What you should know about exercise while breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be a very special chapter in motherhood, but it can also be the source of many new concerns. Amid all the questions that becoming a parent brings, you may be wondering, does exercise decrease your breast milk supply? Don’t worry; You’re not alone. Many moms have shared the same concern with me, but research has debunked the misconception regarding exercise while breastfeeding.

Studies show that moderate exercise does not reduce breast milk supply; in fact, it can increase human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in breast milk. What’s so special about HMOs in breast milk? Research finds that HMOs significantly influence the development of the baby’s gut microflora and immune system. The same study indicates that colostrum, the nutrient-rich milk produced in the first two to four days after birth, has a higher concentration of HMOs than mature milk, signifying its importance in your baby’s diet.

While your workouts shouldn’t affect your lactation, improper nutrition definitely can. And believe me, I get it. I have been in her shoes and have worked with countless mothers who identify. The infant stage can be challenging, and their needs often take a backseat. However, for the benefit of you and your baby, it is essential that you provide your body with the nutrition it needs.

Nutritional needs during lactation

Have you ever heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? It’s true for many aspects of motherhood, but it almost literally speaks to breastfeeding. According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, breastfeeding increases the nutritional needs of the average mother by about 330 to 400 calories per day, depending on the stage of lactation. Not meeting those increased energy needs can put her breast milk supply at risk.

If exercise is new to your wellness routine, you’ll need to consider the calories you burn with each exercise during the postpartum phase. Motherhood pulls you in so many different directions. Making sure you’re getting the nutrition you need can take a little planning and prep work. Try to prepare meals and snacks that you can take on the go or enjoy while nursing your little one.

In addition to nutritious meals and snacks, it’s also important to have water on hand, especially if you’re losing fluids through sweat. Allyson Curley, a registered nurse and international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, highlights the importance of hydration while breastfeeding. “Staying well hydrated is good for a mother’s overall health,” she says, “but it can also help ensure that she is better equipped physically to produce an adequate supply of breast milk.”

The best forms of exercise while breastfeeding

Moms should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week during pregnancy and postpartum, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and routines exercise can be resumed gradually after pregnancy, once cleared by your doctor.

Power walking, light jogging, biking, swimming, and even gardening, yard work, or a more strenuous vinyasa yoga flow can all count as moderate aerobic exercise as long as it gets your heart rate up. A good rule of thumb is that if you can still talk and carry on a conversation while doing cardio, then you are in a moderate intensity zone.

To help motivate yourself, “set sustainable goals that focus on rebuilding core strength and getting back to your favorite activities,” suggests Brittany Shimansky, a professional dancer turned celebrity fitness trainer and CEO of the Britsbarre virtual studio. She also highly recommends working with a certified prenatal/postnatal trainer to ensure your workouts are designed with postpartum modifications in mind. For example, during the first few weeks after delivery, Shimansky suggests focusing on breathing exercises, pelvic floor activation, and short walks at a leisurely pace.

Here’s some basic postpartum training to help you get started:

Breastfeeding moms may find it helpful to breastfeed before starting their workout, and finding the right sports bra can make all the difference. Look for a bra that provides adequate structural support without being too tight. Finally, if your baby is ready to nurse before you’ve had a chance to shower, you might consider rinsing the breast to remove the salty taste of her sweat and help her latch on.

TL;DR? Research has shown that exercise doesn’t reduce your breast milk supply, but it can help boost your baby’s immunity. Inadequate nutritional intake, on the other hand, can affect breast milk production. Breastfeeding increases your nutritional needs by about 330 to 400 calories per day.

Of course, it is important to remember that this article is not a substitute for medical advice. Nutritional needs are individualized and general guidelines do not apply to everyone. If you have questions about nutrition and exercise while breastfeeding, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist.

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