Nursing and Ultras ?!?!

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Do you think these two things can go hand-in-hand?

When I was pregnant, I was often asked told : You know you can’t run a lot and breastfeed, right?

And to be honest, at the time, I wasn’t really sure it was possible to run the miles I wanted, train for the races I had planned, AND breastfeed at the same time.  There was quite a bit of personal accounts and literature on exercising while pregnant, but I didn’t find much regarding running and breastfeeding. Both Runner’s World Guide to Running and Pregnancy and La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (which was and still is my go-to book for all breastfeeding questions) said breastfeeding was completing safe (for mama and baby) if you were exercising.  But I couldn’t find anything quantifiable, any woman who said she ran “x” number of miles a week and was still breastfeeding successfully. (Note: I was not on twitter or blogging at the time so did not have the information these sites offer.) 

My goal was to breastfeed my son for a year.  At the end of the day, that was the most important thing I wanted to accomplish.  So, just as I did with running through pregnancy, I decided to go in with a flexible mindset.  I would give running and breastfeeding a try – but if I saw any signs of negative consequences due to running, I would decrease my mileage or stop completely.

Fast forward to today.

My son is 13 months old and I am still successfully (and happily) breastfeeding him.  I exclusively breastfed for the first six months of his life (at which point I incorporated cereal and table food). AND I DID THIS while running 40-65 miles a week and training for the NYC Marathon and my first ultra – the Knickerbocker 60k. 

Breastfeeding is not for everyone (and I’m certainly not preaching that you should breastfeed) – however, if you decide to breastfeed and want to continue running and racing, take it from me and my experience —> it IS possible!!

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I will be honest – breastfeeding and trying to run and race the way I wanted was not easy for me.  There were many days when I wondered how much easier it would be if my son were not be completely dependent on me for his nutrition…to not have to coordinate and plan my runs around his sleep and nap schedule…to not get called back after a 2-3 miles because he was awake and seemed hungry (he didn’t take a bottle until he was 5 mo old).

But, I always came back to the same answer: Running is a huge part of my life.  But my son (and therefore, his health) IS MY LIFE and therefore my #1 priority.  And therefore, I was going to breastfeed him for a year. 

During the first few months, I received some negative backlash.  Most comments focused on the effects it would have on the quality, quantity, and taste of my milk:
     – Quality: My son did not get sick once during the first 11 months of his life (he had an ear infection when he was just over 11 months old) – no fevers, no colds.  He was in the 50th percentile in height and weight at birth, but by 4 weeks was over the 90th in both and has consistently been high.  He didn’t have anything except breastmilk for the first 6 months of his life.  The milk was providing him the nutrients and calories his body needed to grow and stay healthy.
     – Quantity: My son did not show signs of hunger unless it was getting close to the time I normally nursed him.  I fed him on a “loose” schedule – well within the number of times suggested by the LLL and other breastfeeding sources.  And he was a happy baby – this is the first comment I usually heard when someone met him for the first time.  Hungry babies tend to not be happy all the time.
     – Taste: This was the comment I heard most frequently. I was told that running would cause my milk to taste funny/bad and my son would not want to breastfeed anymore.  I don’t doubt that running (lactic acid) changes the flavor of the milk.  But, I started running 5 days after my son was born – this is all he’s ever known.  It’s no different than a mom eating really spicy foods or certain herbs while breastfeeding.  I have never had an issue with my son not wanting to nurse (except when he was starting to teethe).  And he has always gotten excited and happy when it’s time to nurse – even now, when I ask him if he wants “boobie” (aka “to nurse”), he comes running and tries to jump in my lap.

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Below are a few of my lessons learned and some tips that may help you!

 

– The first few months are the toughest.  If you can get through those while running, the rest will seem like a piece of cake!

Squeeze in runs, no matter how short (esp during birth – 3 mo when you are bf’ing around the clock).

– I learned to accept that I could no longer run when I wanted and for however long I wanted to run for.  My time – and my body – now belonged to someone else.  My runs were now based on his schedule and I realized I had to make make each mile and each run count.

Always be ready for a run (esp when your child is < 3 months):
     – Early Morning: I would dress for my run and then nurse my son.  Once I was finished, my husband would get the parenting duties and I would head out the door.
     – Late Evening: My son usually took a long nap in the late afternoons (around 5pm), so if my husband made it back from work relatively early, I would head out as soon as he walked in.  My husband would call when my son woke up and I would return home to nurse him.

– Opt for runs that you can do right outside your home/apt rather than spending the time driving to a location. Each minute matters when you are nursing (esp when they are young) and you don’t want to spend half the time in the car when you could be running.

– Determine when is the right time (for you and your family) to introduce your child to the bottle. There’s tons of differing opinions on this topic. I am not a trained professional in the lactation field so will not try to tell you what you should/shouldn’t do. Here’s what I CAN tell you: I waited until AJ was 8 weeks old.  He did not successfully take a bottle until he was 5 months old. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world (I’m a stay at home mom), it did make running much more difficult especially since he was nursing very frequently at the 3-4 month mark.  (Note: I plan to start a bit earlier with baby #2.)

– Nurse and/or pump right before you head out on a long run.  That way, your child will be properly fed (and/or have milk when he/she gets hungry) AND you are not worried about getting home b/c you are in pain from going too long in between nursings.

– When I was training for the NYC Marathon and the 60k, I would often get up early (~4am) to run before my son woke up.  I would pump moments before I left on my run to ensure that it didn’t negatively affect my milk supply as well as making sure that there was milk for my son when he woke up (he’s an early riser ~ 530-6am)

– Once my son began napping longer, I would nurse him, put him to sleep, and then head out on my long runs (most often on the weekends when my husband was around to watch him!).  This did two things for me: ensured that my son was properly fed and allowed me to run for a much longer stretch of time.

– Nurse where you need to / when you need to -> don’t feel ashamed!
    
NYC Marathon: My mom, husband, sister, son, and I drove to the staging area in Fort Wadsworth.  Before I got out of the car, I nursed him.  I knew it would be quite a while until I saw him again.  Thankfully, my mom, husband, and son were literally at the finish line.  Within 10 minutes of crossing the finish line, I was in a bathroom with my son.  I wiped down and nursed him in a stall.  It wasn’t the most comfortable or easiest way to nurse him – but we both needed it!
     – Knickerbocker 60k: My husband, son, and I made our way to the start area.  When there was about 30 min to go before the race started, I found a bench, covered up, and nursed my son.  I NEEDED to nurse him as close to the start as I could – it would be probably close to 6 hours before I would get to nurse him again and wanted to ensure that he was adequately fed and I was properly drained!

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Did you nurse while training/running a long distance race?  Any tips you want to share with other readers?

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* Note: I am NOT a lactation specialist – this post is not meant to give official tips on breastfeeding – it is merely my account of breastfeeding and training!

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    46 thoughts on “Nursing and Ultras ?!?!

    1. great post! I am successfully nursing and running withy 3 month old. My is issue is that my hubby is deployed and can’t watch the baby while I run. I currently run with her in jogging stroller. I’m supposed to be training for a full marathon. However, I am only able to get to 6 miles in before she starts crying. I need tips for running with baby!

    2. Hey, congratulations on all your accomplishments. My question is what was your caloric intake when you started running? How did you calculate what you needed. I’m 38 weeks and don’t count calories right now. I just eat a healthy diet when I’m hungry. Of course I give in to certain cheats here an there but I’ve been able to keep my weight gain in check with running and lifting weights. Anyways, after birth I do plan on going back to food logging n calorie counting I just don’t know what will be ideal at first and also when I start running again?
      Thank you,
      Somer

      • Somer – so so sorry I did not respond sooner!! I’m guessing you had the baby already! So a huge congrats! Hope L&D went quickly and smoothly and that you are enjoying your first few weeks of motherhood!
        So I never really counted calories when I was bf’ing – I felt like I was always hungry so I was eating quite often – maybe 5-6 small meals (not a ton at each small meal though). I focused on things high in fat like avocados, peanut butter, I added olive oil to things (like quinoa and pasta to get some good calories/fat)…My guess is probably around 3,000? Maybe closer to 4,000 when I was training for the Ironman. The other BIG thing is water. If you look at recommended water for a female working out/running, it’s something like 100-120 oz. Same for a nursing mom. So I often drank upwards of 120 oz (closer to 150 on some days). If I had a few days of not enough water, I immediately saw a decrease in my milk.
        Let me know if you have any other questions about nursing and training – would love to help if you need it =)
        Congrats, again!!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Marathon Recovery + Descending LadderMy Profile

    3. I apologize if you answer this question in a different post, but when you went the 6 hours for the 60K did you stop and pump anywhere or just push though? I’m 8 weeks pp and training for a century ride.

      • Jennifer – so sorry I am just now responding to this question. I ran straight through for the ultra. My son was about 10 mo at the time so I made decision to nurse right before and right after (so it was only about 5 1/2 hours). I was in a little bit of pain by the end but it wasn’t terrible!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Eight Mile Tempo to Ride into the MarathonMy Profile

    4. So glad I’ve found your blog!
      I’m still in 1st trimester but what worries me most is handling nursing-everyday job-running after I give birth. I will have to start working 3 months after the baby is born and I want to breastfeed as long as I can (god bless the person who invented the pump!). I also want to retain my running routine, but it looks like accomplishing all that together will be H A R D. My husband is also a runner and works full time (10hours/day) so I guess we will have to plan our schedules very carefully. Would be happy to hear other similar experiences and advices on how to handle that.

      • Coralie! My sister went back to work a bit later than you did but continued breastfeeding until her daughter was 2! It definitely takes a huge commitment to continue to nurse after you return to work – thankfully for her she has her own office and was able to shut the door and pump every few hours.
        I can answer whatever questions you may have about it! With my 2nd son, we started the bottle MUCH earlier (~5 weeks). He will take it if he’s hungry but has no interest if he’s not starving. But it’s great b/c I no longer have this weight on my shoulders that I need to rush back home b/c he’s starving (like I had to do with my 1st).
        I have always found that running super early in the AM when he’s still sleeping is the best schedule for me. Usually he nurses from one side around 4/5 and goes back to sleep. I get up around 5, pump from the other side (~4-6 oz) and run. I have a clear head knowing that there is milk in case he wakes up and it helps relieve me so I don’t have as much pressure =) The night time is a bit harder b/c his bedtime varies by ~an hour or so and I find that after a day of bf’ing – I’m exhausted!!
        Hope you are feeling well!! And congrats on the baby news! =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..IntervalsMy Profile

    5. I am slowly getting back into running 4 months after giving birth to my son. Once all the typical issues were dismissed (nutrition, taste…) I was left with something I hadn’t had to deal with – the girls. I am dealing with chaffing and too little support or wearing a sports bra that literally makes it hard to breathe. What type of bra did you use?

    6. You are a savior!
      I am currently pregnant with #3 and still running…slowly. I plan on staying active as long as I can while pregnant and picking up running when I feel the time is right after baby is born.

      Just like you, it is my mission (I BF both other children but was not yet a runner) to BF my new baby until he/she is 10 months-1 year and continue to run. Running will always take the hit if I need to pick between the two.

      I am not looking forward to the conversations I am going to have to have with family about my running and BF. Thank you SO MUCH for the honesty and time you put into this post. I feel worlds better about my choices and feel a lot less alone!

      xoxo
      MB

    7. I was looking at hungry runner girl and came along your comment which brought me to your site and then this post! I am nursing my 7 week old and just in the last week have finally been able to get out onto the pavement but of course I’ve had those thoughts of 1) supply 2) taste 3) fussy and 4) everything else. This adds a lot of peace of mind and I”m going to keep looking at some more of your posts as although I haven’t ‘ran’ since 20wks, I want to get back into some races.

      • I love Janae and her blog!! She is the best =)

        Congrats on the new addition to your family!! Hope you are enjoying motherhood !!!

        If you have any specific questions about nursing, feel free to email me!! I nursed my son until he was 15 mo old – would have gone longer but was away from him for 3 days and he completely weaned himself while I was gone!!!

    8. I love this post. It speaks so much truth into the realities of being a fit breastfeeding mom. I had so many people tell me that running/exercising would cause my milk to dry up, that I wouldn’t be able to do both and that I was selfish to think I could do something for “me” when it went against everything breastfeeding was meant to represent (which is completely untrue as I learned). I bottle trained both my kids in their second week and now with my return to doing what I love just around the corner, I have a system that will work for me and keep my son healthy, happy and watching his mama model an active lifestyle. It’s not easy and you’re absolutely right when you say that you work on their schedule and ultimately, they are the priority but with a bottle, a boob and a pump, it’s completely feasible. Thanks so much for posting this for others to see.
      Steph @fitmomtraining recently posted..Fast Five Fit FridayMy Profile

    9. Thank you for posting this. I’m not breastfeeding yet, I’m just barely into my 2nd trimester. My first trimester was awful, I never felt well enough to run and it’s been playing games with my head, making me think this pregnancy was going to eliminate running forever. But the positive posts I read about running and motherhood with babies, all help me. So again, Thanks!
      Jill Will Run recently posted..Book Review: The Gluten-Free Good Health CookbookMy Profile

    10. great post! i have this great picture immediately postrace of me nursing my second (she is 4 or 5 months old at the time), her little chubby hand is fondling the crinkly paper of the race number bib still on my singlet :)

    11. This is a great post. We had a lot of challenging nursing, our daughter was 4 weeks early and wouldn’t latch. With help from an amazing lactation consultant we successfully nursed for 10 months. I started running when our daughter was 2 months old and it was good timing. But you have to find a balance of nursing and running and having that support to do both. Thanks for this post and happy running.
      Anna recently posted..Fitting in a Workout when WorkingMy Profile

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    13. Since I nursed both my boys for 3 years (yeah, I’m the crazy home birthing extended nursing mom), I had to figure out ways to run. I can’t tell you how many times my kids were nursed right after a run or race, wherever we happened to be. I’m pretty sure they thought that breast milk was meant to taste salty LOL.

      Go you! Keep it up!
      MCM Mama recently posted..And the exercise streak ends…My Profile

    14. Love this post. Really LOVE it! I heard all the same things too when I was breastfeeding. I was breastfeeding twin boys and still running races and actually ran my very first marathon. Being a mom is hard no matter what and we need to do what’s right for us. YOU GO MAMA!! :) (I feel like we’re good friends all of a sudden just from reading this post.) :) Have a great weekend!
      STUFT Mama recently posted..My Trainer BobMy Profile

    15. Great post and one that I’m sure will help lots of new moms and moms-to-be! I have always felt that where there’s a will there’s a way. You proved that a seemingly impossible combination can be pulled off. Way to go.
      misszippy1 recently posted..Head gamesMy Profile

    16. Great post, Michelle! I was able to breastfeed and run through 14 months, and heard many of the same cautions you heard. But like Kara, I am in awe that you kept such high mileage! I struggled to keep my milk supply up when I incorporated long runs, I don’t know if it was a dehydration issue or what, but it did get much easier when she started some solids at six months. Way to go on continuing to bf! I was hoping to make it to 2yo, but she let me know she was done, so we weaned earlier.
      Laura recently posted..New Shoes + Training ScheduleMy Profile

    17. Um…wow? I am in awe of you. When I was nursing, my energy was so low and I could barely eat enough to keep up with nursing and running 20 miles a week, so you’re a freaking superhero. Great job on the 60K! That would be a fun distance to tackle, but I’ve never seen one that distance around here.
      Kara recently posted..Back to being an adultMy Profile

    18. I nursed both my kids for 4-6 months, and that was a challenge. I was back at work, but still. God bless your determination and your ability to focus, first on him and then on yourself. You are a model mom and more women should be like you. Your son is lucky to have such a great role model.
      Jen Correa @ Mom’s Gotta Run recently posted..Salad and YogaMy Profile

    19. Hi Michele! This is a wonderful post! My little guy turned 1 yesterday and I am still exclusively nursing him. Over the past year I’ve run 2 marathons and several races from 5k-13.1 along the way too. I felt the same exact way as you did going into it – and am so grateful we have been able to accomplish it all and find what works for us! I wrote a post on it a few months ago: http://www.paceofme.com/2011/10/nursing-marathoning-what-works-for-me.html you might want to check it out. I think it is so amazing what we are capable of!!!
      jessica (pace of me) recently posted..One.My Profile

    20. Excellent post! My goal with all of mine has been to nurse them until they were one, as well. It has not always been easy but I was determined to see it through and I’m so glad I did! Like you, I have been asked questions about how I work in marathon training and nursing a baby. You gave great advice! I always dress to run and wait until the last minute to nurse or pump. (Fortunately, mine have all been relatively fast nursers.) My youngest is 12 months and is still nursing but can go longer stretches now so that makes it much easier. When I was training for Boston last spring right after he was born nursing was definitely a challenge. Like you, I went into it knowing that my number one priority was HIM and running ALWAYS came after him.

      Best advice I could give to new moms who want to nurse- The first 2 weeks are the hardest. It WILL get easier, I promise! Go into it with the mindset that you can do it. I have run and nursed for over a year with all four of my children so I know it can be done. You just have to be determined and as well as flexible! :-)
      Tia @ Arkansas Runner Mom recently posted..When do races get in the way of training?My Profile

      • Love your advice, Tina! I felt so overwhelmed with EVERYTHING the first few weeks – let alone trying to figure out how to fit in runs! LOL. Once we had a loose routine of things, life got easier =)

    21. Both my kids(twins) never got sick until they were 20 months old, one received partial breast milk and one received next to no breast milk. Interestingly the child who received more breast milk has had to have antibiotics twice in her first year. My son who received practically no breast milk at all, has never needed antibiotics. I always wonder about the whole “kid breastfeed never sick” that I read about all the time.

      I couldn’t possibly run and breastfeed, actually with twins I couldn’t do anything and breastfeed, it was a full time job!
      Nadine recently posted..Month 1 of 2012My Profile

    22. Great post, Michele. I’m nursing our fourth as I type this and am so happy to see you spread the word that, for those who want it, it can be done. I’ve wondered if the taste would change when I get up to higher mileage, but I think for most babies, getting the boob trumps a slight variation in taste, so I’m not worried. Also really appreciated hearing how you managed the NYC marathon. Our youngest will be 13 months this November so I know she will be ok without nursing for those hours, but it’s still going to be a long time to be away from each other. But clearly I won’t be the only out there! I still wonder if my nutrition should be more ur different running and nursing, but it’s hard to find good info on that too. Thanks again!

      • I probably should have mentioned something about calories AND hydration! It’s definitely different – maybe I’ll add something in there tomorrow! But to answer your question, I found that I needed to consume more calories – especially the first few months. I’m sure you know – bf’ing alone burns 500+ calories…when you factor in running, then calories burned each day gets pretty high. I don’t count calories, but I definitely make sure I eat when I’m hungry and that I’m getting calcium and protein in my diet! I can email you more detailed stuff too if you want!

        • I was sent to your site in response to a question I posted on a triathlon forum about nursing, training, and blood sugar lows. I’ve just started training for my first (sprint distance) tri while nursing a 15 month old about 3 times a day. I have a history of hypoglycemia while nursing and since I started training i’ve gotten frequently dizzy and totally exhausted. Did you ever struggle with this? I am shoveling the food in so I almost think it’s dehydration, although i’m guzzling too.

          • There were definite days when this happened to me – actually sometimes during pregnancy too. I find that when I don’t eat enough right before my workout that my body starts to react negatively. I get shaky, my heart rate gets super high, and I feel like I’m going to pass out. Often, what will help me is chocolate or something along those lines. It usually also goes hand in hand with what I ate the night before (as well as how early I ate dinner). Maybe try a gel or something that has carbs and protein about 15 min before you head out the door?

            • I think part of my struggle is to get the nutrition in me early enough before the workout; I like to do my bikes at about 6:00 am but there’s no way I’m getting up at 4:45 so I can eat an hour before. I also think I am not getting enough sleep.

              In addition, at the doctor today I found out I have an inner ear problem which is most likely causing the dizziness.

              So glad I found your site; I look forward to reading more of it!

        • Could you email me a more detailed list of what you ate? I’m pregnant with #2 and when I ran 25 miles a week minimum bfing my first I couldn’t keep my milk supply up for a full year. Thanks!!

      • I agree to Heidi’s sentiments! Some days I can barely get out of bed… I am always amazed at mommies (and dads)!. We are not ready for a baby yet, so for now I babysit or hangout with family/friends babies til we are. Plus it helps remind me just how hard being a mom can be!
        Victoria Runs recently posted..RnR St Pete Blogger Meet-Up and DonMy Profile

        • Victoria – honestly, I didn’t think I’d be ready and I wondered how I’d find the time or energy, but you just do…trust me. It is hard but it’s also the most rewarding, amazing thing. I never feel like I’m doing something I “have to do” when I’m nursing him or taking care of him. It makes me happy to do what I do which I think makes it easier =)