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Will Exercise Affect My Ability to Breastfeed?

Guest Post by Jen Dugard

This is a common question amongst new mums and one I also wondered about after giving birth to my son and being keen to get back into the gym. Research by Lovelady et al (1995) examined the effects of a twelve week exercise program on lactating women.  The results of this investigation were that women who exercised postpartum benefited both physically and physiologically.  Breastfeeding was not adversely affected by exercise.

Having also gained knowledge through my own experience I would suggest that the effects that exercise has on breast milk production can vary from person to person and on the level of exercise you are doing – you need to monitor the effects it has on you.  I would advise keeping a food diary to ensure you are consuming enough energy for both the exercise you are doing and milk production.  Having kept my own food diary through this time I found on the days I didn’t eat enough my supply could drop a little.  In order to compensate for reduced milk supply I would allow my baby to stay longer at the breast than usual or use a breast pump for a short time following a feed in order to stimulate more milk production.  I find it interesting that most of the literature on this topic maintains that supply is not affected by exercise when, in the event of low supply we are urged to rest up to encourage more milk production.  To me, it would then make sense that a highly active woman’s milk supply may be affected.

The effects of exercise on postnatal women (and everyone else for that matter) are more positive than negative. Strength and stamina are increased along with our ability to carry out everyday activities whilst avoiding injury – especially when carrying growing babies.  The chances of developing age and weight related diseases are reduced and the mental benefits, especially for women suffering from postnatal depression, are fantastic with the release of endorphins during exercise.  

With this in mind I certainly don’t believe that breastfeeding is a reason not to exercise but I would recommend being in tune with your body.  Be aware of what you are doing and how your body responds.  Keep in mind that the assumption that your milk supply has dropped could be well timed with the faster feeding of your growing baby and the fact your body is becoming more efficient at producing the ‘right’ amount of milk for your little one.  This in turn may mean your breasts may not look or feel as ‘full’ as they did when your baby was very young.

But……be conscious of what you are putting in your mouth, if you are increasing movement you may need to increase your intake of healthy calories during this time.  Going for a run or hitting the gym isn’t an excuse to indulge but your body may benefit from an extra couple of hundred ‘healthy’ calories.  Try to see exercise in the early stages of breastfeeding as the start of the journey of getting back into shape.  It will take time and there is no reason to go too hard too soon but to start to gradually build up your fitness again whilst maintaining your calorie consumption.  

Jen Dugard is a highly motivated mother of two, fitness specialist and author who thrives on showing all mums that they can put themselves first and achieve both the body and lifestyle of their dreams. Jen’s message on exercise as a mum is simple: “you must take the time to re-build from the inside out to become stronger, fitter and more confident that you have ever been”. To find out more about Jen Dugard, Body Beyond Baby visit www.jendugard.com