Breastfeeding and Running: an endurance sport of its own, Part 2

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!

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I ran my first race at 8 weeks postpartum on very little sleep!

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.)

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I had to pack my breast pump as part of my race day gear for the Boston Marathon

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!

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Part of being a working mom is that I have to pump at work, but this means that I GET to feed my baby breast milk while she is in daycare.

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.

Ergonomics

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.

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Most of my training runs end with a nursing session.  Cadence does not seem to mind a sweaty momma!

 

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?

Breastfeeding and Running: an endurance sport of its own, Part 1

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.

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Breastfeeding Cadence has been one of the most special things I have ever experienced

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!

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I found that I was more sore when I lifted weights after giving birth

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.)

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One of many interrupted workouts.  Now I consider myself lucky for more time to snuggle.

Sleep

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.

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I love my mornings with Cadence, especially the first feeding of the day when she is still so sleepy and all smiles. I wouldn’t trade this time for the world.

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!   

Being a Mother Runner: 10 things I’ve learned about postpartum running (and how crazy cool our bodies are)

I continue to be amazed at the human body, especially after having a baby and breastfeeding.  As I’ve said before, running makes me so much more aware of my body, and postpartum running is no exception.  I returned to running about four weeks postpartum, and it didn’t take long to realize that I was returning at a faster pace than my pre-pregnancy self. (Don’t get discouraged if you have had a slow return!  Everyone is different!)  I have a biomedical engineering background, and I love to understand the science behind what is happening to my body (part of why I love running), so below I’ve listed my top ten favorite lessons about my postpartum running journey so far at seven months in. Just like every pregnancy is different, every postpartum experience is different too. I’d love to know how much you relate to my journey. If you are not a postpartum runner, you may still enjoy learning about how our body uses biological feedback to keep things running!

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1. The Golden Leash: When I was pregnant, I was aware that it would take a little work to get back to my pre-pregnancy state, but I did not at all anticipate how breastfeeding would delay any possibility of truly returning to a pre-pregnancy state as long as I was still “growing a baby” through breastfeeding.  First, I’ve always enjoyed being small chested, where cheap sports bras were sufficient.  Not so with breastfeeding. I cried at my first attempt at a run when I realized how uncomfortable large, unreinforced breasts are (sorry to my big chested friends!). Supportive sports bras have since fixed that problem, but I am still aware that the added weight can affect my stature and create added stress to my back (that varies depending on the last feeding).

Perhaps the biggest component to consider with breastfeeding and running is the energy expenditure required to sustain a baby through breastmilk.  This research article found that about 26 ounces of breastmilk requires about 625 calories. Fueling properly for a run means that it is necessary to both eat enough fuel and hydrate a lot.  If you read my Boston Marathon write-up, you’ll see that I produced a lot of breastmilk throughout that marathon day.

Lastly, breastfeeding is a golden leash when your baby eats every three hours.  I’ve given up trails for the most part other than special occasions (drive time is too much), and I have had to set my expectations for long runs to either be broken up to nurse in between, or I just run for about three hours at a time.  But, the rewards of breastfeeding far outweigh any challenges to that are imposed on running!

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Pumping at work is a blessing and a curse.

2. Nutrition and Hydration: This follows breastfeeding but it deserves a separate bullet point because it impacts my life so much, especially as an endurance runner.  I am hungry all of the time!  Between my work-outs and breastfeeding, I have to make sure that I get the nutrition and hydration that I need. I really like Matt Fitzgerald’s agnostic diet approach to eating a balance of foods.  I go to bed with a big glass of water by my bed, and first thing in the morning, I drink another big glass. I am very aware of getting the protein that I need, but I also focus on good carbs, vegetables, and fruits.  I also eat a lot of chocolate candy and desserts, which is something that I am going to work on. As for carbs, I have started eating only whole grain breads that have been made with freshly milled wheat.  Freshly milled grains contain 40 of the 44 nutrients essential to the body, and I feel so much better putting good nutrients into my body.  Luckily for me, my mom mills her own wheat and has started feeding my bread habit, literally!

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Freshly milled wheat makes for delicious, healthy bread

3. Blood Vessels: During pregnancy, blood volume increases up to 40% to help provide nutrients and oxygen exchange for a growing baby. Along with an increased blood volume, blood vessels remodel to redistribute blood flow to the baby.  Once the baby is born, blood volume decreases pretty quickly, but the vessels remain in place until the hormones and chemicals signal for them to return to their pre-pregnancy state. While the vessels exist in the body, they are able to provide greater oxygen exchange to the muscles, potentially creating a better running environment in the body. I found that I was faster postpartum, part of which is attributed to the increased blood flow in my body.  Anecdotally, I have been told that it is possible to maintain some of this vascular advantage if you use it.  So run!

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I ran a half marathon with my husband 8 weeks postpartum.

4. Hormones and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): This entry could be very long, so I’ll stick to estrogen and DOMS.  Hormones are what signaled your body to create an environment to grow a baby, so it is no surprise that hormones have a huge influence postpartum.  There are many hormones that affect the postpartum body, but one of the first effects that I noticed had to do with estrogen.  During some of my first strength training sessions postpartum, I noticed that I was much more sore than typical.  Come to find out, postpartum and during lactation, estrogen levels drop significantly.  It is estrogen that protects muscles from delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, so what I was feeling was exactly right given my hormone levels.

5. Sleep, what’s that?: Similar to hormones, this entry could be super long, but I’ll save that for another post.  The book Sleep for Success by Dr. James Maas states that well rested athletes are about 20% quicker at performing physical tasks than those that lack adequate rest.  There are critical muscle growth and recovery steps that only occur when the body is able to enter specific stages of sleep.  Sleep is an area in which I have been deficient since Cadence was born.  Between being a typical baby and catching colds at daycare, it is a rare, good night for Cadence to go 5 hours without waking. We had a few months where Cadence woke up 8-10 times a night, and I was waking up to care for her at night, running in the morning, and going to work throughout this period.

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Don’t be deceived.  Sleep is not something that comes easily in our house!

6. Gait changes- the things your jeans won’t tell you: Researchers have found that postpartum runner hips can remain wider even after having delivered the baby. This article describes a study that found that the pelvis remains unstable for up to a year after birth, and this instability can cause pain and injuries, as the connective tissues and muscles were stretched during pregnancy. Squats, planks, and bridges help activate the muscles to help strengthen the areas that were weakened.  I have included these moves in my weekly strength work, but every now and then, I still notice that my inner thighs are strained on a run.

7. Pace, because life certainly doesn’t slow down now that you have a baby: Don’t be discouraged if you did not return to running at a faster pace.  Many women take years to get back to their pre-pregnancy pace depending on each individual pregnancy and postpartum experience.  I have found that I am a bit faster post-partum, and I’ve enjoyed exploring the reasons why.  As I mentioned with the blood vessel entry, added vessels can contribute to increased speed.  Two other notable factors can also contribute to faster postpartum running. Most women who deliver babies take a break from running during their recovery, short or long, and this time of rest is said to help the body recover from any overtraining issues, thus making for a stronger comeback.  I waited 9 days before I returned to working out, so I am not certain how much I took advantage of this factor.  The other factor that can help increase pace is hard work.  After having been pregnant for 40 weeks, I appreciated every postpartum mile that I worked to get back into shape.  I have returned to running with a renewed motivation and appreciation for running, and a faster time is just the icing on the cake.

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I got second place female at a local 10k five months postpartum.

8. Priorities: Having a baby has undoubtedly changed my priorities.  I am a mother who runs.  I’ve learned to give myself more grace and to not pay as much attention to the numbers.  Most days, I’d rather run with the jogging stroller at a slower pace with multiple stops than to go out on a fast run. My family is my number one priority.  But I also still love running, and keeping that part of my identity has been really important to me as I adjust to being a new mom. As a new mom, it is important to prioritize time for yourself, whether that be through running or through reading a good book.  I believe that running has made me a better mom and wife.

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I love running even more as a mother!

9. When things come apart, diastasis recti: An undeniable change that occurs during pregnancy is the balloon shaped belly that women acquire over time.  Growing a baby stretches everything and shifts all of your organs inside of your abdomen.  When the muscles on either side of the belly shift apart, the gap in between is called diastasis recti, or ab separation.  All pregnant women will get ab separation, but some of them go back to normal quickly, while others always have a little gap between their muscles.  Specific core work can help the body to return to normal more quickly, and it is advised that you do not start any exercise routines without first talking to your doctor. I followed my doctor’s direction with exercise throughout pregnancy and afterwards, but I still have a little gap of ab separation.  I learned last Friday that I also have a very small hernia, which is where a weakness in the fascia between my abs has acquired a small hole.  (I’m having surgery soon to fix this.) Despite being intentional to improve diastasis recti, I still have some work to do.  The hernia is not at all related to my exercise routine.  It just happens.  And sometimes that is how things are.

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The hernia is really small along the midline of my belly above my belly button

10. Prayer: Running has always made me feel closer to God, but I especially feel like that now that I have been blessed with our amazing baby.  I like to use my time on my runs to pray to God, and I always feel a renewed clarity and hopefulness after a good run.  God wants to know our hopes and dreams, even if we only pray for a good run!  As silly as it seems, I have prayed many times for God to make me a good runner, heal an injury, or calm my mind for a race.  When I give glory to God during my run, I view it as a form of worship to the One who created our bodies to run.  After learning about all of the amazing ways that our bodies are able to respond to pregnancy and postpartum recovery while running, how can we not worship Him?!

Are you a postpartum runner?  What are your biggest lessons learned on this journey?