Can exercise have an effect on your milk supply?
When you have pelvic floor issues, it’s just that on top of having bags of milk that you’re dragging around, it doesn’t exactly make you want to exercise. Like I had to mentally prepare myself to pee myself for the first couple of weeks of getting back into exercising. And that was really mentally hard for someone like me who used to be an avid exerciser.
I just kind of felt like my body is just broken. Like I just can’t do this anymore.
This is Maureen Farrell and Heather O’Neal. And this is The Milk Minute. An inclusive evidence-based podcast hosted by midwives and lactation professionals. That’s us. Here to talk to you about all things, lactation and boobs, body positivity, mental health. All the Milky topics. Join us for another episode.
Welcome back to The Milk Minute. Okay guys, this is Maureen and Heather again, and today I wanted to talk a little bit about, in a little pod snack, exercise while breastfeeding. Do it. Yeah. So lactating people anecdotally all the time to us, especially in our Facebook group, ask, can they exercise while breastfeeding?
Is it going to negatively impact their milk supply? Yep. Big question. Right. And we get a lot of people who say personally, you know, they think that it lowered their milk supply. What did they do wrong? So, you know, we’re just going to talk about like what evidence we have and what our best recommendations are.
Yeah, I think it’s really important because anything that’s going to get you outside, especially with your baby, is going to decrease the risk of postpartum depression. And we just want to take this fear off the table for you that you’re going to screw this up for yourself in some way by exercising.
Right. So let’s start out by saying you should exercise. Yeah. Do it. Everybody should exercise. Yeah. We all should. In some way. If your breasts have grown size after size, after size, during pregnancy, and then your milk has come in and you’re like, what the heck? Go get a new bra, treat yourself.
You deserve it. Get a good bra for exercising that’s actually going to support you so it’s comfortable. This is not meant to be torturous. And you know, your breasts are going to regulate at some point, but if you’re still in that first six weeks, first of all, be careful with exercising just for the postpartum.
But hopefully after that, your breasts have kind of calmed down a little bit and you can go buy a bra that’s going to continue to fit you. Yeah, absolutely. You know, and I, I just want to encourage like, exercise doesn’t have to look like going to the gym. It doesn’t have to be running 10 miles a day.
Right. Exercise is going to be anything that gets your body moving and your blood flowing, maybe raises your heart rate a little bit and, and just stretches and moves your body. You know, we have a lot of encouraging research to start with about the benefits of exercise during a pregnancy. If you stay active during your pregnancy, actually, there was this one kind of cool study, like just recently released in 2020 this year during the shit show that is this year.
But it was saying that people who exercise more in pregnancy actually see more like, like healthier breast milk, which is pretty crazy. How did they test that? They just got in there and the molecular level? Different, yeah. They just tested different components of breast milk and like immunological components and things like that and they were like, okay, we see more of X, Y, and Z in people who were active during their pregnancies.
So it’s pretty interesting. Yeah. That’s cool. So just to start with, having an active pregnancy is good. It’s going to set you up for more postpartum success as well. But yeah, then like, what the heck do you do now? You’ve got these big bags of milk and this baby who never stops feeding and you know, when do you start exercising? How do you start exercising? Should you start exercising? So preferably most people wait about six weeks, but you know, that’s a little different for everybody. Just talk to your health care provider.
Yeah, and it totally depends on how your birth went. I mean, some of you are experiencing pelvic floor issues, which I have/ had /had/ have. I still have, but I’ve, you know, been rehabbing and not as much as I should. But you know, when you have pelvic floor issues, it’s just that on top of having bags of milk that you’re dragging around, it doesn’t exactly make you want to exercise.
Like I had to mentally prepare myself to pee myself for the first couple of weeks of getting back into exercising. And that was really mentally hard for someone like me who used to be an avid exerciser. I just kind of felt like my body is just broken. Like I just can’t do this anymore. So, you know, I really, really benefited from a pelvic physical therapist and you know, that person is specialized in helping you get back to where you want to be and reach those exercise goals. So don’t be afraid to reach out to those people.
Yeah. And, and I just want to like nip the issue in the bud here. First question we always get when people ask if they can exercise, “is this going to decrease my milk supply?” And we have several well conducted studies that tell us that parents who stay active while lactating overall do not see a decrease in milk supply, and it does not negatively impact breastfeeding duration either. So essentially the amount you exercise in theory, doesn’t do anything to your milk. But we do have one very tiny study that showed that active parents have a slight increase in milk production.
So that’s kind of cool. Oh, that’s nice. And you know what? That makes sense to me because the more blood flow that you have to your mammary glands, the more you’re going to produce milk. Like that’s essential. We have to have blood flow there and exercising increases your blood flow. Yeah.
Friendly reminder, breast milk is made from blood. Right.
It’s not made directly from the food you eat. It’s made indirectly from the food you eat through your blood that has the nutrients flowing through it. Right? So the more blood you have going into that area, the more your body can pick and choose from that blood, what it needs. And it’s like readily available.
It doesn’t have to pull it out of anywhere else in your body. It just has it.
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But you know what? I’m going to point out the big mistake that I see over and over when people first start exercising postpartum while they’re lactating is they put on the tightest sports bra they can find because they don’t want this large chest that they have to be wobbling all over the place. Or the old two sports bra trick. Right. And I’m just going to tell you right now, that is, that’s a mistake. So at that point, you’re cutting off some circulation in your chest and you might be setting yourself up for clogged ducts and which leads to mastitis and all that.
And that definitely can negatively impact your milk supply. Yeah. I mean, just think about when you’re out at the store and you hear a baby cry and your milk starts to let down and you’re like, oh God, what do you do? You push your breast directly back towards your chest wall to get the flow to stop. And that’s exactly what a sports bra is doing, except at 30 minutes at a time or however long you’re exercising.
Right. So instead of just finding the tightest bra, you can, I’m going to say, look for those bras that actually have some structure and a little bit of padding around. So while they’re not squeezing your chest really tight, they are providing some structure around your chest.
Yeah. That’s good. That’s a good idea. Yeah. And also like your, you know, You’re just not going to be able to fully immobilize your breasts while exercising, if you’re lactating, because of that. So start slow, you know, don’t start sprinting, start with your slow exercises, let your body get used to that extra chest movement.
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Right. Because that’s all kind of about what you’re used to and how sensitive those muscles and tendons and things like that are. Yeah, start slow. And then just for all of you runners out there who have never been through this before, I used to run a lot. And then after I had this baby, like I said, you know, with my pelvic PT stuff and bouncing up and down and I was just like, oh, it feels so weird, bouncing up and down to run with milk in my breasts.
So I decided to do a treadmill class that was like an intro to running. And I, and I was like, oh, I’m probably beyond this. I’ve been running for years. Okay. As it turns out, I have been running incorrectly for years and I actually learned a ton from this program. And if you find that when you’re running, you are bouncing up and down so much that it’s hurting your breasts, you’re doing it wrong.
Like you should actually be pushing off of the ball of your foot and then your whole leg should be kind of coming up and kicking towards your butt. Like it’s a lot more forward and backward than up and down. So just keep that in mind. You really don’t need a bra so tight that you get your circulation cutoff to run.
So just think about that. Yeah. So that, that’s my big, big recommendation for exercising and lactating, but there’s a couple others just to think about. Some babies don’t like the taste of sweat. So if you come back from a run and your baby screaming and you’re like, okay, okay, hold on. I’m going to like pull off these 20 layers and we’ll feed right now.
And then baby freaks out even more. It might just be because your sweat is salty and your boobs are sweaty. You know, like those tits are sweaty. You just wipe that off. Just go, go to the bathroom, take a wet washcloth, rinse off real quick, quick little wipey wipe. Yeah. It’s fine, but just something to remember, like, it’s not because you don’t have any milk because you went for a run.
It’s probably just sweat because most, most babies don’t love that taste or it’s shocking to them. Right. Or it’s different. And they’re like, well, I don’t like that. Yeah. And you know, or just maybe plan like to shower before you feed baby, you don’t have to do this. Not every baby cares, but something to keep in mind.
An interesting thing that I hadn’t thought about before doing some research for this episode is that if you are a weightlifter or do other exercises with repetitive art arm movement, you might develop plugged ducts. Yeah. So if you’re constantly moving your arms and brushing the sides of your breasts in the same spot.
Oh right. Apparently that’s a thing that happens. So wouldn’t that mean running too? Like running and rubbing your arm against your breast? Yeah. Or if you’re just doing say like whatever you call that lifting where you’re on your back and you lift? Bench press? Yeah if you’re like bench pressing and your breasts are going to be tightly held to your chest with a sports bra in the same exact position while you’re like flexing muscles next to them over and over and over and over.
Apparently that kind of repetitive movement comes with an increased incidence in plugged ducts. So maybe cut back a little bit, or just do that more intermittently in your exercises or just pay attention.
Like if, if you find that you’re rubbing one side of your breast to the point where it’s like affecting the skin, that’s probably too much. Yeah. So, you know, like instead of just spending your hour doing the same kind of repetitive motion near your chest and your arms, like mix it up a little bit.
Yeah. Yeah. You know, the big, the big thing that we get asked about Heather is hydration. Right. Yeah. If I start working out and I’m sweating more, does that mean that I need to drink an extra gallon of water a day? No, it does not. I mean, if you are an ultra-marathoner, I mean, call me because congratulations on having a baby and breastfeeding and being an ultra-marathoner, but, you know, the regular person has enough water, just drinking a regular amount of water.
The actual recommendation is half your body weight in pounds, that’s how many ounces. So like if I’m 120 pounds in my dreams, in my dreams, that’s not reality. I would be drinking 60 ounces of water a day, and that should be roughly enough for me just to live and to make enough milk. Yeah. And you know, yes, it is a good idea to increase your hydration when you increase your exercise regimen, but it’s not necessarily going to affect your milk supply if you don’t.
Right. Pay attention to your body. Are you thirsty? Have a drink. And you know what I usually say, because I, I’m not a counter, I never use bottles with, with numbers on them, or I don’t even look at them. If I can smell my pee and it’s not clear, then I drink more water. That’s how I am too.
Although if you’re taking a B vitamin or eat a lot of asparagus or beets or something that changes the color and the smell of your urine. So, you know, it doesn’t work every day, but usually. Usually. A good practice to get into for everyone is the minute you wake up in the morning, just chug a glass of water before you even have coffee.
It’s going to set you off on the right foot for the day, because you know, as soon as your feet hit the floor, you’re chasing kids. You’re making breakfast. You’re oh my gosh. It’s like, then all of a sudden it’s 10 o’clock and you’re like, I haven’t even had any drinks of water today. Oh my gosh.
I try to do that before meals. That’s like my time. I’m like, oh yeah. Before I eat this slice pizza, I’m going to chug a glass of water. Oh, that’s a great idea too. But yeah, I really don’t like people to stress about it too much. And I also want to say that over hydration is dangerous. Water intoxication is a thing and it looks like a stroke. Oh yeah.
And we’ve all seen it because it’s just, it is really hard sometimes when people get worried about their health for them to understand that there, there is too much when it comes to things that seem really harmless, like water. Yeah. So when people on Facebook are like, you need to be drinking at least a gallon of water a day, that’s dangerous for some people.
Yeah. So, you know, your body is different than Sally Paperclip over there commenting on your post. You know? So like we said, like, pay attention to your urine. Pay attention to your thirst levels. And if you know, and if it works for you, if you’re a counter, do that half your body weight thing and kind of start there.
Yeah. But don’t panic and yeah if you go for a run and you’re actually like run running, like where it’s like 30 minutes to an hour every day of running, do that. But yeah. But if you did, I would say, yeah. Add in a couple extra glasses of water, but don’t panic about it. Yeah. And that’s, I mean, that’s all there is to it folks. And that’s not just for milk that’s for like homeostasis of your body as a body.
Yep. Yep. Yep. Well, thanks for joining us for that little pod snack. Keep yourself hydrated and nourished and please exercise. It’s good for your mental health. It’s good for your physical health. It gets your hormones on the right track. Move your body. Move your body. Yeah.
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