Let’s face it, trying to get away for a run as a breastfeeding mama is no easy feat. Because know what breastfeeding babies don’t seem to mind? Sweaty boobs! Know what they do mind? A mama who isn’t around to feed them whenever they want because she’s out running (!).
I got into a good routine for running while breastfeeding with my kids: nurse, run, and nurse immediately afterward again. But there were plenty of runs cut short or full or worry as I left my mama-loving babies at home.
Indeed, breastfeeding can pose a big challenge for Mother Runners. First, there’s the gargantuan-sized chest that can make a light jog pretty uncomfortable. Then, there’s the baby who wants to cluster feed and goes ballistic when mom’s chest isn’t nearby. Honestly, I never needed a run more than while nursing my children which also happened to be the toughest time to have that escape. (Get the basics on breastfeeding here.)
I asked other Mother Runners how they were able to run while breastfeeding. But before I get into their best advice, let’s answers some basic questions first.
Can running and breastfeeding hurt your milk supply?
No. According to La Leche League, studies show that moderate exercise does not affect milk supply. That is because your body will supply the nutrients to your milk supply first and you second.
However, it is important to consider the type of running you’re doing when breastfeeding. Strenuous exercise has been shown, in some studies, to lead to an increase in lactic acid levels in human milk – some mothers report their baby is fussy for a while afterward but they do not report any effect on their milk supply or their baby’s growth. If this is the case for you, wait 90 minutes for the lactic acid to leave your milk supply before breastfeeding.
Can running cause mastitis?
No. But you need to be smart about what you wear. Make sure your sports bra isn’t too small or too tight or else it could block milk ducts. It is wise to change it soon after running. If you develop a blocked milk duct that will feel like a tender lump, reduce exercise until it is gone. If you have mastitis, stop exercising immediately and get treatment.
Do I need to drink more water if I am running and breastfeeding?
Yes, but do not gorge yourself on water. Drink what you would normally drink if not breastfeeding (which should be about 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce of water per pound that you weigh –so 65 ounces for a 130-pound woman) and then more to thirst after that.
Breastfeeding makes you thirstier because the oxytocin that your body releases during breastfeeding triggers thirst as a way to ensure your body is getting enough water to produce breastmilk. For exercise, the ACOG recommends that you drink before running and immediately after. One helpful way to check if you are getting adequate hydration is to examine the color of your urine. It should be pale yellow or clear. If your urine is darker or yellower, this is a sign of dehydration.
Related: Postpartum Running Plan
How many more calories do I need to eat if I am running and breastfeeding?
If you are not trying to lose weight (which should be done gradually 6 weeks postpartum), you’ll need to be eating quite a bit. Consider this, you burn up to 500 calories a day breastfeeding plus all the calories you burn running. Therefore, if you run 5 miles a day, you would need to eat close to an extra 1,000 calories a day to maintain weight and energy levels.
Can I run a race while breastfeeding?
Yes! It is safe to train and run a race while breastfeeding. Some women have even won ultramarathons while nursing. It just takes lots of logistical planning. Doing a trial race beforehand is a good idea to ensure you have your rhythm down.
Below are mother runners’ best tips for making breastfeeding and running coincide. And, if you’re looking for more on this topic, The Mother Runners Co-coach Laura Norris and I get real about it and all things being a mother runner on The Pumpspot Podcast.
8 Clever Running & Breastfeeding Tips
Get the right support.
Chances are, your pre-partum sports bra isn’t going to fit your postpartum chest. You need more support and room. Our Mother Runners loved this Ingrid and Isabel nursing sports bra. In fact, they wore it running, under outfits, and to sleep. They also liked Lululemon’s Enlite bra for its support and comfort.
Coach Laura reminds us to not nurse in our sports bras. “The compression of sports bras can block milk ducts which can lead to mastitis,” she explains. Also, only wear sports bras to run in. Change in and out of them quickly to avoid blockage. Finally, be sure to lube with Vaseline or Body Glide around the strapline and armpits to prevent chafing.
Eat and drink a lot.
Running while breastfeeding will not decrease your milk but it does require a lot from your body so you need to fuel it right. After all, breastfeeding alone is like running 5 miles a day. Here is what you need to eat and drink while breastfeeding:
Up your iron. What’s the biggest mistake new moms make? They cut back calories while simultaneously upping mileage—that’s a recipe for injury, says local nutritionist Betsy Johnson. In order to be healthy and energized, new moms need to focus on eating the right foods, like those containing iron. In fact, one in five women is iron deficient. Focus on eating iron-rich foods like meats, fish, leafy greens, and chocolate.
Drink that milk. Be sure to get enough calcium—especially those of you who’re breastfeeding which requires extra calcium intake. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that women who breastfeeding consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. Ask your doctor if it’s a good idea to take a calcium supplement.
Shake up that protein. Breastfeeding moms also need to make sure they’re getting enough protein. After growing a baby for 9 months and then supplying it with protein-rich breast milk, it’s necessary to replenish your own. Aim for five to seven servings of quality protein every day.
Stay hydrated. Aim to drink 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce of water per pound that you weigh when you aren’t nursing. For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, it’s a good idea to aim for 65 ounces of water per day. Hydrate right before and after exercise.
Related: 12 genius stroller running tips
Nurse or pump first.
Empty those bad boys before you go. In a perfect world, you can feed your baby and have a nice three-hour window to run. Maybe even have time to stretch, shower, and drink a smoothie afterward (!). But sometimes babies don’t play by our rule book. They don’t want to wake up for a good feeding or you don’t want to wake them up because you just got them to sleep. For those times, pump and have fresh milk ready for your partner to give to your baby should they get hungry when you’re out.
Many mamas do a “dream feed” before they run where they nurse their babies while they are sleeping. I was never able to master that, but it is a ‘dream” strategy if you can!
Related: The top running strollers on the market.
Stay close to home.
Some babies won’t take the bottle. (My daughter was one no matter every trick in the book we—and professionals—tried). For those babies, stay near so you can run back if needed.
Surely, this isn’t ideal. By the time you get home and do a feeding, your window to run is likely gone. When frustration mounts, remind yourself this won’t be the situation forever. Running will be there for you after you’re there for your baby.
Recruit your partner to your team.
One Mother Runner’s husband would kill me if he knew I was sharing this story…When confronted with a screaming baby, he put on his wife’s pink fuzzy robe that she wore while nursing—and lo and behold, the baby settled!
Another Mother Runner’s husband would take their baby boy to the track and jog with him while the mama did speedwork. That way she was close by if needed. Her husband preferred this option to being home with a hysterical baby. In fact, the baby’s attachment to mama became a good excuse for the husband and wife team to exercise together.
I would often run with my baby in the BOB stroller where I stored a nursing cover and blanket. During those cluster feeding stages, I’d stop and nurse under a tree or on a bench, and then keep running. It wasn’t the best workout—but I’d make up for it during those times she wanted OUT of the stroller and I would have to book it home (spontaneous speedwork!).
Related: 15 obstacles facing mother runners and how they overcome them
Pack your equipment.
One Mother Runner would pack a hand pump with her in case she needed to express milk while running (like if a baby only fed on one side during a run). (Check out this Mother Runner who set a world record in an ultra-marathon and pumped milk for her baby along the way. Incredible.) Another Mother Runner got an adaptor for her breast pump so she could pump in the car on the way to her starting point.
Related: How to overcome all barriers to exercise.
Feed, run, repeat.
For those of you ready to race while still nursing—you’re a badass. It’s a good idea to do a dry run with another race before your goal race. Be prepared to sandwich that race in between feeding sessions: breastfeed, warm-up, race, breastfeed, cooldown.
Then take a nap. A loooong nap.
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PS-I’d love to help you reach your running goals whether it be to run your first 5k or run competitively! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or check out my Coaching Services page!