Exercise and Breastfeeding

How Working Out Affects You, Your Baby, and Your Breast Milk

Breastfeeding and Working Out What You Need to Know
A Mommy and Me class is a great way to start an exercise program and socialize with other new moms. ChristopherFutcher/E+/Getty Images

Breastfeeding and Working Out

Exercise, along with a balanced diet, is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Light to moderate physical activity is safe and beneficial for breastfeeding moms, and it has no effect on the amount, taste, or composition of your breast milk. So, if you're wondering about how to add exercise to your daily routine once your baby is born, here's what you need to know about breastfeeding and working out.

 

When Can You Start Working Out After You Have Your Baby?

If you've had a routine delivery without any complications, you could probably start exercising within a few days. But, if you've had an episiotomy or a C-section, you'll have to wait until your body heals. 

If you're still sore after the birth of your baby, you're bleeding heavily, or you have a breast infection, do not begin exercising. Also, before starting a postpartum exercise program, you should always talk to your doctor. Your doctor will let you know when you can begin working out based on your particular circumstances.

How to Start a Postpartum Exercise Program

During the first few weeks after childbirth, it's important to get enough rest and establish your breast milk supply. So, you'll want start exercising slowly. Then, you can gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts as the weeks go on. Keep in mind that stress and fatigue can decrease your breast milk supply and put you at risk for breast issues such as mastitis (a breast infection), so don't overdo it.

If you become too tired or overwhelmed, cut back or stop exercising for a while. You can always start again at a later time.

What You Should Know About Working Out and Breastfeeding

  • Always check with your doctor first before beginning an exercise program.
     
  • Start working out for short periods of time a few days a week, then gradually increase your activity level.
     
  • Stop exercising if you feel pain or experience palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, or an increase in vaginal bleeding.
     
  • To prevent injury, spend a few minutes warming up before beginning your routine, and take a few minutes afterward to cool down.
     
  • You should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, so have a glass of water before and after your workout. You can even keep a water bottle with you during your workout and have a drink when you take breaks. 
     
  • Breastfeed your baby or express your breast milk before exercising. Full breasts can make exercising uncomfortable.
     
  • Wear breast pads if you're concerned about leaking breast milk while you're working out.
     
  • Wear a supportive bra that fits you properly. A very tight bra or one that does not provide enough support can be uncomfortable and put you at risk for mastitis.
     
  • If you have a tendency to develop mastitis, limit upper-body exercises, especially lifting weights.

Safe and Easy Ways to Work Out if You're Breastfeeding 

Go for a walk or a hike. Carrying your baby in a baby carrier or pushing a stroller is an excellent way to get moving and enjoy the fresh air.

Take a jog. Go on your own or with your baby. Jogging strollers make it easy for you to take your child out for a run. For safety, make sure you securely strap your baby into the stroller and use an infant helmet to prevent injury in the event the stroller tips over.

Join a Mommy and Me exercise program. Find a yoga class or exercise class that incorporates the baby into the workout routine. Mommy and Me classes are also a great way for new moms to meet and socialize.

Go for a swim. Swimming is a great low-impact, whole body exercise.

Work out at home. Use a DVD or hop on the treadmill.  If you have exercise equipment at home, it makes it easier to get in a workout, and it's perfect for rainy days.

Join a gym. Many gyms now offer child care so you can bring your baby with you.

How Does Strenuous Exercise Affect Breastfeeding?

Although a light to a moderate fitness program is safe and healthy, vigorous exercise can lead to a breast infection and cause a decrease in your breast milk supply. It can also change the taste of your breast milk. Strenuous exercise can cause lactic acid to build up in your body and enter your breast milk, giving your normally sweet breast milk a bitter taste. Perspiration can also change the taste of breast milk since sweat on the breasts may taste salty. Some babies are not bothered by these changes, but others may refuse to breastfeed.

To Minimize Breast Refusal After a Workout:

  • Breastfeed your baby or express your breast milk for your baby right before you exercise. 
     
  • Wait 90 minutes after a strenuous workout before putting your baby back to the breast because lactic acid levels can remain in breast milk for up to 1 ½ hours.
     
  • Take a shower or wash your breasts after your workout and before nursing your baby to remove the sweat from your skin.
     
  • Before breastfeeding, pump or hand express a little bit of breast milk from each breast and throw it away. Then, nurse your baby.
     
  • If your child makes faces when she begins nursing and doesn't want to continue nursing, wait a little longer to breastfeed (if your baby is older) or, if you have it, give your baby a bottle with previously collected breast milk. Newborns and young infants need to eat about every 2 to 3 hours, so don't put off a feeding for a young baby. 
     

The Benefits of Moderate Exercise for Breastfeeding Moms

How to Find Time to Work Out

For a new mom, the hardest part about exercising is probably finding the time. It can be difficult to juggle all the demands of a family, a household, and work, and then still find time to exercise. You may want to hire a babysitter or make arrangements for your partner to watch the kids so you can get in a workout. Ultimately, you should just do what you can and don't worry if it's sporadic. It's important to remember that even a little physical activity is better than none at all.

Sources:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Committee Opinion No. 650. (2015). Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology.126:e135–42

Larson‐Meyer, D. E. (2002). Effect of postpartum exercise on mothers and their offspring: a review of the literature. Obesity Research, 10(8), 841-853.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. (2011). Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. (2014). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning.

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