When I was pregnant I knew that I wanted to breastfeed Axel, but my biggest concern was whether or not my milk supply was going to be able to keep up with his demand while I was training. This was my number one concern when talking to the lactation nurses and other moms who train. Oddly enough, the nurses did not have a lot of information, advice, or knowledge about how endurance training might impact the quantity—and quality—of my milk supply. This surprised me considering the fact that I live in one of the most recreational places on the planet.
When I researched this question online, it seemed like a topic that was kind of left in the dark. Surely I wasn’t the only one concerned about how to balance all the demands of breastfeeding while training for an Ironman (or other endurance event). My main worries were centered on these questions:
- Would training decrease my milk supply?
- What was it going to feel like physically to train while maintaining a good supply? Would I fatigue easily? Would it feel uncomfortable? As a new mom, I had no idea what to expect.
- Would high intensity exercise interfere with the taste of my milk?
I found this article from the Ironman website and a number of blogs sharing experiences, but not a lot of actual research. Most of the scientific research focuses more on weight loss while breastfeeding and exercising. Given the fact that a lot of new moms get back into exercise right away, I was a little shocked that there isn’t more information out there.
I’ve had a lot of women ask me, both via the blog and in person, how I maintain an ample milk supply, feed Axel, and still make time for training. As many women know, nursing a baby takes a lot of time and energy, as does everything else related to it such as pumping, storing, cleaning bottles, etc.
I have found that with all things related to taking care of a baby, eventually you find your groove and breastfeeding is no different once you learn your baby’s feeding patterns and develop a routine. All babies are different, and there isn’t a single solution as they may require different needs throughout the day. Axel is a very enthusiastic eater and has no patience for my letdown (unless it is morning), so I have found myself more attached to the pump than I would like to be. In fact, since December, Axel has had a strong preference for the bottle, which leaves me pumping 6 or 7 times a day.
Yes, 6 or 7 times a day, every day. I honestly never thought I would have the patience or willpower to stick with it as long as I have, but it’s become so routine that I don’t really think about it too much. In fact, I think bottle feeding actually gives me the flexibility to train at various times throughout the day. Because Axel takes the bottle, I am able to get out and not worry about feeding on demand.
Of course, this requires me to carefully schedule my pumping around my workout schedule. Typically, I will pump right before I head out the door for a run or swim. Cycling isn’t as much of an issue right now because I am on the trainer (unless we have an occasional nice day) and my upper body remains fairly still. Once I start riding outside and upping the mileage and duration of my rides, I will have to take time into consideration. Usually, I can get away with 4-5hrs (MAX) before feeling really uncomfortable. I know women are different in this regard and some can tolerate longer periods between feedings or pumping sessions.
The most common question I get asked is how I am able keep my milk supply up with all my training. When I am training 1-3 hours a day, six days a week, it burns A LOT of calories. Thankfully, my milk supply has generally not been affected by my training, and I attribute this to food consumption and hydration. If for some reason I unintentionally skip a meal or don’t drink enough fluids on any given day, I do see a sudden decrease in my supply, which quickly reminds me to eat and drink.
So, the simple answer → I eat and drink A LOT. And when I say a lot, I mean it. On a typical rest day, when I do not have a workout on my schedule, I drink roughly 125oz of water. I know this because I drink it out of my hospital bottle (could not get rid of this little beauty) and keep track. I also eat somewhere between 2000 and 2500 calories. On the days when I have a workout or two on my schedule, I drink as much as 175oz of water (some of this is Gatorade) and eat around 3000-3500 calories. This just helps me maintain weight, as I have no desire to lose any more weight at this point in time.
This may sound strange, but I actually find it very difficult at times to eat 3000 calories in one day. Yes, I could go out and splurge on cupcakes and donuts (which I have), but I am trying to consume the right calories and for the most part I want them to have high nutritious value. When you are juggling a baby on top of everything else, it can be really easy to forget about eating so I’ve had to get really creative and be mindful of my snacking, food choices, and how often I eat throughout the day. Can anyone else out there relate?
Because I can be a creature of habit, these are my go-to foods I eat almost every day (if any of you have suggestions for good calorie dense snacks, please share!):
Oatmeal and Cranberry
Baked Sweet Potato
Peanut Butter – either by spoon or as part of a PB&J
Granola Bar or Trailmix
Coffee (does this count?)
Toast with avocado and sea salt –> THIS IS THE BEST
I struggle working out on a full stomach or after eating a big meal. Can you scream side stitch? Therefore, I typically graze and snack all day long, and eat foods that are calorie dense, not super filling, and good for Axel as they get passed to him through my breast milk. I am also good about replenishing calories both during and after my workouts.
As a means of supplementing what Axel gets from me, and in preparation for weaning him over time, we recently started introducing some solid foods such as pureed avocado, sweet potato, banana, and pear (like mother, like son), and experimented with formula to see how he would respond. As the amount of solid foods and formula he consumes increases, his demand for breast milk will slowly decrease and I will eventually find myself pumping less and less. But that will happen slowly, and until it does I will continue to juggle the unique demands of being both a breastfeeding mom and an endurance athlete.
To summarize and answer the questions I posed above, training does not appear to have decreased the quantity or quality of my supply. Nor has it led to fatigue (isn’t fatigue just part of being a mom?) or made me feel uncomfortable during my workouts… although, I do recommend investing in a good sports bra for obvious reasons. I only wear SOAS sports bras and they are amazing! Axel also doesn’t seem bothered by the taste of my post-exercise milk either. Again, it’s all about finding what works for you and your baby and adapting.
Any healthy snack-type foods you would recommend? What is your ALL TIME favorite food to snack on?
Moms out there – what has been your experience with breastfeeding and exercise?