Early in my breastfeeding journey, I set a goal to try to breastfeed Cadence for a full year. We’ve made it eight months (eight months!), and I have found breastfeeding to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, albeit a huge sacrifice and a lot of work. I knew very little about breastfeeding when I was pregnant, and the reality was pretty shocking to me at first. All through pregnancy, I had the idea in my head that I would be able to get my body back after pregnancy. Little did I know that breastfeeding is just an extension of growing a baby, only the baby is outside of the womb instead of inside.
I mentioned breastfeeding in my post, Being a Mother Runner: 10 things I’ve learned about postpartum running (and how crazy cool our bodies are) but I’ll go into more detail here and hopefully share an experience that may help you. This is a pretty big subject, so I’m breaking the topic into two posts. You can read Part 2 here. Note that I am not a doctor, and you should always talk to your doctor about any questions you may have.
Hormones: first the basics
Hormones are what triggered the cascade of events that told your body to start forming your little baby in your belly, and they are what also tell your body to start lactating. When you first start to produce milk, your body is taking signals from your hormones. After you deliver the placenta, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop drastically, which triggers prolactin to be released. Prolactin is the hormone that maintains milk production. Another important hormone involved in breastfeeding is oxytocin, which is released to help with milk let-down.
After lactation has been established, the body starts to produce milk based on when the baby empties the breast (supply and demand), as opposed to being solely hormone driven. Even with supply and demand driving milk production, prolactin remains high while you continue to breastfeed, and this suppresses ovulation. While ovulation is suppressed, normal estrogen levels are decreased.
Relaxin is another hormone that was increased during pregnancy, but remains in the postpartum body as long as the mother continues to breastfeed. Relaxin makes tendons and ligaments more elastic, or “bendier”, so joints may be looser and balance less stable.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
I started lifting weights within two weeks of having Cadence, and I noticed that I was much more sore than typical. This was surprising to me because I had lifted weights throughout pregnancy. I have since discovered that it is estrogen that protects muscles from delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and estrogen levels are decreased after giving birth. Estrogen levels will continue to be suppressed during lactation. I am now eight months post-partum, and I do not notice DOMS quite as much. I do not know if my estrogen levels have increased, or if I don’t remember what normal felt like. Probably a little bit of both!
The Full Cup
My first experience running post partum left me in tears for a different reason than I had ever imagined (because I was totally unprepared for breastfeeding). I am an over producer, and my breasts were always full for the first few weeks. Running with my old sports bras did not give me nearly the support that I needed. Very quickly, I ordered maximum support sports bras, and I’ve been good to go since. I have heard of people wearing two bras at once, but I have not needed to do this. Before longer weekend runs, I make sure to nurse as close to my departure time, and I also like to pump any excess milk. This can make my body think that it needs to produce more milk for the imaginary baby, but it is worth it to me to run less inhibited by big boobs.
The Golden Leash
Breastfeeding is a huge blessing, but it is also a huge sacrifice. Newborns eat about every two hours, and infants eat about every three hours. Cadence is eight months old, and she still eats every three hours, giving me a few longer stretches at night. I have learned to relax when a workout gets interrupted by a hungry baby, and my runs typically don’t last longer than 3 hours out the door. I love to trail run, but my trail running is mostly limited to the few local races where I don’t have to spend the night away from home. That is my choice, as my husband is perfectly capable of giving a bottle. I work during the week, so pumping and bottle feeding are not my top choice for Cadence on the weekends if we don’t have to go that route. (My husband has encouraged me to get out for longer periods of time on the trails for my sanity’s sake though.)
Speaking of nursing every 3 hours, that also impacts momma’s sleep! According to KellyMom and every other source out there, breastfed babies often wake more at night. Their little bodies are able to digest breast milk within two hours, and they are more likely to wake up ready for a midnight snack. My baby was a pretty terrible sleeper until after she turned six months old. Every baby is different. I thought that I would have a mental breakdown from my lack of sleep, and there is no telling what my body was having to do to keep up with my workouts during that time. (I was training for the Boston Marathon, and ran it at 6 months postpartum.)
Cadence was constantly sick for the first three months after she started daycare, and I was up with her 8-10 times a night, every night, for months, while training, and going to work. I would never recommend that you forfeit sleep if you do not have to, but if you are a mom to a bad sleeper, please be encouraged that I made it, and you will too! Moms are made of tough stuff! All of that being said, sleep is extremely important in keeping your body in homeostasis, reducing stress and allowing your body to recover from having a baby, and repairing any muscle damage and/or growth.
I’m going to stop here and continue later this week with the second post. I’d love to hear if your experience has been similar to mine!