Exercise and its effects on breastfeeding is one of those topics shrouded in myths and with so much conflicting information online, it’ s no wonder that many find it tricky to know what the ‘rules’ are in regards to breastfeeding and exercise. However, if you’re a breastfeeding mother, take heart in knowing that to date there has been no scientific evidence to suggest that breastmilk supply is negatively impacted by engaging in exercise.
Some research does suggest that the content of a mothers milk may be altered slightly, however, this is largely short term. There are no known harmful effects on the baby.
How is breastmilk affected?
In 1997 a Study by Gregory et al, found that IgA levels (an anti-body playing a role in mucosal immunity) were decreased in breastmilk for approximately 10-30 minutes after strenuous exercise. However, levels returned to normal within an hour.
While decreased IgA levels for one feed a day is unlikely to have a significant effect on your baby’s long term health. For mothers concerned about this, it’s worth noting you can decide to express your milk or feed prior to exercise.
The only other known effect of exercise on breastmilk is an increase in Lactic Acid build up, which may occur after high-intensity exercise. This increase may be present for up to 90 minutes however as with a decrease in IgA, this also has no proven harmful effects for the baby.
Will your baby reject breastmilk after exercise?
Some mothers may be concerned that baby will reject breastmilk after exercise, however, research again shows this is unlikely.
A 1992 study did cause quite a stir after researchers found that infants acceptance of breast milk prior to and post-high-intensity exercise differed. However, after further research results were called in to question as babies were fed the milk by dropper (unfamiliar for the babies), and the mothers reported there had been no problems with nursing post exercise in the past.
A more recent study published in 2002 by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that moderate or high-intensity exercise does not impede infant acceptance of breast milk consumed one-hour article exercise, regardless of intensity.
Should your baby object to breastmilk after strenuous exercise, bare in mind it may have nothing to do with the taste or content of the milk and rather the salty taste of sweat on the skin. So, remember to wipe down or shower (if you can find the time) before a feed.
From personal experience, both my children were happy to feed after and even, occasionally, during a workout regardless of intensity or wipe down!
Top tips for exercising whilst breastfeeding
Wait until your 6-week check
I always recommend waiting until your 6 week GP check before starting any post-natal exercise. However, pelvic floor exercises can be started straight away. Remember, pregnancy and labour put a lot of pressure on your body and there is no rush to get started on a high-intensity exercise straight away. Consuming a well-rounded nutritional diet is a great way to start your healthy lifestyle in those early weeks.
Know your options
Although exercise has no known negative effects on breastmilk supply and content, if you are still concerned you may wish to express prior to exercise or work out after a feed. Other options include waiting half an hour post-workout for the Lactic Acid levels to subside before feeding again. Also remember to wipe down the breasts as sweat may cling to your skin, making the taste unknown to your baby.
Invest in a top quality support bra
I know this only too well from personal experience. If you’re serious about exercise, now is the time to invest in a good supportive workout bra, especially for high-intensity exercises such as jumping and jogging.
Staying hydrated during exercise is very important. It’s not necessary to ‘over-drink’ or force fluids, however always make sure you carry water with you. Sip it often throughout the day especially when exercising.
Enjoy your workout time
Finally, ENJOY your time. If you’re working out alone embrace these rare moments to focus on you, and should your workouts take place at home with your little one have fun with it. Exercise doesn’t have to be too serious or too strict. Find the fun in feeling healthy and encouraging your little one to grow up with positive energy in a healthy environment.