Updated: Sep 16, 2020
To round out Breastfeeding Awareness Month and head full force into September, we thought we would end this month with a great blog about breastfeeding and working out! Let us be the first to wish you a Happy Women’s Health and Fitness month starting September 1st!! Get ready ladies, there will be lots of fun blogs focused on getting back into your groove of health and wellness. Don’t forget to purchase one of our Breastfeeding Welcome Here Stickers found on our breastfeeding campaign page.
Huddle Up Moms is honored this month to feature a blog from Alison Bowersock. Breastfeeding can be challenging in more ways than one but adding on the extra feat of trying to get back into shape can seem impossible! Here are some great tips focused on breastfeeding and getting back into shape!
DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be ALL encompassing and should NOT replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose of this blog is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.
Whether you’re eager to resume an active lifestyle once your baby arrives or eager to start a fitness journey, chances are you have found mixed information about post-partum exercise. The world of exercise and pregnancy and postpartum training is a relatively new field in research and therefore evidence-based guidelines are not easy to find. Luckily, the bottom line is that physical activity both during and after pregnancy is healthy for mom and baby, but what about postpartum exercise and breastfeeding?
While there is no “gold standard” for how many calories each mother needs to consume in order to continue breastfeeding and be physically active, we do know that both caloric intake and hydration levels must increase in order to properly hydrate the active mother, maintain milk supply, and avoid excessive weight loss which can impede recovery from delivery. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!
Mothers may consider consulting a dietitian who can provide the personalized expertise needed to quantify how many additional calories may be needed to support breastfeeding while also meeting maternal health needs and fuel athletic activity. Don’t forget breastfeeding can burn up to 600 calories a day!!
Aside from hydration and caloric intake awareness, there are a few other aspects to consider when you engage in physical activity while breastfeeding:
Invest in ‘proper’ sports bras. Most women experience changes in breast size and chest girth during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so chances are the sports bras that fit you ten months ago no longer fit the bill. Consider investing in one or two moisture-wicking sports bras that properly fit your CURRENT bra and body size. You also want to avoid underwire bras or bras with a very rigid abdominal band as such restrictions may increase the likelihood of mastitis. One go-to brand is Handful which offers a variety of styles for all levels of fitness from “low impact” such as walking and yoga to “high impact” such as running and interval classes. Some mothers prefer zip-up or removable straps to support pumping or breastfeeding during exercise, and some mothers prefer a more traditional fit with individual cups or shelf-style bras, again reflect on the purpose of the bra and this will help shape (pun intended) which bra is best for you.
Plan the time you will be exercising. Individual differences will ultimately determine the ideal dynamic of timing your workout and pumping and breastfeeding, but in order to avoid engorgement while exercising you will need to balance your most recent feeding or pumping session to how long you plan to workout. Ideally, you will pump or breastfeed as close to the start of your workout as possible in order to extend the duration of your workout. Exercise time without engorgement is unique to each woman but you can estimate your workout “window” based on how frequently you are currently pumping or feeding. If you are feeding every three hours, for example, you would have up to two hours of exercise at any intensity and then allow some time to cool-down and stretch before feeding or pumping again.
Practice pelvic floor strengthening while feeding or pumping. Many women are eager to return to “traditional” exercise such as running or lifting weights after delivery, but little emphasis is placed on pelvic floor strength in American healthcare practice. Other countries such as Canada include pelvic floor physical therapy in the standard of care for prenatal and postpartum well-checks and for good reason- the muscles of the pelvic floor are a critical piece of the core musculature placed under strain during pregnancy and then extreme pressure during vaginal delivery. Stress incontinence, by extension, is extremely common among mothers, and while not entirely preventable with pelvic floor strengthening during pregnancy, incontinence severity can be mitigated with proper strengthening both during and after pregnancy. So, one way to remember to engage in these muscles (which can be taught by pelvic floor physical therapists) is to practice the exercises while pumping or feeding. Such exercises can be practiced other times but by pairing feeding or pumping with pelvic floor strengthening, mothers may help address this very common (but not normal) pregnancy byproduct.
Again, much of the postpartum journey is person-specific so no one tactic is effective for all mothers, but the above recommendations may apply to most mothers who are interested in starting or continuing their fitness journey. While available evidence-based guidance is relatively scarce, we do know that being active during pregnancy and in the postpartum period is healthy and should be encouraged. As always, check-in with your healthcare provider before beginning or resuming a routine particularly early in the postpartum period, but consider requesting a referral for pelvic floor physical therapy as part of your pregnancy recovery.
Written by Allison Bowersock-PhD, CSCS, ACSM-EIM
Allison Bowersock double-majored in Health Science and Nutrition & Wellness at Bridgewater College, following up with her master's in Kinesiology from JMU, as well as a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in Education, Curriculum, and Instruction, cognate in Health Promotion. As the owner of RunAbout Sports, she has grown the free online training program, Team RunAbout, from 220 runners to almost 700 people, providing support for runners of all ages and skill levels.