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?

Race Day with a Baby

I’ve heard from a lot of pregnant or new moms (mostly over Instagram) who say that they are relieved to see that my training days didn’t end when we had Cadence.  She’s been a great little buddy in the stroller or pack and play while I run.  And she likes to play in our basement while I do weights.

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That’s all great for training, but what do you do about race day?!  I have two races coming up in the next week (Saturday 8.9 mile trail run and Thursday Thanksgiving Half Marathon), so I thought it might be a good time to mention our experiences with race day and childcare.

  • Husband: If my husband isn’t racing, that’s a no brainer, and he watches the little dumpling. We brought Cadence to Boston with us when I was 6 months postpartum,
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    Boston Marathon Finish 2016, 6 months pp

    and Jon hung out with Cadence the whole day from the time that I loaded the buses until I finished my run.  They are the best spectators, my reward!

  • Crew: For the Yeti 100, my parents and husband watched Cadence and brought her to the aid station stops for me to soak up her goodness and get a little motivation.  I pumped at three of my crew stops, and it helped to see the baby and get a little baby love.
  • Daycare/babysitter:  For local races where Jon and I are both running, we use our daycare person to babysit.  Our daycare is an in-home facility down the street from our house, so this is very convenient.  It’s also a lot easier to ask a grown adult to babysit at 6:30 am instead of a teenager. 🙂  We just drop Cadence off on our way to the race, and she’s happy because it is familiar.

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    Yeti 100, mile 53, 1 yr pp

  • Grandparents: My first race postpartum was the Thanksgiving half marathon last year (I’m getting ready to run it again next week).  We had a house full of company, and everyone was getting up and running the race the next day.  Everyone except our 8 week old… So I spent the night with my parents 35 minutes away and got up race morning super early to drive back to my house and meet up with everyone else running the race.  I did not get much sleep at all that night, but that seems to be the trend for all of my races since Cadence was born.  Haha.  It was nice to see my parents briefly for Thanksgiving, and I always love to have my parents watching our baby. My mother in law hasn’t watched Cadence for races yet, but she has been super to come over on Sunday mornings to let Jon and me get in some of our runs together.  A little date on the run!

Those are our examples of our experiences with childcare and races, and here are a few other tips on racing with a baby:

About breastfeeding/pumping: I have run every distance from 5k to 100 miler while breastfeeding.  It goes without saying, pump before the race.  If we are driving to the start, I pump in the car.  For the Boston Marathon, I had to load the buses at 7 am, but my wave didn’t run for several more hours.  In that case, I packed a manual pump and visited the first aid tent to pump before the race.  For my ultra races like the Hot to Trot 8 hour race, I brought my manual pump and stopped to pump along the way.  Typically, I can go about 5 hours without pumping.  Lecithin is a great supplement to help you prevent getting clogged ducts. (I’m now at >1 year of breastfeeding, so I am not worried about supply and will start weaning sometime in the coming months.)

Running on no sleep: Oh my goodness!  I don’t even remember what a good night of sleep feels like!  I’ve really not ever gotten much sleep before a race, still waking up with Cadence several times in the night, plus waking up early to take care of her before packing up and heading out for a race.  But it’s always been ok.  I’m not advocating that sleep isn’t important, but if you find yourself sleepless the night before a race, don’t panic.  Just drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the run.  🙂

The reward: For all of the new challenges of figuring out logistics with a baby on race morning, it is absolutely worth  every little inconvenience!  You just figure out what works for you.  If you have a good support system, that makes it all the better.  There might be a season of local races, but those can be just as fun for a season.

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Has anyone traveled to a destination and hired a babysitter while at the site?  I have heard that some races and hotels offer referrals for race day childcare if both parents are running.

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!