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