Feeding fitness: Eating and exercise tips for breastfeeding mums

As a breastfeeding mother, you will hear all sorts of theories around what you can and can’t do. Everything from “eat whatever you like, and you’ll still lose weight” through to “you shouldn’t exercise while breastfeeding”. It can be extremely confusing and often difficult to decipher between the old wives tales and relevant up to date information.

I have been working with breastfeeding mother’s (including my own experience with 3 children) for 5 years and have heard some very strange theories indeed. As such I have put together a list of the most common myths, de-bunked of course, and some tips on how to eat well and exercise while breastfeeding.

Exercise will affect your milk supply

There is a misconception that you shouldn’t exercise while breastfeeding because you will lose your milk supply. This is untrue. If you allow yourself to become dehydrated, then yes you may find that your supply is a little lack-luster. The chance of dehydration occurring is increased during exercise due to the excretion of sweat, however exercise is certainly not the cause. The simple answer is to drink more fluid (preferably water) on days that you exercise.

Your baby won’t drink your milk if you exercise

Another common myth is that exercise will change the flavour of your milk (through lactic acid release) and your baby will refuse to drink from you. Research has shown that lactic acid can appear in the breast milk after maximal (high) intensity exercise, but there is definitely no evidence to suggest that increased lactic acid levels are harmful to a baby in any way. Low to moderate intensity exercise is recommended for post-natal women anyway, so stick with that and you won’t have an issue. Another good tip is to wash the sweat from your body after exercise prior to feeding your baby so that your skin is clean (not salty).

You can eat whatever you like and the weight will still drop off you

This couldn’t be any further from the truth. Eating a diet high in fat and sugar does NOT result in weight loss – breastfeeding or not.  You might crave these types of foods due to feeling tired, but they won’t do you any favours. Eating healthy meals and exercising will give you the best chance to lose weight. Healthy eating will provide nutrient rich milk for your baby too. Breastfeeding mothers need anywhere between 200-500 calories extra per day compared to the average woman. This is simply to feed your milk supply.  Make them good nutritious calories – step away from the chocolate biscuits ladies!

Breastfeeding mothers are calcium deficient and more prone to breaking bones during exercise

The first part of this statement has a level of truth to it, with breastfeeding women often losing calcium stores through breast milk. However, the latter part would only be relevant to those taking part in high risk exercise. Exercise actually increases bone density and is therefore a good thing.

My top tips

  • Wear a well fitted bra. A loose feeding bra will not support your breasts properly when taking part in exercise. You can purchase sport feeding bras, which give you the support you need.
  • Feed your baby prior to taking part in exercise, this will make for a more comfortable exercise session for you. Trust me, full breasts and exercise do not make for a pleasant experience!
  • Stay well hydrated and drink water before, during and after exercise to keep your milk supply abundant.
  • Ease into your exercise routine, and start with low to moderate intensity exercise.
  • Focus on getting good nutritious meals in, and not on losing the baby weight. Crash diets are unhealthy for anyone, let alone a woman providing nutrients to her baby via breast milk.