Can You Still Exercise If You're Breastfeeding? Here's What You Should Know
One of the very first things I wanted to do after having my son was to go for a run! I craved the sound of the road under my feet, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the feeling of freedom, and the wind in my face. As a new mom, I couldn't wait to get back out there, but I had so many questions. One of the many questions I had was, "Can I run while breastfeeding?"
If you've found yourself clicking on this article, you may be asking a similar question.
The short answer.
The short answer is yes, exercising while breastfeeding is completely fine. It is well documented that exercise is important for mental and physical well-being. For moms, exercise is a great way to socialize and get out of the house, lose unwanted baby weight, increase fitness, and live a healthy lifestyle. Research has shown that exercising postpartum can even reduce the chances of postpartum depression. There is no reason a breastfeeding mom should not exercise. However, if she is going to exercise while breastfeeding, here are three facts she needs to be aware of: Breastfeeding requires increased energy exertion, breastfeeding requires an increase in caloric intake, and bone mineral density is affected.
How to safely breastfeed and exercise.
In order to exercise and continue to breastfeed without injury, women must be able to balance the needs of their body and their desire to be active. Research demonstrates that the energy needs of a breastfeeding mom are greater than those of a pregnant woman. Fatigue is one of the most common complaints among postpartum mothers, and sleep and nutrition are of the utmost importance postpartum. Women may need an additional 500 calories per day for adequate milk production and energy needs even before exercise is added into the equation. Once exercise is added, the caloric intake must increase further.
Many women attribute their "milk drying up" to exercise. Exercise is not typically the culprit. With intense activity, such as running, cycling, or a high-intensity exercise class, a breastfeeding mom may require an even greater caloric intake. Hydration may be an issue as well, with the necessary increased fluid requirements. It is a myth that exercise inhibits milk production; if the mother is getting adequate food and fluid to account for the extra water and calorie loss with exercise, she will be able to maintain her milk supply. In fact, if milk supply decreases with increased activity, that may be a sign that it is necessary to increase calories and/or fluids consumed.
Another lesser-known fact is that stress fractures can be more common in the postpartum period. Bone mineral density (BMD) is affected during this time, particularly with breastfeeding. This occurs because the calcium in the mother's bones is mobilized to meet the increased demand for calcium in the mother's milk. During breastfeeding, bone loss is 1 to 3% per month, particularly in areas such as the hip and lumbar spine. In most women, BMD loss is reversed with cessation of breastfeeding and may return to baseline in 12 to 18 months. BMD loss is associated with osteopenia and osteoporosis later in life and is a factor in bone stress injuries, such as stress reactions and stress fractures among runners. All of this is to say that there is a high risk for stress fractures postpartum, and especially when you are breastfeeding. To reduce your risk of injury, consider working with a personal trainer to do weight-bearing exercises.
It is true that breastfeeding increases the energy demands on the body. It is also true that breastfeeding can negatively affect bone mineral density. Yet despite these facts, there is really no reason any woman should not exercise while breastfeeding.
The key to remaining healthy, injury-free, and active during this time is to stay hydrated, eat enough, and listen to your body. Don't do too much too soon, and always make sure to get plenty of rest. The benefits of exercising significantly outweigh any potential issues that may result from combining exercise and breastfeeding. So, ladies, feel free to go for that run or sign up for your favorite exercise class without worrying. You will be grateful you did!
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Kate Mihevc Edwards, DPT, OCS, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, board certified orthopedic specialist and owner of Precision Performance and Physical Therapy in Atlanta, Georgia. Her clinic specializes in the treatment of runners and triathletes’. She is also the author of Racing Heart: A Runner’s Journey of Love, Loss and Perseverance and co-author of the recently released, Go Ahead Stop and Pee: Running During Pregnancy and Postpartum.