Myths vs facts: exercising while breastfeeding
There will be a great deal of change in your body during pregnancy and after childbirth, regardless of whether you decide to breastfeed. Your body has created and nurtured a new human being as a result of the fluctuations in hormones and chemicals during pregnancy. After having a baby, you may feel pressure (yours or others) to return to exercise or begin exercising again to regain your old body. As a new mother, you may discover your ‘new’ body’s high level of strength and adaptability, especially as it takes care of your baby, to be a source of great pride.
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding exercise and breastfeeding. Some people believe that you cannot exercise while breastfeeding, but this is not true! There are many benefits to exercising while breastfeeding, both for the mother and the baby.
Exercise can help to improve the quality of breast milk, as well as increase the amount of milk produced. It can also help the mother to lose weight, increase her energy levels, and reduce stress and the risk of postpartum depression. Additionally, exercise can help you build strong bones and muscles, improve your cardiovascular health and the baby’s development and health.
So, don’t let breastfeeding be an excuse to not exercise. The benefits of exercise for both you and your baby are too great to pass up!
Debunking the myths of exercise while breastfeeding
There are a few things to keep in mind when exercising while breastfeeding, such as staying hydrated and avoiding strenuous activity. However, overall, exercising while breastfeeding is safe and can be very beneficial for both the mother and the baby.
Once their health care professionals sign off, nursing mothers can start exercising. It usually takes 6 weeks for vaginal births and 10-12 weeks for c-sections.
However, there is a lot of debate surrounding whether or not it is safe to exercise while breastfeeding. Let’s take a look at some of the myths and facts surrounding this topic.
Myth: Exercise will dry up your breast milk.
Exercise does not have any effect on breast milk production. In fact, some studies have shown that moderate exercise can actually increase milk production by reducing stress factors that could affect the milk supply.
Effectively, proper nutrition, rich in essential nutrients such as protein, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, is crucial for lactating mothers to produce enough milk and ensure that their baby is getting all the nutrients they need. Your body utilise around 500 kcal a day to produce the milk so if you choose to increase the exercise level, make sure you make up for the extra calories expended.
Mild or moderate exercise also doesn’t reduce important immune factors such as SIgA, lactoferrin and lysozyme; major nutrients (fat, protein, lactose) and minerals (calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and sodium) as you continue absorbing through your food and producing accordingly.
Myth: Breastfeeding and exercise will make you too tired.
While it is true that you may feel more tired when you are breastfeeding and exercising, this is usually due to a lack of sleep. If you are well-rested, you should have no problem breastfeeding and exercising.
When having constantly disruption of your sleep cycles due to the need of feeding, cuddles and just taking care or your newborn baby. It is important that you try take naps when your little bubba goes to sleep and forget the chores – they will still be there when you wake up. Or try organise someone to look after your baby so you can have a power nap for 2-3 hours.
Other factors such as mastitis, thyroid problems and bad eating habits can also exhaust you and make you sluggish. Make sure you drink plenty of water and your diet is balanced full of vitamins and other important nutrients to help you stay full of energy. Light exercise is proved to help with the management of energy levels and many aspect of motherhood.
Myth: You should avoid strenuous exercise while breastfeeding.
There is no evidence to suggest that strenuous exercise is harmful to breastfeeding mothers or their babies. However, it is important to listen to your body and take breaks when you need to as your body needs to recover for up to 4 months or more depending on your needs or type of birth.
Myth: High intensity exercise will change the taste of the breastmilk.
Some old wives tales caution against too much exercise because it will make the milk sour due to lactic acid. Studies show that lactic acid levels in breast milk are significantly elevated for up to 90 minutes after maximal exercise, which may alter the flavour of the milk. So, as long as you keep your aerobic exercise in the 80% of maximal heart rate range, your baby won’t notice a difference. After your workout, however, is recommended that you shower or wipe off your nipples before feeding your baby as the sweat in the skin may cause an unpleasant salty taste for your baby.
Myth: Breastfeeding helps you lose the weight gained during pregnancy.
The calories burned during milk production may make us believe that it will contribute to weight loss, however this may not always be the case – many factors like pre-pregnancy weight, diet, physical activity level, etc will impact much more the weight loss after birth.
On average, exclusively breastfeeding mothers may see a loss of the extra fatty tissues (by 1-2 pounds) that you automatically stocked during pregnancy in preparation for breastfeeding. However, as breastfeeding ramps up your appetite, it is important to be careful not to overindulge which can lead to weight gain instead. It is not recommended to start a diet until at least two months postpartum to ensure your milk supply is well-stablished. After this period, it is important to eat at least 1800 calories a day and aim to lose at most 1 pound per week to safely lose weight. Once baby is around 6 months and eating solids, you can start to cut more calories as necessary as your baby will be receiving nutrients from other sources.
Breastfeeding also reduces bleeding and prevents anemia in mothers, as well as helping your uterus return to its former size and weight after pregnancy. This occur with the help of a hormone called Oxytocin which is responsible for the uterine contractions and reduction of bleeding pos-partum. It also help on the production of your breastmilk.
Myth: Breastfeeding will affect the shape of your breasts.
Breasts will always change in consistency after pregnancy and most women find that their breasts go back to their pre-pregnancy size and shape once they stop breastfeeding. Exercise can help the muscles, particularly chest muscles, to stay strong to cope with the effect of natural factors such as age, gravity and weight gain which can cause more issues than nursing itself.
It is also important that you wear the right supportive sport bra to minimize discomfort when exercising due to the breast engorgement but, avoid too tight bras that may cause blocked duct. Give preference for breastfeeding before you exercise to help reducing the breast size and fullness due to the milk supply. You may also consider wearing breast pads in case of leakage.
How to exercise when breastfeeding?
Here are some tips to help you exercise while breastfeeding:
1. Time your workouts: Plan your workouts around your baby’s feeding schedule. This way, you can feed your baby before or after your workout and ensure that they are not hungry during your exercise session. Start with a shorter exercise routine and allow your body to adapt slowly.
2. Wear a supportive bra: A well-fitted sports bra can provide support and comfort while exercising. Make sure to choose a bra made specifically for nursing moms.
3. Stay hydrated: Breastfeeding can dehydrate you, and exercise can increase this effect. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout to stay hydrated.
4. Start slowly: Begin with simple exercises and gradually increase the intensity and duration. Walking, postpartum yoga, and Pilates are great options for new moms. Other options are also: swimming, biking, bodyweight exercises, including push-ups, lunges, planks and sit-ups, and weight training, starting with light weights and increasing intensity.
5. Don’t overdo it: Keep in mind that your body is still recovering, and over-exertion can harm both you and your baby. Listen to your body and take breaks whenever you feel tired or uncomfortable.
So, what is the verdict? There is no reason to avoid exercise while breastfeeding. In fact, it is important for breastfeeding mothers to stay active and incorporate exercise into their daily routine. However, it is important to start slowly, listen to your body, and consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise program. By separating myths from facts and taking the necessary precautions, breastfeeding mothers can safely enjoy the many benefits of exercise.
Written By Aline: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal