A blog by runners. For runners.

Running and breastfeeding: what you need to know

breastfeeding-and-running-2The choice to breastfeed or not is a very personal one. If you choose to and are able to breastfeed, know that you don’t have to give up running to feed your baby.

I’d heard the whispers throughout my pregnancy. “Running decreases breast milk supply” and “you cannot be a distance runner and successfully breastfeed”, they said.

When my son was a few days old, I had some nursing challenges from the get-go, like most new moms. I met with a lactation consultant, and before we did anything, she asked about the Disney marathon sweatshirt I was wearing. “You’re a runner?” she asked. “Don’t worry,” she laughed. “Once you and Wyatt get the hang of this breastfeeding thing, I predict you’ll have a long, successful experience.”

My lactation consultant was right. At four months postpartum, when I was nursing my son 8-10 times per day (and night…), I set my half marathon PR. I’ve nursed him at start lines and immediately after finishing races. My son is now 18 months old. He’s still nursing and I’m still running strong.

The exercise and low supply myth

My lactation consultant told me that she had never seen a runner with supply issues. In fact, she and her colleagues plan to conduct a study in the future to see if intense exercise boosts breast milk supply.

Other experts agree. Studies have shown that moderate exercise does not compromise breast milk supply, its composition, or a baby’s growth. There has not been much research done on intense exercise and breastfeeding — and the few good studies show that high-intensity exercise has no negative effects on breast milk. Very intense exercise may slightly increase the amount of lactic acid in breast milk for up to 90 minutes post-activity. This doesn’t pose any harm to infants, but few babies may notice a difference in taste and refuse to nurse. Other babies may refuse to nurse after a workout because they don’t like the salty taste of mom’s skin.

Tips for breastfeeding and running success

  • Time runs around feedings. You’ll be less engorged — and much more comfortable — if you feed your child immediately before a run. If that’s not possible, consider using a breast pump before a run. Many private health insurance companies cover breast pumps in the U.S.
  • Wear a good sports bra. Tight, supportive bras are best for nursing mothers.
  • Drink plenty of water. Nursing moms need to take in extra fluids. Athletes also have greater hydration needs. This means that breastfeeding runners need to drink a lot of water. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and sip on it throughout the day.
  • Eat enough food. Nursing burns about 300 to 500 calories per day. Eating fewer than 1500 to 1800 calories per day may decrease your breast milk supply. Keep in mind that running burns a lot of calories, too. Make sure you’re eating enough so you can keep up your energy levels. Also, be mindful of your protein intake. Nursing mothers require about 20 more grams of protein each day than women who don’t nurse, and endurance athletes need 50 percent more protein than non-athletes. Meat, dairy products, beans, nuts, and nut butters are all good sources of protein.
  • Meet with a lactation consultant. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have nursed my son for so long. The truth is I would have given up breastfeeding during the first week if it wasn’t for my lactation consultant. Breastfeeding may be natural, but it wasn’t intuitive for me. Lactation consultants are experts in breastfeeding — they can address any of your concerns and help you have a successful breastfeeding experience.

Are there any other nursing runners out there? We’d love to hear your tips, too!

Written by Jen Matz

Related The WalkJogRun guide for active families