I mentioned in my last marathon training update that since Baby T was ill, it meant all he wanted to do was nurse. One of the more frustrating things about being a mother runner is that when your babies are still babies, you’re not only at the mercy of their sleep schedule (and often your lack-of-sleep schedule) and needing someone to watch the baby while you sneak out for a run, you’re also physically at their mercy when it comes to breastfeeding. This is not just a time constraint. It’s not just working out their specific – and sometimes unpredictable – feeding pattern. It’s something that is physically demanding on your body, which is an issue when your main form of exercise and stress relief is also physically demanding.
It is possible, feasible and advisable to train for an endurance event while you’re breastfeeding? It depends (did you guess I was going to say that?). Just like you could find running during pregnancy to be easy, or not something you can continue, the effects of training and your schedule are also highly specific to your body and your baby.
You don’t know whether it’s possible unless you try it out, though, and despite my little hiccup in training this past week, for the most part I am surprised by how well training is coming along when I’m still nursing. Baby T is nearly a year now, so he eats a healthy amount of regular food throughout the day (those thighs don’t grow themselves, you know), but he also nurses at least four times a day. It is possible to make running while breastfeeding a comfortable experience – here are some tips that have helped me along the way.
When you’re first getting accustomed to breastfeeding, your body is working out exactly how much milk it needs to produce to keep your little one happy and satiated. The beauty of starting pumping early is you can get a lot stockpiled while you are (hopefully) on maternity leave and the more you pump, the more milk your body thinks it needs to produce. The idea is to stockpile some frozen milk that can be used when you’re ready to start running again.
Once you have a good supply at the ready and you have a better idea of what you need to use in a week for getting out for your runs, you can start to cut back on the pumping so you’re not perpetually feeling like your milk is coming in.
Don’t forget to drink lots of water (although it’s unlikely you won’t be guzzling it constantly anyway because you’ll be so thirsty) and make sure you’re getting your extra calories being used for nursing and for exercising on top of that. The average for nursing is about 300 calories a day, so if you’re often finding yourself starving because you forgot to eat or sat down to feed your baby without eating, it’s a great idea to stockpile easy, healthy snacks you can quickly grab and eat with one hand.
You already know recovery is important after running. You want to stretch and maybe foam roll, eat or drink something with protein and carbs within 30 minutes of your run and get enough rest before the next time you go out. All of that is even more important when you’re also nursing, especially replenishing your body with food and water. If your priority is to make running while breastfeeding (not at the same time, of course!) a reality, you’ll also need to take care of yourself properly by sleeping enough and avoiding stress. I know, those are soooo easy when you have a baby, right? But do what you can – if you nap instead of doing chores or housework, it just means you have a messy house. It’s not as big a deal as you might think. Think of any way you can delegate tasks that could free up nap time, whether it’s online grocery shopping, getting your laundry sent out, saying yes to offers of help or anything else you can come up with.
Timing is Everything
Once you get to the point where you’re cleared for running (always wait until you get your doctor’s go ahead to resume exercise after a postpartum check-up), you’ll probably find baby is in somewhat of a schedule. The most comfortable time to run is going to be right after a nursing session, preferably one in which you can get baby to feed from both sides. It is NO fun to be running and feel that prickling sensation of your milk coming in. Try to organize someone to be with baby right after he or she feeds, so you’re going out on an empty tank, so to speak.
Likewise, when you’re first starting out, try a few shorter runs and keep them pretty close to home, until you see how you feel when you’re out running.
Get a Good Support System
Not just a support system of family members or friends willing to help out with baby while you’re running (you can read more about that kind of support system here), but support for the girls. I swear by my Moving Comfort Juno bra (affiliate link), not only because it’s super supportive and comfortable, but also because it has velcro adjustable straps. It’s not a nursing bra, but the velcro makes it perfect for when you’re coming back and realize you need to get baby to latch on now, or if you get home and someone is having a meltdown. It’s also great if you plan to run with your baby in a running stroller (or do a running stroller workout like this one) because it means you can always stop, take a seat and your baby can enjoy a little alfresco dining. Try doing that with any other sports bra – it’s next to impossible.
Listen to Your Body (and your baby)
I never had a problem with my milk supply being affected by running after having either of my babies. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research in the area (probably because it’s difficult to research without inducing adverse effects), but this study seems to suggest that exercise in lactating women can actually help protect milk supply. That said, everybody is different and I have heard anecdotally that exercise has decreased supply for some women. The most important thing is to just listen to your body and to how your baby reacts once you start running again. That was you can make the call that’s right for you, based on your own experience.
Set Conservative Goals
A conservative goal for you might be an advanced goal for me; just like a professional runner’s pregnancy weekly training mileage is probably more than you might average in a month. If you’re the kind of runner who just wants to get out for fun and fresh air, then this tip may not apply to you. But I suspect many of you are pretty specifically goal driven when it comes to running – yep, I’m talking about racing.
When I had my first baby, I signed up for a half marathon 4 months after he was born. I’d been running throughout pregnancy and I knew even if I was not doing anything for 8 weeks instead of the usual 6 you’re advised not to work out post pregnancy, I could still get into decent enough shape to run the race without feeling like hell. I also put no pressure on myself whatsoever to make a time goal – my goal was simply to finish. The race was also one I’d run several times in the past, so I knew the course well and knew it was on the easy side. (I even wrote a post on how not to train for a half marathon, since my training was so loosey goosey.)
This time around, I waited until I felt comfortable running at least 6 miles before I thought about signing up for a race. Despite me being in better shape during my second pregnancy, despite gaining less pregnancy weight and having a shorter labor, there is no way I would have been able to take on a half marathon four months after birth. In fact, I ran NO races at all in 2015, after having Baby T in April. I just didn’t feel up for it.
The funny thing is, despite my slow return to running, I’m going to be running a marathon just over a year postpartum. I decided I physically couldn’t do that after my first pregnancy, despite running more often, earlier, and racing often in those first 6 months postpartum. I actually was on the verge of deferring my 2012 NYC Marathon entry when Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath made it a moot point. The takeaway point is to work out where your limits are and respect them. Most importantly, don’t compare yourself to other mother runners, or to how you ran and raced during a previous postpartum time.
Finally, one of the most important tips for running while breastfeeding is to be flexible. It’s the most important because it’s almost guaranteed that everything about your training will be in flux, subject to change and at the mercy of a tiny human you haven’t quite figured out yet. You may find you’re a morning runner but now the only time you can get your run done is the evening. Do it when you can. Maybe you find you only have three consecutive days available to run in a week, which makes your training plan for the week tricky. Schedule it as best you can – try to get your easiest run done in the middle and maybe accept that your long run pace might be a bit slower than usual, for example. So long as you’re running consistently and not skipping workouts more often than you’re actually running, you should be fine.
It’s definitely not easy to train for a marathon while you’re still breastfeeding. But it can be done with only a small impact on your life and routine. Making sure you’re prepared for your planned runs (and being ready to be flexible if you need to) makes such a difference.
If you ran while breastfeeding, what are some tips that helped you?