This is part two of Breastfeeding and Running. You can read the first part of this post here. I joke that breastfeeding is an endurance sport of its own, and it’s partly true. Breastfeeding demands a lot on the body, and it requires proper fueling in order to “finish well”. Part 1 describes more of the initial things that I discovered as a breastfeeding momma, and Part 2 gets more into racing and training.
Training and Racing
I am eight months postpartum, and I have been training and racing since 8 weeks postpartum. At eight weeks, I ran a half marathon, and since then I have run two marathons, one 50k, one 10 miler, and a 10k. Everyone is different, but I have not experienced any dips in my supply through training and racing to this degree. If anything, I have been able to pump more milk in the days after a race, and I attribute this to an increase in the endorphins from the run. Did you know that endorphins raise the body’s level of prolactin, and these endorphins can actually pass through the breast milk to the baby?! Pretty neat, huh? Just another reason to go for a run!
I have heard some reports that lactic acid can increase in breast milk after high intensity exercise, but Cadence has not shown any preference whatsoever. This study found that lactic acid does not impede infant acceptance of breastmilk, but every baby is different, and if you find that your baby does not like the taste of your workout milk, you may need to pump and give a bottle of stashed milk. You may also try wiping the sweat from your skin, as the baby may taste your sweat and have an aversion. Again, Cadence has never indicated that she notices that her momma is all sweaty and hot, so you may not have any issues either!
I have yet to pump in the middle of a race, as the longest race that I have participated in so far was about 5 hours (50k). For this race, I pumped at my house prior to leaving, drove 30 minutes to the course, ran, and then pumped in my car directly after finishing the race. It was probably about a 6 hour space of time at a little over 3 months postpartum, and my breasts were full, but not uncomfortable. It is amazing that in the midst of pushing my body on a run, it continues to produce milk for my little baby! During the Boston Marathon, I pumped/nursed about 29 ounces from the time that I woke up to the time that I finished the race and pumped again. That is a lot of milk production combined with a marathon, but it just goes to show that women can race and breastfeed at the same time! (I PR’d at Boston 6 months postpartum.)
Nutrition and Hydration
I have found that maintaining my nutrition has been the biggest component to keeping my supply consistent. I do not notice a dip in breast milk with prolonged exercise, but I do notice a dip if I am not eating a lot of food. (Everyone is different, but lots of food is the key for me.) It also goes without saying that hydration is a key component for being able to produce breast milk, but if I drink a lot of fluids without the calories included, I notice a few ounce reduction when I pump at work.
From what I can tell, every four ounces of breast milk is about 88 kilocalories (KellyMom records one ounce of breast milk at 22 kcal.) This article estimates that the daily energy expenditure for exclusive breastfeeding is about 626 kcal per day for 25 ounces. That translates to about 100 kcal for every 4 ounces. As we have already discovered through pregnancy, every woman is different, but it is evident that the calories required to produce nutrition for your baby also require a lot of calories from you!
For some women, breastfeeding makes it easier to lose the pregnancy weight. For others, the body retains fat stores as a protective effort to ensure that the baby will always be provided for. I did not have a problem returning to my pre-pregnancy weight quickly, but if you do feel that you want to try to diet while breastfeeding, this article found that a caloric deficit of 35% did not affect lactation (I have found the opposite to be true for me).
When I talk about nutrition and breastfeeding, I wish that I could say that I am a healthy eater so that my baby only gets the best. Part of that statement is true: my baby does get the best because our bodies give our babies just the nutrition that they need (did you know that your baby’s saliva goes into the nipple, and the body can detect what antibodies your baby needs on a daily basis?!). However, I am a candy-oholic, so my nutrition is a mixture of good fruits and vegetables, plus a few candy bars. Either way, I make sure to snack a lot and get in the calories that I need.
This section was a sidenote, as I tried on my hydration vest tonight and realized that I have to loosen the straps to fit around my large breasts. I used be a very happy flat chested runner, sports bra optional. Now I can’t head out the door without lots of compression. Large breasts add weight, and with breastfeeding, this weight can vary depending on how recently you nursed. If you ran through pregnancy, you know the affects of added weight when it comes to pace. This article notes that an additional ten pounds can result in a cost of 20 seconds per mile, so 2 seconds per mile per pound. I have easily pumped a pound of breast milk at a time! From my chest! A large chest can also cause your posture to hunch forward, which makes the running stride less efficient. This article discusses large chested running, but with breastfeeding, the implications can vary with the time of day.
If you are new to your running and breastfeeding journey, please be encouraged! I have found breastfeeding to be the most rewarding thing that I have ever done, and the sacrifices only make me a better runner and a better mother.
Has anyone else had similar experiences with breastfeeding and running?
If you have already weaned, did you notice a big difference in your running after you stopped breastfeeding?