Many postpartum mamas step back into exercise with uncertainty. Even after you’ve been cleared by your doctor or your pelvic floor PT, you might be hesitant because you’re trying to figure out breastfeeding, and you want to keep supply levels up for your baby’s nursing needs. Maybe you’re struggling with getting the right latch or figuring out pumping, and the last thing you want to do is start an activity that may decrease your supply. If you’ve heard that exercise can decrease your milk supply, I’m here to bust that myth and help you find an exercise program you feel confident about as you nurse.
The season of nursing is rewarding, but it can be difficult at times — and sometimes, your supply does drop off. Today, let’s discuss the impact of returning to exercise on milk supply as well as unpack a few of the things that can cause a decrease in milk production.
Before ever worrying about things that may decrease your supply, it is important to learn how to establish a healthy supply especially if you are a first-time mom!
Remember, I am not a lactation consultant, so my advice is purely based off of my research as a medical professional as well as personal experience as a breastfeeding mother myself.
Here are a few helpful tips to start off your breastfeeding journey on the right foot:
If you’ve recently started working out again and noticed a downturn in your supply, it’s easy to blame your increased activity levels. I totally understand how this myth came to exist, but in reality, lots of causes can be hiding behind low milk supply. The season of nursing is rewarding, but it can be difficult at times — and sometimes, your supply does drop off. Let’s unpack a few of the things that can cause a decrease in milk production.
When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol. This hormone can affect many bodily systems, including breast milk for nursing moms.
When cortisol levels are high they actually suppress a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production, so you can imagine the higher the cortisol levels, the lower the prolactin levels and therefore the lower the milk supply.
The good news is that a consistent workout routine can stabilize your cortisol levels and relieve stress — so consider this a big “yes” to working out even when the newborn season feels stressful. It can help you regulate your hormones!
Your body is attuned to your baby’s needs. If you’re nursing and pumping regularly, your milk supply will often adjust itself to “keep up!” If you find that your breast milk supply has taken a downturn, consider trying to nurse more often, or pumping in between feedings to stimulate your supply.
Lactation consultants typically recommend nursing every 2-4 hours (this number can be even lower during cluster feeding) during the first 6 months. This means nursing or pumping 8-12 times over the span of 24 hours – I know that can seem overwhelming!
Once you begin introducing solid foods to your little one, your baby may nurse less often and for less time, but it is still important to offer breast milk frequently as breastmilk constitutes the primary source of nutrients for your baby.
Nursing doesn’t always come easy, and that applies to infants, too! If your supply is dwindling, it could be because your baby isn’t latching effectively when you do nurse them.
This happened to me during the first month of nursing my little girl. She had quite the difficult time effectively latching, so I made a few trips to the outpatient lactation clinic at the hospital where I delivered. The lactation consultants were SO helpful and I felt so confident in continuing our nursing journey after visiting with them.
Don’t be ashamed to reach out to your doctor or a lactation consultant for help — they can get you back on track if latching isn’t working on your own.
If you’re like me, you find yourself pumping at work often. But if your pump isn’t doing its job to get the output you require, all that pumping may not be as helpful as it could be. If you’re concerned that your pump may be the problem, consider adding an extra session, trying a new brand or consulting with a lactation expert. Often the problem may be an incorrect flange size or worn out valves and membranes (breast pump parts).
When you’re breastfeeding, you’re going to need some extra calories, protein, and nutrients to make up for the supply your body is working hard to create. Nutritional experts recommend consuming an additional 450-500 calories per day – breastfeeding is hard work!
Don’t forget about a postnatal as well! I highly recommend the Postnatal Multivitamin + Omega-3 by Anya (code: DRMAE15 for 15% off) for all women the first year postpartum (or longer if you continue to breastfeed) to ensure you are receiving the appropriate amount of nutrients needed for energy production, lactation and metabolism.
Chat with your pediatrician or a nutritionist if you need help finding a diet that works for your specific needs!
In those newborn days, you’re trying to find a new rhythm — and that means you might not reach for a glass of water as often as you used to. But hydration is a major helper when it comes to keeping your milk supply up, so grab a big water bottle and stay hydrated! Believe it or not, but breastmilk is 80% water! Those huge Stanley cups are super on trend right now, and I think they’re a perfect solution for drinking more water.
Of course, every new mom isn’t sleeping enough. That’s just a fact of life. But don’t jump to exercise as the culprit for your milk supply drop off — it could be your exhaustion that’s taking the toll! As much as you can, get the rest you need, and remember that this season is temporary. You and your baby will find a sleep rhythm soon.
Here’s the good news: no, exercise doesn’t decrease your breast milk supply. You can get back into strength and cardio without fear that you won’t be able to breastfeed!
But before you jump right in, let’s briefly look at the research.
Research has shown that breast milk volume and composition is not affected in women who partake in moderate exercise. In this article, moderate exercise is defined as exercising at 60-70% above your resting heart rate for 45 minutes per day, 5 days per week.
But who has time to calculate that? Here’s a better way. The talk test.
The “talk test” simply means that you can engage in light conversation while exercising needing to pause to catch your breath only briefly.
What about more intense exercise? Unfortunately, there is not enough good research out there to come up with a definitive answer, so I personally recommend sticking to moderate exercise for the primary form of working out while breastfeeding. Think: walking, strength training, incline walking, biking, jogging, barre, etc.
Now that the milk myth is busted, it’s time to get moving! If you’re jumping back into postpartum workouts, here are my top tips.
Trust me when I say this — full boobs are uncomfortable, especially if you’re doing an exercise with impact! Plan your workouts around a feeding or pumping schedule to minimize any potential pressure or discomfort.
I cannot emphasize this enough — exercise and breastfeeding both dehydrate you, so it’s important to keep the water flowing before, during, and after your workout session. Make sure you’re getting enough nutritious food to support increased movement, too. Depleted nutrients will equal a depleted milk supply.
I love eating oatmeal every morning before a workout. Here is my recipe:
Low-impact exercise is great for postpartum moms for a number of reasons! Skip those daily HIIT and intense cardio sessions and opt for strength training when you can. Choosing a high intensity workout every day can increase your cortisol levels, which does negatively impact your supply. But daily strength training and low-impact movement will have virtually zero negative effects for your breastfeeding days.
PLUS, you do not realize just how much strength you need for motherhood. All of the lifting/pushing/carrying of a baby and all of their equipment takes strength and there is no better way to stay strong through motherhood than lifting weights.
Not sure where to start in returning to exercise postpartum?
My Movement through Early Postpartum online course and fitness program covers how to return to safe movement during the fourth trimester by providing daily movement as well as education modules on topics nobody discusses such as pain with intercourse, diastasis recti and urinary incontinence.
I hope you feel ready to step back into the gym or roll out your mat at home, knowing that you can absolutely exercise and breastfeed in the same season with confidence.