Breastfeeding and Exercise 101

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Breastfeeding also benefits the birthing person with lowering the risk of postpartum depression, increasing speed of weight loss, lowering breast cancer risk and stimulating uterine contraction to return to pre-birth size.

Breastfeeding is also healthier for mom emotionally: we produce naturally soothing hormones (oxytocin and prolactin) that promote stress reduction and happy feelings. It promotes the physical and emotional bond with more skin to skin contact and more chances to read our little bundle’s cues. Not to mention nothing to clean up! I don’t know about you but pumping and cleaning up the breast pump equipment was one of my least favorite tasks to do!

Now, I breastfed both of my babies and let me tell you, there was nothing easy about it, not to mention how painful it was at first! Both of my babies had to have multiple rounds of ear tubes for chronic ear infections and I wound up having 5 breast biopsies! So even though we try to do what we think is best for ourselves and our babies, breastfeeding is tough! But, lactation support can be crucially supportive and there are many local lactation specialists we can point you towards.

Since breastfeeding is the gold standard, let’s test our breastfeeding IQ:

True or False: Exercise will change milk quality:

False: Lots of active moms and athletes are afraid that continuing their exercise routine, while breastfeeding, will decrease the quality of their milk production. However, there is no evidence that supports this. Regular exercise of moderate to high intensity does not alter the quality of breast milk.

True or False: We need to increase water and caloric intake while breastfeeding:

True: Increasing water intake is important when exercising but becomes crucial while breastfeeding. A good gauge is the color of our urine. A light lemonade color indicates adequate water intake. We can burn up to 500 extra calories a day to build and maintain a milk supply while breastfeeding so eating nutrient rich food becomes important. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream.

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, collard greens, and bok choy.

  • Canned sardines and salmon with bones

True or False: Breastfeeding has a negative effect on mom’s bones:

True: But, only temporarily! Did you know that when we breastfeed, we lose 4-10% of our bone mass within the first 6 months while breastfeeding! Look at it this way, during one year of menopause, we lose 4% of our bone mass. Breastfeeding by far has a larger impact on our bone mass in a shorter amount of time! Yet, bone health rebounds and excellent nutrition supports that.

True or False: Weight training and load bearing exercises improve bone quality:

True: The bones most susceptible to bone loss are the sacrum, lumbar spine and femur. If you are a postpartum runner, it becomes even more crucial for not only increased calcium in your diet but a safe way to increase bone mass. The easiest ways to do this are through weighted squats and jumping with soft landings. Heavy lifting performed quickly improves bone mass and density. Jumping with a soft landing forces the muscles to bend the bone which increases torque increasing strength of our bones.

Breastfeeding has many benefits for our babies and ourselves. Exercise also benefits both momma and baby. Finding a way to fit in both can be a challenge but once accomplished, having that balance between bonding with your baby and exercising your body will leave you a stronger, albeit tired momma! And one day, your bones will thank you for it.

Bane, Susan. “Postpartum Exercise and Lactation.” Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 58 no. 4, December 2015, pp. 885-892.

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Bone Health. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bones Diseases National Resource Center

Mottola, Michell et al. “2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy.” Br. J Sports Med 2018, 52. pp. 1339-1346.

Podcast: Dr. Rathna Nuti “Caring for the Pregnant Athlete with Dr. Ellen Casey,” Episode #452, BJSM, Oct 30, 2020