So, how big are your breasts these days? Your breasts go up a cup size—or two—when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and a lot of moms wonder, “Hello, how am I going to be able to work out when my chest is this big?!” Going from an A cup to a C, or from a C cup to an F, can be a bit of a wild ride, but you can definitely keep on exercising while you’re nursing. Here’s what you need to know about breastfeeding and exercise, with in-the-know advice from experts and moms who have been there.
Those warnings you’ve heard about working out affecting breast milk taste, quality or supply? Not true. “There’s a pretty decent body of evidence to show there is no difference in breast milk whatsoever when a woman of normal weight exercises,” explains Stephanie Rodriguez-Moser, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in Brainerd, Minnesota, who works with new moms at her business, Fed With Love. (She adds that some studies suggest when an overweight woman works out, her milk supply may increase.) “If you are exercising in a super-exhaustive, very intensive way, breast milk may have a mild decrease in some immune factors and a mild increase in lactic acid, but chances are most women are not doing extreme exercise when they’re new moms.”
However, some babies don’t like sweat! “If you’re nursing right after you work out and your baby makes a funny face, it’s probably because he doesn’t like the salty taste of sweat,” notes Jennifer Johnson, a certified personal trainer and perinatal exercise specialist in Los Angeles, who blogs at her site, Baby Strong Workout. A quick wash is an easy fix.
Experts agree that a well-fitting, supportive bra is essential. A lot of women wear their pre-pregnancy sports bras, and that’s just not going to work, says Rodriguez-Moser. If you’re doing something higher-impact, like running, aerobics or CrossFit, look for wide straps and a fabric and design that’s tight enough to be supportive, but not too tight, which can lead to plugged ducts and mastitis, ouch.
For low-impact fitness like walking, yoga and Pilates, an active nursing bra grows with you during your pregnancy, and provides comfy support and access for breastfeeding if you’re doing a postnatal baby-and-me class. Athletic details like racerback straps and anti-microbial fabric are definite pluses too.
Pro tip: Breastfeed or pump your breast milk before your workout, suggests Tatum Rebelle, a certified personal trainer specializing in pre and post natal fitness and owner of Total Mommy Fitness in San Antonio, Texas. Your breasts won’t be as heavy, and you can enjoy your workout knowing that your babe has a full tummy and you don’t have to rush.
Sore, cracked nipples are usually an issue in the early stages of nursing. When your baby is teething you can end up with painful nipples because the latch isn’t quite right, says Rodriguez-Moser. She suggests using a breast shield to elevate the bra away from the nipple. Similarly, if you’ve had problems like thrush (a yeast infection in the nipples), a sweaty bra can contribute to a flare-up. Remember: change out of your active nursing bra right after your workout so your skin can breathe. Another helpful tip is to wear an active nursing bra that prevents the growth of odor-causing bacteria, keeping your bra fresh.
“Skip exercises that put pressure on the chest, when you’re lying on your stomach or pressing up against an upper body strength training machine,” says Rebelle. “I simply lighten the weight on the machine and have women sit back further on the seat. By using a lighter weight you won’t need to brace yourself against the machine, and you can add a few extra repetitions to make for an equally effective workout.”
Breastfeeding and exercising both burn up calories and require extra H20. “Eat to hunger and drink to thirst,” is a good rule of thumb, says Rodriguez-Moser.
Stay fully hydrated throughout the day by drinking water. “I know I need to drink more when the tips of my fingers and palms feel dry,” says Laura Gorjanc Pizmoht, a Cleveland, Ohio mom of three, who blogs at Salty Running about her experiences being a runner while pregnant or breastfeeding. “ I try to drink a glass of water after nursing and two after running. This works well for me.”
Your body has been through a lot with pregnancy and birth, plus you’re crazy-tired in those newborn days. Give yourself a break.
Remember, fitness and nursing are totally compatible. Exercise is a fun, healthy way to boost your energy, hang out with other moms and babies or carve out a little time for yourself. Consider it another essential item in your amazing mama toolkit.