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Exercise When Breastfeeding: Health Benefits And Tips To Follow

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Exercising postpartum is as necessary as it was before and during pregnancy. But as new mothers are to begin their fitness activities again, they speculate if exercise while breastfeeding has any negative effects on breast milk supply.

Although there may be concerns about exercising when pregnant, there are no negative outcomes of exercising while nursing for most women. This post gives you an overview of the effects of exercising on breast milk supply, its additional benefits, and tips for exercising while breastfeeding.

Does Exercise Adversely Affect Your Breast Milk Supply?

It is believed that exercising when you are breastfeeding your baby can change your breast milk’s taste and reduce its quantity. However, studies show that a moderate amount of exercise neither affects breast milk’s taste nor its supply (1) (2).

At the same time, research shows that strenuous exercise could increase lactic acid concentration in human breast milk (3). While its effects on the baby are unknown, babies sensitive to breast milk’s taste may act fussy during feeding. Nevertheless, most babies become used to changes in the breast milk’s flavor, which is also affected by other factors, such as diet. Overall, the advantages of exercise while breastfeeding outweigh the risks.

Benefits Of Exercising While Nursing

Regular moderate exercise while breastfeeding could provide the mother the following benefits.

  1. More energy: Exercising releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which are also called the ‘feel-good’ hormones. When you get back to exercising after giving birth, you will sense an increase in your energy levels and an improved sense of well-being (4).
  1. Improved mood: Postpartum depression is real, and exercising is a great way to beat the blues. Working out while breastfeeding improves mood, reduces stress, and benefits mental health (4).
  1. Weight loss: Many new mothers wait to get back to their pre-pregnancy workout routines to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy. Postnatal workouts promote weight loss and help you maintain a healthy weight (4).
  1. Helps you sleep well: With a newborn in the house, sleep is hard to come by, and most mothers will swear by it. Physical activity and exercise improve your sleep quality, and it holds true even during breastfeeding.

These benefits help a mother feel more relaxed, ultimately improving the secretion of prolactin and oxytocin hormones, which are vital for milk production and let-down (5). Better milk production and let-down eventually lead to adequate milk supply for the baby and less likelihood of experiencing breastfeeding-related issues.

Best Exercises For Nursing Women

It is recommended to wait at least six weeks after childbirth to begin working out (1). Also, consult your obstetrician/gynecologist before you begin. If you have pelvic floor issues following child birth, starting physical therapy right away can help you recover faster to get back to your normal exercise routine.

There are many exercises that women can do during the postnatal period. Some of the most effective ones include (4):

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Pilates
  • Low-intensity aerobic exercises
  • Running/jogging

Making Time To Exercise While Breastfeeding

While it is good to get back to exercising after childbirth, it is also essential that you find the right time for it. In the first few weeks after childbirth, you must get enough rest and establish a firm breast milk supply. It takes at least four weeks to establish breastfeeding, and it is best to wait up to six weeks (6).

Many new mothers will initially find less time to work out since most of their time is taken up by breastfeeding and caring for the baby. Begin gradually, and then increase the duration and intensity of your workouts. You can use the time you get while your baby is napping and opt for gentle exercises at home. Once your baby’s routine becomes somewhat predictable, you can chalk out a routine to devote adequate time to breastfeeding and exercising.

When Should You Not Exercise While Breastfeeding?

Below are some situations when you must avoid exercising while breastfeeding (4) (7).

  • If you are in pain while exercising
  • You are leaking urine while performing strenuous activities
  • If you have trouble emptying your bladder or bowels
  • If you feel a sense of pressure or bulge in your belly or the vaginal area

Most reasons to avoid exercising while breastfeeding are related to postpartum factors rather than breastfeeding. If you do not face any postpartum discomfort and your doctor gives their approval, you may begin exercising during lactation. Having a full evaluation by a physical therapist trained in pelvic floor therapy is also important.

What To Wear For Working Out While Breastfeeding?

Active women understand the importance of good breast support while working out. There are many reasons why a well-supporting sports bra is recommended when working out while breastfeeding (8):

  • Improve posture and performance during your workouts
  • Minimize breast movement during jogging, running, and jumping
  • Minimize breast discomfort
  • Could make it easier to hold breast pads to soak any leakage

Your breasts change shape often when you are in your lactation phase. The breasts are also fuller and more sensitive. You may consider pumping milk before the workout to reduce any engorgement. Also, pick a sports bra that is comfortable, breathable, well-supportive, and allows you to feed your baby easily when required.

Be mindful that too much pressure from a tight sports bra may result in plugged ducts. Be sure to feed the baby or pump immediately before a workout to prevent milk clogs during your workout. Once you’ve finished working out and take your sports bra off, shaking your breasts can help keep the milk moving and prevent clogs.

Tips For Exercising While Breastfeeding

Below are some tips to keep in mind when exercising while breastfeeding.

  1. Pick an activity you find most comfortable: Choose an activity or exercise that you find the easiest to perform during the lactation phase. The goal must be to get at least ten minutes of exercise a day initially. Increase the duration to up to 30 minutes a day as you set into a breastfeeding routine (9).
  1. Start with low-impact exercises: Walking, cycling, and swimming are a few examples of low-impact exercises that put less strain on your belly after delivery. Walking is safe even if you had a C-section delivery. If you still have stitches on your belly, consult a doctor before trying exercises other than walking. Once you have completed your postpartum recovery, you may proceed to intense workouts, such as weight training, after taking your doctor’s approval.
  1. Work out at home: It is easier to begin light exercises or indoor workouts in the initial days after childbirth. Use your baby’s nap time for your exercises. You may also ask your partner to take care of your baby or feed them expressed milk while you exercise.
  1. Don’t be tempted to lose weight rapidly: It is normal to feel the need to lose all those pounds you gained during pregnancy. However, do not be in a hurry. The goal is not to lose weight rapidly but to lose it healthily. When you work out during breastfeeding, you must maintain a healthy diet and consume at least 300-500 more calories a day than what you would normally consume.
    Your caloric baseline is determined by your height, weight, and metabolism. Going too far into a calorie deficit is what will decrease your milk supply. Losing one pound per week is considered safe for breastfeeding mothers, although it is okay to lose less than it (11).
  1. Keep yourself well-hydrated: Days following childbirth are highly demanding for a mother. You require a lot of energy through food and adequate water to sustain breastfeeding. Make sure you take frequent sips of water during and after a workout. If you sweat a lot or the weather is very hot, you may even consider having oral rehydration salt (ORS) post-workout to avoid dehydration.
  1. Enroll in a club: Find out any exercise programs or clubs in your region or community that consist of like-minded mothers who enjoy the joys of breastfeeding without skipping out on workouts. It can provide motivation, encouragement, resources, and solutions for many common issues faced by women who wish to maintain an active lifestyle during lactation.

Exercise while breastfeeding could have some initial limitations. However, after the first six weeks, you can begin low-impact exercises after attaining the doctor’s approval. Exercise has many benefits, and breastfeeding mothers can also reap the advantages, which may even enhance their breastfeeding routine and breast milk supply, benefitting the little one eventually.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Exercise, La Leche League International
2. Dada Su et al., Breast-feeding Mothers can Exercise: Results of a cohort study, Cambridge University Press
3. J. P. Wallace, The Concentration of Lactic Acid in Breast Milk Following Maximal Exercise, International Journal of Sports Medicine
4. Postnatal Exercise, Better Health Channel
5. How breast milk is made; U.S. Department of Agriculture
6. Pacifiers: Satisfying Your Baby’s Needs; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Safe Return to Exercise Post-Pregnancy, Pregnancy Birth & Baby
8. Exercise and Breast Support, Sports Medicine Australia
9. Exercise After Pregnancy, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
10. Weight Loss for Mothers, La Leche League International
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Julie Matheney

(MS, CCC-SLP/CLEC/IBCLC)
Julie Matheney did her Master's degree in speech-language pathology and has worked on feeding and swallowing disorders for over a decade. As part of a hospital-based rehabilitation team, she works on helping children to feed and swallow. Having worked in the NICU, she discovered her passion for breastfeeding and became an IBCLC in 2017. She transitioned out of the hospital... more

sanjana lagudu

Sanjana did her graduation in Pharmacy and post graduation in management. It was during her first job, she recognized her skills in writing and began working as a freelance writer. Later, she completely moved into content writing and began working as a full-time content writer. Sanjana's articles in MomJunction cover topics related to new parenting and relationships. A fitness enthusiast... more