nurse your baby.