This Runner's Trials
11Apr/1284

The breast-feeding runner

Posted by runnerstrials

Once upon a time, my Garmin was my most needed gadget for running. Nowadays, it's this fun contraption:

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My breast pump. I would not be running without it.

In my experience, being a nursing runner takes extra preparation, but it's not too challenging. When I was pregnant, I'd heard that intense exercise decreases milk supply. So, I wasn't sure if running postpartum was even going to be an option.

At the breast-feeding class I took during pregnancy, I told the lactation consultant about my concerns. She said that she's seen plenty of nursing moms run marathons, and told me not to worry.

When Wyatt was a few days old, I met with another lactation consultant. I walked in practically in tears. (This is back when he was too weak to latch on so I was pumping then giving him a bottle for each feeding.) I told her how I could only pump an ounce or two from each boob, I was concerned I had a low supply, etc. She cut me off and asked if the Disney marathon 2009 sweatshirt I was wearing was mine. Umm… yes. Then she asked if I ran through most of my pregnancy. Umm… yes… where are we going with this? She said she was pretty sure we'd be dealing with an over-supply issue soon. In fact, she and one of her colleagues plan to do a study one day on how intense exercise during and after pregnancy boosts breast-milk supply. She said as long as I stayed well-hydrated, I shouldn't have supply issues.

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Here's more info on nursing and exercise.

(Note: my lactation consultant also said it's a myth that the number of calories a nursing mother eats impacts supply. I hate the misnomer that women who are dieting to lose their pregnancy weight are doing so at the expense of their breast-milk. That is not true. Think of all the women in third world countries who successfully nurse their children. Nutrients go to breast-milk before they go to the rest of mom's body. Nature is cool that way.)

My lactation consultant was right. A week later, I was back and we were trying to get my over-supply issue under control!

In the four months since then, I've learned* how to balance breast-feeding with training. I haven't noticed any drop in supply after long runs, and Wyatt has no problem nursing as soon as I walk in from a run. (Yup, even when I'm covered in sweat. Gross.) I attribute some of my nursing and running success to the following:

  • Draining my boobs before a run. Running with full boobs hurts. If I run in the morning or plan on doing a long run, I need to nurse and pump immediately beforehand. I can usually get away with just nursing before short, afternoon runs. On the same note, I try not to think about the baby while I'm running (easier said than done). Sometimes, when I'm away from Wyatt and I think of him, I can actually feel my boobs filling up. Fun stuff.
  • Wearing a comfortable bra. For most nursing moms, comfortable= supportive. Then there are the (very few) people like me, whose boobs didn't grow due to pregnancy or breast-feeding. Comfortable for me means padded because my boobs leak when I run for an hour or more. I wear these sports bras from Motherhood Maternity and they seem to help.
  • Eating plenty of protein. When Wyatt was 1- 2 months old, I was constantly famished. I'd literally down half a box of Wheat Thins or peanut butter Cheerios in the middle of the night. Then I realized my carb-heavy diet wasn't doing me any favors. Breast-feeding mothers require about 20 more grams of protein each day than non-nursing women, and endurance athletes need 50% more protein than non-athletes (source). If you're a nursing runner, do the math; that's a lot of protein! Especially for someone who thinks red meat, seafood, and eggs are gross and who needs to avoid dairy due to lactose intolerance. I am feeling much better now that I have peanut butter, almonds, chicken, beans, or protein powder with every meal or snack.
  • Watching my calcium intake. Since reading this, I've been much more mindful of my calcium intake. Due to the aforementioned lactose intolerance, this means I'm taking a calcium supplement each day.
  • Hydrating well (or trying to). This is my biggest challenge. Pre-breast-feeding, I was always thirsty anyway. You know how it's recommended to drink 8 glasses of water a day? I drink somewhere between 30- 40 glasses per day and down a 24 oz. water bottle in my sleep each night (yes, I've been tested for diabetes a few times). Now that I'm nursing and running in the hot, humid weather, I feel like I cannot get properly hydrated. I'm drinking Gatorade or Vitamin Water regularly because perhaps I'm dealing with an electrolyte imbalance, not dehydration. This isn't affecting my supply at all, but I hate feeling thirsty constantly. Distance running may be put on hold after my half on Saturday until I can get a better grip on this issue.

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*This is only based on my experience with running and breast-feeding. Keep in mind that I was blessed with a very good supply. Please talk to a lactation consultant if you have any questions about breast-feeding.