Even if you exercised your entire pregnancy, returning to exercise postpartum can make even the fittest mamas feel like a novice. Our organs are relocating, hormones are rapidly changing and we’re still trying to find our balance again (mentally and physically).
Add sleep deprivation and the constant on-call lifestyle of breastfeeding a newborn to the mix and it’s easy to see why many new mamas wait to resume their fitness routines.
But with benefits like decreased risk of postpartum depression, elevated energy, conditioned core, restored strength and an increased sense of well-being, a little exercise can go a long way to helping you ‘bounce back’ to your best self!
Studies have shown no difference in milk production or nutrient composition or babies’ weight gain. Most studies also have found no difference in acceptance of the breast, even after maximum intensity exercise.
If your baby seems to object to the taste of your milk after an intense workout, it might have nothing to do with the exercise – baby might be distracted or objecting to the salty taste of sweat on your breast, etc. If this happens consistently, try express a little milk (3-5 mL from each breast) before nursing baby, postponing feeding for a half hour to let the lactic acid levels subside, and/or decreasing workout intensity a bit in the future.
This may go without saying, but your approach toward exercise pre and post-pregnancy will likely look pretty different (at least for a little while). Not only should new moms check with their physician if the exercise is safe for them to perform postpartum, but many mamas also have to consider the duration, location, and available child care options.
While maybe pre-pregnancy you enjoyed running long distances or catching CrossFit classes out of the house, in the interim you might find power walking with baby in the stroller or streaming online HIIT classes at home during nap time a better fit for your family.
Remember, a successful workout doesn’t have to look the same for everyone, every day. Anything (for any amount of time!) that gets you moving and feeling good is a success. And likely you’ll be able to return to those activities you loved pre-pregnancy before you know it and hopefully discover something else you love along the way!
Just like any activity you’re hoping to accomplish while breastfeeding, timing is everything. If you’re returning to a group exercise class, try to find a class that doesn’t interrupt baby’s mealtime or see if there is an option to stream class from home at your convenience.
In the early days of breastfeeding or when breastfeeding on demand, it can be helpful to feed the baby or pump right before you start your work out. You’ll both be more comfortable if the baby has a full tummy and it’s more likely you might get to finish your workout too!
Though many new moms might be eager to shed the baby weight, breastfeeding is no time to confine yourself to a calorie-restrictive diet. While breastfeeding is often credited with helping lose the baby weight, it’s important to remember your body needs enough calories to make breastmilk in the first place.
La Leche League International estimates that exclusively breastfeeding mothers will burn 500 to 700 calories each day to fuel milk making. They recommend new nursing mothers eat a healthy diet of at least 1800 calories per day to maintain their milk supply.
When restarting an exercise regime, keep these figures in mind and nourish your body with enough fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources to maintain your strength and supply. Replenish any major calorie deficits your new exercise plan might cause with healthy, whole foods so your body can continue making milk.
Pay careful attention to increase your water intake as you increase activity. It’s no secret that drinking enough water throughout the day is vital to maintain a healthy body, but this is especially true for breastfeeding women.
Adequate hydration aids the body in its functions (including milk-making!), so when you’re dehydrated it will be harder for your body to produce milk. It can be easy for busy moms to forget about their own needs, but staying hydrated is crucial to keep your energy levels and milk supply up in order to care for a baby.
Once you’ve received your physician’s approval to return to exercise postpartum, be kind to yourself and patient with your progress. Discouragement, doubt, and defeat can sneak its way in if you let it.
Give yourself grace as you begin exercising again and try to keep your expectations realistic. While you may have medical clearance to run a marathon, your body is likely far from fully recovered and it’s going to simply take time to find your strength again. But when you do (and you will!), don’t be surprised if you’re stronger than ever!
Last but not the least, a good nursing sports bra is essential! Because if breastfeeding and an active lifestyle are going to coexist, a nursing friendly sports bra is absolutely important.
Not only can a regular sports bra’s tight compression cause painful clogged ducts (and even lead to the dreaded mastitis), simply wrestling sore nipples out of a sweaty, tangled up traditional sports bra while a hungry babe cries is enough to make any nursing mama skip the workout altogether.