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Exercise and Weight Loss While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a world in and of itself and there are so many viewpoints on the various aspects of it. One area of concern among many breastfeeding moms is what impact, if any, exercise will have on milk supply. 

Just like every facet in motherhood, there are those who feel one way, and others who feel a different way. I myself have felt differently about the relationship between exercise, losing weight, and breastfeeding after both of my pregnancies. While I was breastfeeding my daughter, I stayed active by walking only because I was worried that anything more physically demanding would impact my milk supply. Even though research states that moderate exercise does not impact a woman’s milk supply, I had many friends who told me that they did experience a decrease in their supply when they began exercising. I had come a long way from overcoming my battle with infertility that was believed to be associated with my past obsessive behaviors with excessive exercise and calorie restriction, so I wasn’t even interested in finding out if exercise would impact my suppy. The fear and worry about this wasn’t worth it to me; feeding my daughter was my priority.

Giving exercise a try

With my son, I decided to give exercise a try. All of the research I read (and I am a total research geek) had proven that moderate exercise wasn’t going to effect my milk supply. As I adopted my new exercise routine, I diligently watched my supply. I had been enjoying group fitness classes, walking, jogging, and workout videos for a few weeks and everything seemed to be going fine, until one day I had a noticeable decrease in my supply. My DD boobs had significantly decreased in size and for the first time ever, my son would pull on my nipples while he was nursing as if he wasn’t getting enough. I had to nurse from both sides all day, which was completely out of the norm for this “one side at a time” breastfeeding mama. I immediately freaked and started reflecting back on the events earlier in the day to try and identify a reason for this sudden decrease in my supply. Did I eat enough? Did I exercise too long, or at too high of an intensity? Did I drink enough to rehydrate?

What I realized was that I hadn’t eaten enough during the day to refuel the calories I had burned from my jog and bike ride earlier, and didn’t drink enough water to replace all of the fluid I lost from sweating. Once I put this all together, I started shoveling high-calorie foods and chugging wate. Voila, my boobs “grew” back to the DD’s I had been accustomed to. My supply was back just like that! Ever since that day, I have been insanely diligent about nourishing my body with the proper amount of food and fluids while exercising to ensure that my body can adequately provide for my son’s nutritional needs.

As of today, I am happily and healthfully exercising while breastfeeding my son. It’s been a little bit of a learning curve in figuring out how to balance my body’s needs for breastfeeding while trying to lose the baby weight, but I am feeling more confident every day in achieving and maintaining this balance. Excitedly, I can work towards losing my baby weight while I help my son gain his!

By no means am I a medical professional, but I do have a little mom-to-mom advice for those mama’s looking to stay fit, engage in exercise, and lose weight while breastfeeding.

Here is what I have learned during my journey:

  • Make sure you’re consuming enough calories per day to operate your milk manufacturing machine. We all know breastfeeding is a natural calorie burner and by adding exercise on top of that, you’re a calorie burning machine. Without ample calories, not only will your metabolism begin to stall, but more importantly, your body won’t have enough to keep the milk manufacturing machine fueled and your milk supply will begin to decrease. Not sure how many calories you need per day to produce milk, maintain your supply, and healthfully lose weight? The best place to start is to ask your lactation consultant, but if you want a Dr. Google answer (which, remember isn’t always 100% valid), here is a breastfeeding calorie calculator that may help: Fit to be Pregnant
  • Remember, this is not the time to overly restrict your calories or eliminate certain food groups. Eat a variety of foods and make sure you’re listening to your body and eating enough to satisfy your hunger cues. Since I’ve had my son, for whatever reason (maybe it’s because I have two other germy, but sweet, toddlers in the house), I have had two stomach bugs. When I weighed myself after recovering from each of my stomach bugs, I hardly lost any weight (you’d think the opposite right?) However, during the weeks that I consume a fitting amount of calories each day, I notice the most weight loss (and best of all, my supply is great!)
  • Stay hydrated. As an everyday rule, drink to thirst, and more importantly, listen to your body’s signals to make sure you’re satisfying your thirst (we all have different fluid needs). Keep a bottle of water with you all day to help remind yourself to drink. If you’ve been sweating a lot, drink, drink, drink. After my daily exercise routine, my favorite hydration is SmartWater. It gives me fluids and electrolytes…great replenishment!Side note: I am not saying everyone’s body is like this, but I find it amazing how sensitive my body is to my food and water intake. I can absolutely tell the difference in the size and firmness of my boobs (as well as my supply) when I’ve consumed adequate amounts of food and fluid, and when I haven’t.
  • Keep an eye on your supply. If you notice a decrease in your supply, take a break from exercise for a few days and focus on your food and fluid intake, and the amount of times you’re nursing per day. Diligently assess whether any of these variables may be associated with the change in your supply. If so, make the changes you feel are necessary. Don’t know where to start or what to change? Contact a breastfeeding mama’s best friend, a lactation consultant.

Want to learn more about exercising and weight loss while breastfeeding, or just have general questions about breastfeeding? Kelly Mom is an excellent online resource loaded with tons of information about every breastfeeding topic you can imagine. Here are a few great articles from Kelly Mom focused on everything I’ve been soap-boxing about, but backed by research and the professionals.

Do Breastfeeding Moms Need Extra Calories and Fluids?

Exercise and Breastfeeding

Can I Diet while Breastfeeding?

How does a Mother’s Diet Affect her Milk?

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