Fitness and Breastfeeding

by Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC

fitness, fit moms, fitness for moms, walking, breastfeeding and fitness

Moms can burn 500 calories a day while breastfeeding.  So that’s all you have to do, right?  Just breastfeed?  And the weight will all magically fall off and you will look like Giselle?

Breastfeeding can absolutely help you to lose weight, but many moms find that they need to embark on a plan of diet and exercise, too.  (And, just for good measure, please let me remind you not to begin a diet/exercise plan without consulting a medical professional and all that jazz.  Also, don’t rush into physical activity right after having a baby, take the time you need to really heal and adjust to having a new baby, pushing your body too soon could lead to further health issues.  Most moms find they need to wait at least 6 weeks, often closer to 12 weeks postpartum before they start exercising.)

BUT WAIT!  There are a lot of things that people talk about with diet and exercise and breastfeeding that make doing it seem…well, like maybe not the best idea.  So what’s the reality?  Can you safely breastfeed and lose weight?  Or exercise?

I am so glad that I just asked that for you.  The short answer is yes!  Of course!  But the long answer is addressed below, as we unmask three very common breastfeeding myths…

Myth #1- You need to eat A LOT to make milk, and drink A LOT, too.

Ok, so here’s the deal.  When you are breastfeeding, you should eat to hunger and drink to thirst.  So, if you’re hungry?  Eat something.  If you’re thirsty?  Drink something.  You may find yourself ravenous, or you may find that your appetite has changed little.  Listen to your body’s cues.  There’s probably little to no need to shove extra food in your mouth or force yourself to drink excessive amounts.  In fact, over drinking water has been linked to a lowered supply.  You may find yourself thirstier, and if you genuinely feel that you need to drink, do it.  Just don’t force a specific amount down your throat in hopes that you will increase supply.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should rejoice and eat whatever, whenever.  Eating a mostly healthy and balanced diet is important.  Few of us are going to be able to eat perfectly all the time, though, especially with a new baby.  So I always tell my clients to continue to take a multivitamin, like their prenatal, throughout the breastfeeding relationship.  Moms probably need some extra Vitamin D, too.  (See this study for more information.)  Most moms can safely take 4000-6000 IUs a day.  This will not only help you, but can help to increase the Vitamin D in your breastmilk, too.  However, you should check with your doctor before increasing any dosages or starting any new vitamins.

Myth #2- You can’t cut calories while breastfeeding.

Not entirely true.  You probably should wait to diet until at least 6-8 weeks, and you shouldn’t go from eating, say, 2500 calories a day to 1500 overnight.  But as long as you have an established supply, decrease your calories slowly, and go no lower than 1500-1800 calories per day as appropriate for your body type, you can absolutely work on losing some weight.  1-2 pounds a week is a pretty safe range of loss, whether or not you are breastfeeding.

Some popular programs have developed breastfeeding options to help moms lose weight safely while breastfeeding.  Weight Watchers and My Fitness Pal both have breastfeeding options.

Myth #3- Exercising while breastfeeding will make my supply lower/make my milk gross or sour!

Let’s talk about exercise decreasing supply, first.  If you are constantly working out to exhaustion (and you’re probably not.  I did P90X for about a month when I was in the third month of breastfeeding my daughter, and it didn’t fall into the exhaustive, supply-diminishing category,) yes, you may see some reduction in supply.  Regular, moderate exercise, however, might actually increase your production, although that’s not guaranteed.  Even high intensity exercise when it’s balanced well with adequate caloric intake, is fine and many mothers experience no trouble with high intensity work outs.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard that your baby won’t drink your milk if you have been exercising, because lactic acid will build up and sour your milk.  The entire premise for this was one study with a whole lot of issues. Further studies have not been able to replicate this, and have, instead, pretty clearly shown that babies don’t refuse the breast after exercising.  Anecdotal evidence, while not “official,” shows that many breastfeeding mothers experience quite the satisfied customer in their breastfed baby following even intense work outs.

One thing you do need to worry about while breastfeeding and exercising is wearing a supportive bra that isn’t too tight.  Some sports bras can be really, really binding.  You want to avoid that, obviously, to keep from having issues with plugged ducts and the like.

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Have you heard any other breastfeeding and fitness myths?  Did you lose weight or become more fit while nursing?  Let us know in the comments!

 

 Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC, began her career helping women breastfeed as a breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest.  Today she is a hospital based lactation consultant who also does private practice work through Lactastic Services.  She recently moved to the northern US with her two daughters and they are learning to cope with early October snowfalls (her Facebook page is here, go “like” for great support). 
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Comments

  1. I really really wish someone would address the issue of breastfeeding twins and exercising. Before I became pregnant, I was in very good shape, I ran, I did weight training, I ate a very healthy diet. Over the course of my twin pregnancy, I gained 60 lbs. I lost 30 lbs when I gave birth to my twin boys at 39 weeks. One vaginally and the other by emergency c section. I waited 6 weeks and started exercising again. Still, 30 lbs haven’t budged. I am eating a balanced diet. I cannot find any information on exercise, the calorie intake needed to breastfeed twins and workout safely. I feel like the topic of twins is very much ignored, maybe it is the fact that many people do not have twins, or the fact that people who do have twins rarely breastfeed, but I would very much appreciate some awareness that we multiple moms need advice too! And most likely, have the bigger need to lose weight.

    I would like to add that it is actually the salt from your sweat that the babies do not enjoy. After working out, I nurse my boys again, and they make the funniest faces until they get the milk flowing. Naturally, you could wipe your breasts off before feeding, but then you wouldn’t see all the funny faces!

    • Hey, Tara!

      With twins, the way I would handle calories is this:
      You burn approximately 20 calories per ounce of milk made. So I would take the amount of times that they nurse a day, assume they are consuming about 2-4 ounces per feed if they are nursing at the breast and between 1-6 months old, and figure out a rough estimate of ounces that they are taking in. Then multiply that by 20, for calories burned. I would then figure out your basal metabolic rate (the calculation for this is – 655+ (4.35*weight in pounds)+(4.7*height in inches)-(4.7*age in years). Once you have that number, multiply it by 1.2. That’s the calories you need to maintain your current weight. You want to have about 500 less than that in a day to start losing weight. You can eat as much as you want as long as your calories burnt from breastfeeding and exercising amount to at least 500 less than that.

      Does that all make sense? I know it’s kind of convoluted.

      -Star

  2. I am a perinatal exercise specialist and I put together a short and sweet one-page info sheet on breastfeeding and exercise, but I can’t add an attachment here. Let me know if there’s an email address I can send it to so you can share it with your mom followers.

  3. Great article…do you by any chance have a suggestion for work-out bras? I started working out religiously when my baby was around 3 months and for a while had absolutely no problems with my nipples/plugged ducts. Right around 9-10 months though, I started getting blebs each time I worked out (I have pretty large breasts and wear two bras to keep from flapping around too much). Anyway, they would go away pretty easily when I nursed, however now that my daughter is 17 months and doesn’t nurse as frequently, I am unable to get rid of the blebs and have stopped being able to work out as it is pretty painful to have so much pressure on my nipples (not to mention not being able to get rid of these last 15 lbs.). So long story short, have you heard of this and/or have any ideas??