Ultra breastfeeding

I never fully appreciated the affect of hormones until I got pregnant in 2015.  Holy moly.IMG_20150612_210946272 Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows what I’m talking about. Everything. Everything changes. And it happens pretty quickly as that tiny little poppyseed starts dividing cells.

Fast forward to after you’ve given labor and that watermelon is out of your belly. All normal, right? Nope!  If you choose to breastfeed, you are in for a whole new ride of hormonal bliss.  Yeah, bliss because that oxytocin is the real deal for happiness. There are also a lot of other things involved that can make you not so happy, so don’t start counting your chickens just yet.

About a year ago when I started this blog, I wrote about breastfeeding and running.  My experiences today are a bit different than they were when Cadence was a few months old, so I thought I’d add an update.  I’ve really relied on other mommas and their experiences with running, so I hope my story will help someone else figure out this whole breastfeeding and running journey.  As of today, Cadence is 19 months old, and we’re still breastfeeding. Some people call this extended breastfeeding, but the World Health Organization actually recommends that mothers worldwide breastfeed up to two years and beyond if possible.

First, let me say that breastfeeding is a very individual experience, and everyone’s bodies and babies are different.  Some people choose not to breastfeed or have another challenge that keeps them from breastfeeding.  Whatever I say in this post, mommas, don’t take anything personally.  The great thing about having our own babies is that we get to choose how we want to parent. We’re all in this together!

Frequency of breastfeeding with a toddler

At about 16 months, I stopped pumping at work, and we figured out a way to help Cadence sleep better at night (thank you hot husband).  So now I nurse once in the morning, once after daycare, once before bed, and once in the night (4x). I’m not quite ready to drop the night time feed, even though I know how delicious a complete night of sleep would be.  I really think that one of the reasons I have had such a solid supply is because Cadence has been a terrible sleeper, and I’ve nursed her a lot in the night when she wakes up screaming.  Prolactin hormone levels are highest at night for milk production, and our bodies learn to keep up with the demands.

Training as an extended breastfeeding mom

When I first started breastfeeding, I was absolutely affected by the need to pump or nurse a baby. For one, my boobs were full and uncomfortable, and two, baby’s gotta eat! Now that we are a little further on this journey, my cup size has gone way down (I can wear my old sports bras!), and I don’t nurse Cadence during the day, so training really isn’t affected.  I still take nutrition and hydration into account, but without the day time feedings, I feel much more like  normal person.  My volume of training hasn’t changed much. I still do about 50-70 miles a week with 3 nights of strength training. My running intensity is generally very high, and this has not affected my supply.

Racing as an extended breastfeeding mom

I’ve raced a few marathons (here is Boston and here is my sub 3 hour race in January) and ultra marathons (8 hour here, 100 mile here, and 100k here) since having Cadence.  My most notable breastfeeding performance was pumping throughout my first 100 mile race when Cadence had just turned one year old.  I recommend a hand pump for every (lactating) female athlete. It gives so much freedom to train and compete when you aren’t stuck next to a wall with an electric pump. I exclusively pumped with a handheld pump throughout all of my working and training days, and I have a freezer full of breastmilk to show for it.

If you pump during a race and plan to use the milk, be careful of how much caffeine you consume. Some fueling products include caffeine or other supplements that might not be safe for baby. Be aware that you will need to hydrate and fuel to compensate for the nutrition that is being diverted to feed that baby.  Aren’t our bodies incredible?!

I recently tested my first non-pumping ultra in April at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, and everything went fine.  I nursed Cadence the morning of the race, started at 6 am, and didn’t finish until around 7:30 pm.  All fine without pumping.  That evening, I was able to nurse Cadence without any issue. I have never had any problems with not having enough breastmilk to nurse Cadence after an ultra race, although I might not have had my usual oversupply.  For some of the shorter distances, I have actually noticed a bump in supply at times, and I attribute this to endorphins signaling to produce more milk (just like stress can have the opposite effect).  Everybody’s different here, but thankfully, I’ve never had to choose between racing and breastfeeding.

Hormones as an extended breastfeeding mom

They say that as long as you are still breastfeeding, you are considered postpartum.  19 months is a long trip to be postpartum! I had my hormones checked in December, and everything in the panel was returned in the normal range. I got my period at 16 months, so for the most part, my hormones are regulated. In order to breastfeed, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels are depressed,  while oxytocin and prolactin are increased.  Now that my menstrual cycle has returned, my hormone levels are normal enough to signal the cascade of events for a regular cycle.  I’m not sure how this affects my performance since I still have hormones for breastfeeding as well.  I know that I will benefit from regular levels of testosterone and estrogen once I finally wean.

Future Plans with breastfeeding

I really don’t know how long we’ll keep breastfeeding.  I had no intention of going this long, but it’s worked for us, and I love the connection and nutrition that it provides for Cadence. Our approach to parenting has pretty much been “baby led” everything, and baby led weaning is no exception.  I think one of the biggest factors that has helped with motherhood and breastfeeding is that I have a husband who appreciates what we’ve done with breastfeeding and supports me when I need him.  I do think that I’ll perform better with running if I did not breastfeed because nutrition is such a key factor, and the body stores and uses carbohydrate differently according to hormonal signals.  This window to breastfeed is so short in Cadence’s life, and I’m thankful that we’re still on this ultra breastfeeding journey together.

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Anyone else out there have any stories of running and breastfeeding to share?

Unstructured training (break) between training

I’ve been enjoying a little unstructured time since my last race, and it’s been great to get extra sleep and decide how I’m feeling in the morning to determine what kind of workout or run I want to do. Cadence still does not sleep through the night at 19 months, and I feel like I’ll be digging myself out of this sleep deprivation hole until she graduates from high school.

My favorite runs have been with Cadence in the stroller, and I forgot how challenging that can be!  It’s so fun, but we haven’t done any high mileage together, and I think Cadence is at an age where she’s not about to fall asleep and risk the chance of missing anything. We ran 13 miles together on Saturday, which I managed to extend from our usual hour by bribing her with Cliff bar bites throughout the run.

I’ve been getting at least 45-60 min of cardio a day, as well as 3x upper body and 3x lower body strength work each week.  My legs don’t feel quite as fresh and fast as I’d like for them to be, but I have no goals this month that require for me to push hard, so I’m enjoying a little less speed and a little more baby time.

I plan to keep May unstructured and move back into training in June/July for non-goal races.  I am signed up for the Peachtree Road Race 10k on July 4, and I’m also running the San Francisco Marathon (as an elite!) on July 23.  Neither of these races are A goal races, but I want to perform well and have a good time.  There are a couple of other races that I’m considering, but nothing else on the calendar.

I will most definitely be focusing on road racing for a bit now that Gorge Waterfalls 100k is behind me.  I just don’t have the bandwidth to run on trails enough to be competitive on the technical stuff.  Plus, I really like road racing.

Based on my last race at Gorge, and my future goals, my two main areas of focus are 1. getting stronger on the hills (San Fransisco!) and 2. being mentally tough and confident.  I felt so strong for my sub 3 hour marathon in January, but it all kind of unraveled for me when I got out on the course of Gorge. But that’s how you grow. 🙂

There’s a quote by Alan Webb that I love: “Experience is something that you gain… after you need it so much.” So true, huh?

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What are you working on right now?