Exercising has been a huge part of my life long before I became pregnant. I was so determined to keep exercising while pregnant that I started researching this topic far in advance of my actual pregnancy. I read several books on pregnancy training, started following a few blogs, even be-friended a couple of pregnant athletes and fellow fitness aficionados on Instagram and Fitocracy to follow their routines. Fortunately, I had a healthy pregnancy and was able to stay active throughout my entire journey. I even went to the gym the day before my unwanted planned C-section scheduled for my due date (my baby daughter was breech and unfortunately it was the only option I was given).
After I had the baby and started nursing, I realized that the topic of exercising and breastfeeding is almost just as controversial as exercising while being pregnant. There are many opinions out there, such as training affecting your milk supply, changing the taste of milk, baby refusing breast altogether after mom starts training, etc. Thankfully, my doctor (who fully supported my activity during pregnancy) encouraged me to go back to my fitness routine as I began breastfeeding.
I’m still nursing my 7.5 months old daughter, while fully keeping up with my lifting workouts (3-4 times per week). After her birth, I gained my strength back with lifting heavy weights, started training Olympic lifts and last week, I managed a few sets of my first ever unassisted pull-ups! So, hopefully this post would encourage any new fit moms out there to keep up rocking it at the gym while breastfeeding.
There are definitely a few things you should keep in mind:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drink a lot of water before, during and after exercising. While working out should not have any negative impact on your supply, dehydration most certainly will. So, as you’re sweating it off running outside or killing it at the gym, stay hydrated and drink more water than you normally would. On average, I drink as much as about 24-48 oz. per session.
Invest in a good quality sports bra
As I normally have a modest B cup, I’m still not quite used to having full and heavy chest. Investing in a good quality sports bra with a lot of support and coverage is key to being comfortable at the gym! These double layered bras from Victoria’s Secret are great. Alternatively, you can wear a racerback bra (like this one from Calvin Klein that you can score with a 70% discount at TJ Maxx) under a regular sports bra.
Make sure you eat enough calories
It is recommended that you should eat between 300-500 extra calories when you’re nursing to ensure adequate milk production. On days when you’re exercising, you need to eat even more calories! I can’t stress enough how important this is as not eating enough food can definitely affect your supply. It can be tough as you’re most likely trying to get into shape postpartum, but you just have to keep in mind that it’s still possible to lose weight slowly on a moderate calorie deficit.
You can use one of the nutrition calculators to count your daily calorie intake. I love this IIFYM nutrition calculator simply because I love the IIFYM approach (you can eat anything you want as long as it’s within your calorie needs, no “forbidden” foods, isn’t it awesome?!). For example, based on this calculator, I need about 1,700 calories to ensure healthy, slow weight loss (no more than 1 lb. per week). I add 300-500 on top of it for milk production, which means that I can consume anywhere between 2,000-2,200 calories and still lose weight! On days when I exercise, I typically consume around 2,200 calories and I try to stay within the 2,000-limit when I don’t go to the gym. While it seems like a lot, remember that you need extra calories to produce milk. There are various free apps and websites that allow you to easily track consumed calories, such as FatSecret or MyFitnessPal.
Nurse or pump before your workout
This goes without saying, but having your breasts engorged at the gym is awful! Definitely take the time to empty them before working out.
With these tips in mind, here is a snapshot of my weekly routine:
Day 1 – Legs:
Day 2 – Rest
Day 3 – Upper body: chest, shoulders, arms
Bench presses (regular and incline)
Barbell shoulder press (military press)
Dumbbell lateral raises
Dumbbell rare delt raises
Day 4 – Rest
Day 5 – Upper body: back
Barbell and dumbbell bent-over rows
Day 6 – Full body: Olympic lifts
Clean and presses
Overhead barbell squats
While sometimes I don’t manage to find the time for all four of these sessions every single week, I’m determined to keep up with at least three workouts weekly to ensure that I hit all the muscle groups. I even had to adjust my workout schedule and exercise early in the a.m. which can be tough but makes me stick to this schedule (check out my recent post with five reasons to exercise in the morning). As much as fitness appears to add more things to my plate, it actually makes me feel better, healthier and more active. I hope my experience would help encourage other moms to keep exercising while breastfeeding. Would love to hear your experiences and thoughts in comments!