My tips on how to run while breastfeeding.
Returning to running after having a baby was a challenge for me physically and mentally. I ran throughout my entire pregnancy (including the day I went to the hospital to have Thomas!), but returning to running was not so smooth. I dealt with a few health issues so getting back on the roads was a journey. But I do NOT say this to discourage you. In fact, I feel like there is far too much discouragement out there around pregnancy and postpartum (I mean, I wrote a post called 13 things NOT to say to a pregnant mom for a reason).
But, I share this to encourage you and remind you that you’re normal if it isn’t easy right away! It took me almost to the year mark for me to feel like my “old self” while running, but it IS possible! Just be patient, and give yourself grace if it takes longer than you hoped.
One of the logistical struggles I had with returning to running after pregnancy was figuring out how to schedule my runs around breastfeeding. I exclusively breastfed my son and have continued breastfeeding him even after he started solids. Learning to navigate feeding times that seemed to be constantly evolving made it difficult to get out the door for a run. But I made it work (I also have a very supportive husband who rearranged his schedule too!).
I won’t sugarcoat it: maintaining my supply while running has NOT been easy. I have to really stay on top of nutrition and hydration and pay attention to trends that I notice (more on that below). But, for me, breastfeeding was more important than running. So I was willing to make the sacrifices to make it work.
How To Run While Breastfeeding
Ready? Let’s jump in!
Pump before running
One of the challenges I dealt with was feeling very full when I was ready to run. What helped me was pumping (or expressing milk ahead of time) right before I left. Even if I had fed Thomas earlier, I would try to pump to make sure I wasn’t leaky or feeling too heavy on my runs. I didn’t love pumping honestly, but it helped so I was less tender and sore.
There have been some studies that show that strenuous exercise can increase the lactic acid found in your milk supply, so it’s best to wait to breastfeed for about an hour and half after running to make sure the lactic acid has left your milk. I haven’t been doing anything too strenuous so I haven’t worried about this, but consult with your doctor if you are concerned about this aspect.
Be flexible with your running schedule
In the beginning, my runs were only about 20 minutes (a far cry from my usual 60-80 min morning runs pre-pregnancy!). But, that gave me enough time to get back and feed myself and feed Thomas. I tried running during his naps but he would wake up so often that I couldn’t enjoy my runs, so I started riding the Peloton so I’d be there if he woke up. Now that he’s just had his first birthday, it’s very easy to plan when to go on a run around his feeding and nap schedule. But I remember feeling like my life operated in 20-30 minute chunks between nursing, cluster feedings, naps, etc.
Remind yourself that everything will be different in 3 months and it will be easier to get out the door for runs. It’s so hard and feels so isolating at times, I know. But you will look back and realize you blinked and it passed.
Invest in supportive sports bras
This is high up on the list because it helps SO much. For the first few months that I was running while breastfeeding, I loved this bra the most. Bonus points because it’s only $30 on Amazon! It’s lightly padded and had adjustable straps. The best part? it’s nursing friendly, so I could pump or nurse RIGHT before heading out the door. I also liked that it was easily adjustable while feeling supportive. In the recent months, I wanted something a little MORE supportive, so I tried the SheFit bra. 10/10. It’s $75, so definitely an investment for a bra, but well worth it. It’s a great bra for super high intensity workouts, which is why I didn’t really need it until a few months ago after I’d been running for a while postpartum. The SheFit bra is also a great nursing sports bra!
Hydrate hydrate HYDRATE
You already know this as a new mom, but it’s even more essential if you’re running while breastfeeding. Dehydration can impact milk supply and flow, so make sure you’re drinking enough water. However, you don’t need to drink TOO much. About half your body weight in ounces is great, so 65oz for a 130lb woman. Thankfully, as a runner and a nursing mom, you already know this! I’ve been eyeing this water bottle (and so has the rest of the world because it’s back ordered all the time!) because it’s 40oz, insulated, AND fits in a cup holder. This one is just 20oz but it’s in stock.
In addition to water, you also need electrolytes. Electrolytes maintain fluid balance, aid in blood flow, regulate blood pressure, build bone, and influence hormones. Also, sodium is a key component of breast milk, and that sodium comes from mom. There is research that suggests sodium supplementation increases lactation in mammals. (source) If you’re drinking lots of water but still feel constantly thirsty, try adding electrolytes to your water. I like LMNT best.
Eat more protein and iron-rich foods
Since breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day on TOP of the calories you burn while running, you’ll need to be conscious about refueling. Iron-rich foods, among other healthy foods, will help maintain energy and keep you strong and healthy. Lots of runners have low iron, so make sure to talk to your doctor about your iron levels. In general, make sure to eat foods like meats, fish, leafy greens, and chocolate. I use InsideTracker to keep an eye on my iron levels.In terms of macronutrients, protein is the big one while pregnant or breastfeeding.
For protein, you’ll need an additional 15-30 grams when breastfeeding. This protein increase helps maintain muscle and it helps with milk quality for your little one.
Pay attention to trends in your supply
As my mileage ramped up, I started realizing that my supply would dip like crazy on days that I ran more than 5 miles and the few weeks I ran over 30 miles a week, my supply started to drop again. Even if I did all the “right” things with hydration and nutrition, my body just couldn’t keep up. So, I also took it VERY easy the next day/week to allow my supply to rebound. Has this limited the training that I can do? Yes. Is it worth it? YES.
Give your supply a boost
When my supply dips, I put an extra emphasis on galactagogues like oatmeal for breakfast and healthy lactation cookies. I would often power pump 1-2 times a day (power power is pumping for 20 min, rest for 10, pump for 10, rest for 10, pump for 10), and I took lactation support supplements (I like Liquid Gold and Lactivist from Legendairy Milk). Remember, that the most effective way to increase supply is removing milk from your breast so feed that baby! And then, pump to remove more if you can. I would often pump right after I put him down for a nap, right after nursing to tell my body to make just a little bit more milk the next time.
Stay close to home
If you’re returning to running, it’s important not to run too far out since you have to work your way back. It may be tempting to turn your jog a long run if you feel amazing, but making sure you don’t overdo it is extremely important especially if you’re concerned about your supply and you haven’t fueled appropriately (or brought fuel/hydration with you).
Get a good running stroller
I have an entire post dedicated to running tips for strollers! I LOVE LOVE LOVE running with Thomas. And I thought I loved running before, but it’s so much sweeter with him. The stroller we got has been such a great investment, and it’s much better than the strollers I’ve borrowed or tried while we traveled. I have even stopped midrun at a park restroom and breastfed Thomas mid-run! 🙂