Breastfeeding can be a very special chapter in motherhood, but it can also be the source of many new worries. Amid all the questions becoming a parent brings, you may wonder, does working out decrease your breast milk supply? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Many moms have shared the same concern with me, but research has debunked the misconception in regards to exercising while breastfeeding.
Studies show that moderate exercise doesn’t reduce breast milk supply—in fact, it may boost human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) in your breast milk. What’s so special about HMOs in breast milk? Research finds that HMOs significantly influence the infant’s developing gut microflora and immune system. The same study indicates that colostrum, the nutrient-dense milk produced in the first two to four days after birth, has a higher concentration of HMO than mature milk, signifying its importance in your baby’s diet.
While your workouts shouldn’t affect your lactation, inadequate nutrition definitely can. And trust me, I get it. I’ve been in your shoes, and I’ve worked with countless moms who can relate. The infant stage can be challenging, and your needs often take a backseat. However, for your benefit and your baby’s benefit, it’s essential that you provide your body with the nutrition it needs.
Nutritional needs while breastfeeding
Have you ever heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” It holds true for many aspects of motherhood, but it almost quite literally speaks to breastfeeding. According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, breastfeeding increases the average mother’s nutritional needs by approximately 330 to 400 calories per day, depending on the stage of lactation. Falling short of those increased energy needs can put your breast milk supply at risk.
If exercise is new to your wellness routine, you’ll need to consider the calories you burn with each workout during the postpartum phase. Motherhood pulls you in so many different directions. Making sure you get the nutrition you need may take a little planning and prep work. Try preparing meals and snacks you can grab on the go or enjoy while you nurse your little one.
In addition to nutritious meals and snacks, it’s also important to keep water on hand, especially if you are losing fluids through sweat. Allyson Curley, a registered nurse and international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, notes the importance of hydration during lactation. “Staying well hydrated is good for mom’s overall health,” she says, “but it can also help ensure that you’re better equipped physically to produce an adequate supply of breastmilk.”
Best forms of exercise while breastfeeding
Moms should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week during both pregnancy and postpartum, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. And exercise routines can be resumed gradually after pregnancy, once medically cleared by your doctor.
Power walking, light jogging, biking, swimming, and even gardening, yard work, or a more strenuous vinyasa yoga flow can count as moderate aerobic exercise as long as it elevates your heart rate. A good rule of thumb is that if you can still talk and carry on a conversation while doing cardio, then you’re in a moderate-intensity zone.
To help you get motivated, “set sustainable goals that focus on rebuilding core strength and returning to favorite activities,” suggests Brittany Shimansky, a professional ballerina turned celebrity fitness trainer and CEO of Britsbarre virtual studio. She also strongly recommends working with a pre/postnatal certified trainer to ensure your workouts are designed with postpartum modifications in mind. For example, during the first few weeks postpartum, Shimansky suggests focusing on breathing exercises, pelvic floor activation, and short walks at a leisurely pace.
Here’s a postnatal core workout to help you get started:
Breastfeeding moms may find it helpful to nurse before beginning their workout, and finding the right sports bra can make all the difference. Look for a bra that provides adequate structural support without being too tight. Finally, if your baby is ready to nurse before you’ve had the chance to take a shower, you might consider rinsing off the breast to eliminate the salty taste of your sweat and help with their latch.
TL;DR? Research has shown that exercise does not reduce your breast milk supply but may help boost your infant’s immunity. Inadequate nutritional intake, on the other hand, can affect your breast milk production. Breastfeeding increases your nutrition needs by approximately 330 to 400 calories per day.
Of course, it’s important to remember that this article does not take the place of medical advice. Nutrition needs are individualized, and general guidelines do not apply to everyone. If you have questions about nutrition and exercise while breastfeeding, speak with your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist.