After birth, most mothers can’t wait to get back to an active lifestyle, or to lose some of the weight they may have gained during their pregnancy.
It’s important to note that you must always first receive medical clearance from your healthcare provider to exercise. The recommended waiting times are 6 weeks after vaginal birth and 12 weeks after caesarean section. This is for many reasons including having a big womb on the inside of your womb, but also in the case of a caesarean section, you just had major abdominal surgery and just like with any other major surgery, you need time to heal.
Remember that your core will also not be the same as it was before pregnancy, it will be much weaker, and it will leave you prone to injury if you don’t concentrate on strengthening your core first, before beginning your usual more intense exercise routine again.
The number one worry for breastfeeding mothers though, is how will it affect breastfeeding and the milk supply.
Understanding the milk supply
Before we explore the impact of exercise on milk supply, it’s important to understand the factors that influence milk production. The production and regulation of breast milk are primarily governed by demand and supply. The more often a baby breastfeeds, the more milk the mother’s body will produce.
Exercise and Milk Supply
There have been several studies that have investigated the effect of exercise on breastfeeding and milk supply. The general consensus is that moderate exercise does not negatively impact milk production. In fact, regular exercise has been shown to have many benefits for breastfeeding mothers, including improved mood, increased energy levels, and faster postpartum recovery.
There have been a few small studies that shows the IGA levels in breastmilk is slightly decreased after strenuous/exhaustive exercise. This is usually only for up to an hour. One feeding a day with reduced IGA levels are highly unlikely to be of concern. A further study has shown that light to moderate exercise did not have any effect on IGA levels at all.
Studies have also shown that there is an increase of lactic acid in the breastmilk for up to 60-90 minutes after strenuous/exhaustive exercise. But no noticeable increases in light to moderate exercise. Lactic acid is not harmful to babies and most babies will drink from the breast despite the increased levels of lactic acid.
Exercise Recommendations for Breastfeeding Mothers
While exercise is generally safe and beneficial for breastfeeding mothers, it is essential to follow some guidelines to ensure optimal milk supply and overall health.
If you weren’t active during pregnancy, it’s best to start with low-impact activities and slowly increase the intensity and duration of your workouts over time as your body adjusts. This will allow your body to adapt to the physical demands without compromising your milk supply.
Moderate exercise is generally safe and beneficial for breastfeeding mothers. Brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and low-impact aerobics are excellent choices that can be easily incorporated into a daily routine.
Hydration is crucial for milk production. Both too little and too much fluids can negatively affect the milk supply. Breastfeeding mothers should drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to maintain optimal hydration levels, but be mindful of not forcing yourself to drink too much fluids.
Breastfeeding and caloric Needs
Breastfeeding requires additional calories to support milk production, so it is essential to meet your increased energy demands. Consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to determine the appropriate calorie intake based on your activity level and individual needs.
Invest in a well-fitting, supportive sports bra to reduce any breast discomfort and provide adequate support during exercise. This will help prevent any discomfort or issues such as blocked milk ducts due to ill-fitting clothing.
Breastfeed before exercising to ensure your breasts are as comfortable as possible. Fuller breasts can lead to discomfort during workouts.
Listen to your body
Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. If you experience pain, excessive fatigue, or notice a sudden drop in milk supply, it may be a sign that you need to take it much slower or seek medical advice.
If in doubt or in need of support, contact an experienced personal trainer who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum exercise to guide you to safely get back into an active lifestyle. On the other hand, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can always be contacted for any breastfeeding advice or information.