Breastfeeding and Exercise

This information is provided as a general information and a guide only and clients are advised to consult with their own caregiver prior to beginning any exercise program.

Top Ten Tips for Safe and Effective Exercise for Breast feeding Mums.
Breastfeeding your baby is great for mum and baby but many women have questions about combining breastfeeding and returning to exercise without affecting either their own health or that of their precious little one. What are the top ten tips for exercising during this special time?

1. Exercise! And breast feed! Both have significant health benefits for you and your baby.

It is safe to commence, continue and or/increase exercise post natally. Develop lifelong habits now to benefit your own health and encourage your child/children to view exercise as a healthy lifestyle choice.

2. Seek appropriately qualified and experienced supervision of exercise in first 3-6 months.

Continue supervision if you have any ongoing post natal issues such as pelvic floor dysfunction, abdominal muscle separation, back or pelvic girdle pain, weight problems, breast feeding issues, wrist or hand pain, medical issues,etc. Seek help if you feel breast feeding is affected by exercise. Do not see this as an excuse to give up either exercise or feeding!! Note that physical changes from pregnancy and birth can persist post natally for several months even a year and beyond, so listen to your body and respond to its needs.

3. Drink when thirsty, but also before, during and after exercise.

Plain water is best. Around 2 L per day, more if hot, exercising, etc.

4. Eat for hunger.

Avoid eating around 1 hour prior to exercise. Lactation should promote weight loss as it takes more energy than not feeding, but this is variable. Women who feed frequently, and for longer tend to lose more weight than those who don’t feed in this way. A combination of a carefully monitored calorie restricted diet and moderate exercise has been shown to be safe and effective way to lose post baby weight once milk supply is established after 2 months or so. However, initially, establishment of a stable milk supply is desirable prior to increasing exercise levels and restricting dietary  intake. The goal in the early post natal period should be to exercise and eat at moderate levels unless weight is an immediate health issue. Research focuses on early post natal periods and it is difficult to make conclusions about weight loss when breastfeeding after 6-9 months. Women tend to compensate for increased exercise energy requirements and breast feeding requirements by maintaining energy intake. Many women who have been exercising without correct dieting find that those last couple of kilos are difficult to shift until they cease feeding. Hormonal influences are important in considering weight issues as are what type and when you eat. Seek the advice of a dietician who can help identify all relevant factors.

5. Exercise moderately for 30 minutes on most days of the week.

Build up gently from birth, 5-10 minutes initially every 2-3 days at a low intensity/effort increasing to 30 minutes or more at moderate intensity 3-5 x week. If all is progressing well with yours and baby’s health and milk supply is good then intensity can be carefully increased to more vigorous, providing baby is still happy to feed as usual. Exercise is best progressed after 3-6 months taking into account post natal recovery of pelvic floor, abdominals, etc.

6. Feed baby before exercise.

This reduces weight on your chest and back tissues and increases comfort. If baby wants feeding after exercise, this is safe and normal. There is no need to wait at all unless baby is fussy at breast. This could be due to several factors. The non exercise reasons are the same as for all times of fussiness, eg, distracted, change in appetite, change in milk supply due to solids introduction, etc. Please check with your ABA counsellor or Lactation consultant if unsure. Some babies don’t like sweat/salt on nipples, so if so gently wash in plain water prior to offering breast. Make sure you are getting let down and relax into feed post exercise. The occasional baby won’t like the taste of a substance that can be increased in milk post vigorous exercise (lactic acid) and you may need to wait for 30-60 minutes to offer breast again or offer EBM or other food/fluid as appropriate. This is uncommon despite what you may read and it is nothing to be concerned about. The original and early research in this area has been sensationalized and is not all that well designed therefore conclusions drawn from it must be qualified. Breast milk contains lactic acid anyway and babies’ guts are used to processing it! Also some studies have looked at immunologic factors in milk and found that one immune factor may be decreased after vigorous exercise but researchers conclude that this not an issue if it affects only a few feeds per week.

7. Life is a delicate balance!

Balance exercise, rest and recreation, family and relationship time, socializing and sleep!

8. Find exercise that you enjoy.

It doesn’t have to be about just health. Exercise can be fun if you find the right one for you. Find an exercise that you enjoy, even one that you can combine with baby or friends. Funky Mama Classes, walking, swimming,  dancing, cycling, taking the dog for a walk, returning to team sports etc…

9. Wear lace up supportive shoes.

Dress in layers of clothing so you can peel off layers to cool down. Exercise in a well ventilated environment.

10. Wear a supportive bra.

Maternity/ feeding bras are not designed for sports support. Some manufacturers combine feeding and sports needs. It may be more convenient and cost effective to offer baby breast prior to exercise and change bra if possible (too hard to wiggle out a sports bra in the middle of an aerobic session!) You can also use a crop top bra on top of feeding bra to reduce ‘bounce’.