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Stay fit while breastfeeding your child with this fool-proof guide

Published on:28 July 2021, 09:45am IST
Should a lactating mother exercise or is it not a good idea? Worry not, because we have all the answers for you!
Ruth Patterson
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breastfeed a premature baby
Here’s all you need to know about fitness and breastfeeding. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

As a lactation consultant, I am often asked this question, how can I shed my postpartum weight or when can I start exercising? My answer is exercise, along with a balanced diet. These two aspects are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and light to moderate physical activity is safe and beneficial for breastfeeding moms. That’s because it does not affect the amount, taste or composition of your breast milk. Common issues faced by post-natal moms are back pain, bulging stomach, postural changes, weight gain etc. If you’re just starting an exercise program, be sure to start slow. 

If the delivery was not complicated and the new mom was exercising till the end of her pregnancy, then soon after delivery, the mother can begin light exercises as well as stretches. The new mother can practise basic core exercises within the first three days post-birth, including isometric abdominals, pelvic floor exercises and gradual back exercises. This can be done along with breathing exercises, ankle movements to ease swollen feet as well as aid circulation.

Start working out for short periods of time, a few days a week and then gradually increase your activity level. Stop exercising if you feel pain or experience palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, or an increase in vaginal bleeding. Breastfeed or pump your breast milk, before you begin your work out. Full breasts can make exercising uncomfortable, so wear breast pads if you’re concerned about leaking

What you should know about working out and breastfeeding

As you begin your work out journey, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are some tips to keep you safe and comfortable:

Also, watch:

  • Always check with your doctor first, before you begin an exercise program.
  • Start working out for short periods of time a few days a week, then gradually increase your activity level.
  • Stop exercising, if you feel pain or experience palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, or an increase in vaginal bleeding.
  • To prevent injury, spend a few minutes warming up before beginning your routine, and take a few moments afterward to cool down.
  • You should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, so have a glass of water before and after your workout. You can even keep a water bottle with you during your workout, and have a drink when you take breaks.
  • Breastfeed or pump your breast milk before you begin your workout. Full breasts can make exercising uncomfortable.
  • Wear breast pads if you’re concerned about leaking breast milk, while you’re working out.
  • Wear a supportive bra that fits you properly. A very tight bra or one that does not provide enough support can be uncomfortable, and put you at risk for mastitis.
    If you tend to develop mastitis, you should limit upper-body exercises, especially lifting weights.
  • Some babies don’t like nursing, when mom has been sweating (due to the salt on mom’s skin). So, you may wish to rinse your breasts or take a shower before nursing.
  • If you regularly lift weights or do other exercises involving repetitive arm movement, you can develop plugged ducts.
  • Avoid losing weight rapidly.
  • Consume at least 1,800 calories per day.
Safe and easy ways to exercise for breastfeeding women

The type of activity you choose is as important as the time you spend working at it. If you’re just starting an exercise program, be sure to start slow. And, if you are unsure that an exercise is safe or not, you can call your doctor’s office. Here are a few safe and easy ways to get started.

Also, watch:

  • Go for a walk or a hike: Carrying your baby in a baby carrier or pushing a stroller is an excellent way to get moving and enjoy the fresh air.
  • Take a jog: Go on your own or with your baby. Jogging strollers make it easy for you to take your child out for a run. For safety, make sure you securely strap your child into the stroller and use an infant helmet to prevent injury in the event the stroller tips over.
  • Join an exercise program: Find a yoga class or other exercise class that incorporates the baby into the workout routine. These classes are also an excellent way for new moms to meet and socialize.
  • Go for a swim: Swimming is a fantastic low-impact, whole-body exercise.
  • Work out at home: Use a workout or dance DVD or hop on the treadmill. If you have exercise equipment at home, it makes it easier to get in a workout, and it’s perfect for rainy days.
  • Join a gym: Many gyms now offer childcare, so you can bring your baby with you.
How does strenuous exercise affect breastfeeding?

Although a light to moderate fitness program is safe and healthy, vigorous exercise can lead to a breast infection and cause a decrease in your breast milk supply. It can also change the taste of your breast milk. Strenuous exercise can cause lactic acid to build up in your body and enter your breast milk, giving your usually sweet milk a bitter taste. Sweat can also change the taste of breast milk, making the breasts taste salty. Some babies are not bothered by these changes, but others may refuse to breastfeed.

Also, watch:

To minimize breast refusal after a workout
  • Breastfeed or express your breast milk for your baby, right before you exercise.
    Wait 90 minutes after a strenuous workout, before putting your child back to the breast because lactic acid levels can remain in breast milk for up to 1 ½ hours.
  • Take a shower or wash your breasts after your workout and before nursing your baby to remove the sweat from your skin.
  • Before breastfeeding, pump or hand express a little bit of breast milk from each breast and throw it away. Then, nurse your baby.
  • If your child makes faces when she begins to breastfeed and doesn’t want to continue, don’t force her. If your baby is old enough, you can wait for a little while then try again. Or, if you have it, give your child a bottle with previously collected breast milk. However, don’t put off feeding a young baby. Newborns and young infants need to eat about every 2 to 3 hours.
The benefits of moderate exercise for breastfeeding moms

There are many benefits to exercise. It’s good for your circulation, muscles, strength, and even your mood. Here are some of the ways working out benefits breastfeeding moms:

  • It improves overall health and well-being;
  • It stimulates the release of endorphins, those feel-good hormones that help chase away the baby blues, boosts your mood, and makes you feel happy;
  • It raises your body’s level of prolactin, the hormone responsible for the production of breast production;
  • It gives you energy;
  • It helps relieve stress;
  • It increases lean muscle and keeps you fit;
  • It can help prevent heart disease;
  • It may lead to a better night’s sleep;
  • Along with a healthy diet and breastfeeding, regular exercise can help you lose your pregnancy weight.
Does lactic acid increase in breast milk after exercise?

Research has not shown a noticeable increase in lactic acid build-up after moderate exercise (50% & 75% intensity). The lactic acid in breast milk does increase somewhat, if mom exercises to maximum (100%) intensity, also described as exhaustive exercise. This increase may be present up to 90 minutes post-exercise. There are no known harmful effects for the baby.

Will the baby refuse the breast after mom exercises?

Most studies have found no difference in acceptance of the breast, even after maximum intensity exercise. Although a highly publicized study indicated that baby might fuss or refuse expressed milk from a mom who had been exercising at 100% intensity, the results were questionable because the babies were fed the milk by dropper (unfamiliar to these babies), and the mothers reported that the babies had not had problems with nursing after exercise in the past.

A more recent study showed no change in infants’ acceptable of mom’s milk an hour after exercise, even for the moms who exercised at maximum intensity (and thus did have a slight increase in lactic acid in their milk). If a baby seems to object to the taste of mom’s milk after strenuous exercise, keep in mind that it might have nothing to do with the exercise – the baby might be distracted or objecting to the salty taste of sweat on your breast, etc. If this happens consistently, the mom can try to express a little milk (3-5 mL from each breast) before nursing the baby, postponing feeding for a half hour to let the lactic acid levels subside, and/or decreasing workout intensity a bit in the future.

Ruth Patterson Ruth Patterson

Ruth Patterson, Chief lactation consultant, Cloudnine group of hospitals, Bengaluru