Exercising and Breastfeeding

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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:

Back squats

Romanian deadlifts

Leg presses

Lunges

Step Ups

Day 2 – Rest

Day 3 – Upper body: chest, shoulders, arms

Bench presses (regular and incline)

Chest dips

Barbell shoulder press (military press)

Dumbbell lateral raises

Dumbbell rare delt raises

Day 4 – Rest

Day 5 – Upper body: back

Pull-ups

Barbell deadlift

Barbell and dumbbell bent-over rows

T-Bar rows

Day 6 – Full body: Olympic lifts

Hang cleans

Power cleans

Clean and presses

Front squats

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!

Five Reasons to Exercise in the Morning

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Before I get into why it’s great to exercise in the morning, Let me tell you that you won’t meet a person that loves sleep as much as I do. I’m so not a morning person. Haven’t been my entire life! I love sleeping until late a.m. Or, let’s face it – even early p.m.! I’ve never been one of these people that got up at 5 a.m. for a “quick run.” So, what gives? I had a baby. And everything they say about how having a baby changes everything in your life is actually true. If you told me a year ago that I would be working out at 6 a.m. I would laugh. Little did I know is that not only I would actually do it, but I would thoroughly enjoy doing it! And here is why.

1. It feels incredible knowing that it’s only 7 a.m. and you have your workout over with.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom of three or a single busy professional. I guarantee that you’re going to feel amazing knowing that your day has just begun and you already have your gym trip over with! Think about all the great things you can do with your free time in the evening. I read somewhere that you should think of exercising just as you do about brushing your teeth. I couldn’t agree more with this portrayal. Would you skip the gym? Sure, I’m tired. Are you too tired to brush your teeth? Eeek, who do you think I am? Exactly. Only when you start treating working out as a necessary, “must do” routine of your day, it’s when you’ll actually stick to it. And getting it over with in the morning makes it a whole lot easier because you simply won’t have time to contemplate all day about it.

2. You will feel empowered to accomplish anything. 

There’s just something about getting up early and starting your day with a killer workout that will make you feel like you can accomplish anything. Client presentation? New business pitch? C-level meeting? Sure, bring it on! I ran 10 miles/PR’ed my deadlift this morning, so I sure can impress anyone! Remember how you snoozed 10 times before getting up way too late and rushed to get to work? Compare that day to a day which you started with an awesome workout and you’ll know what I mean.

3. Your evenings will actually become relaxing.

Whether you’ll be spending your time with your kids, grabbing dinner with friends or just relaxing on the couch catching up on your favorite TV show, your evenings will seem way more relaxing if you don’t have to rush to and from the gym. Trust me, when you don’t have to plan your evening around squeezing in a workout session,  even your busiest evening will seem much less stressful.

4. You will feel less tired and more energized. 

It’s a paradox really, because you will have to get up earlier and technically get less sleep . But it’s true – you will feel less tired. In fact, when I went back to work after my maternity leave, I always felt exhausted until I started going to the gym crack of dawn. Because you get up earlier, you will go to bed earlier and the most rejuvenating sleep actually occurs before midnight. I used to think of myself as a night own, who is simply not capable of falling asleep at 10. Now, when I actually get up at 5-5.30, I have no issues whatsoever with falling asleep at this time.

5. Breakfast will truly become the most delicious and satisfying meals of your day.

I’m not arguing with intermittent fasting folks and I know that it works for some people. I do believe though that breakfast should be the most important meal of the day.  Your body was starving for at least 10 if not more hours. I just think it’s just wrong to not give it some so much needed nutrition. Having just exercised, you will feel so hungry that you’ll actually find time to make yourself a scrumptious breakfast. And it will be ten times more enjoyable because you will feel like you earned it! Now, I also have a quick meal before working out in the a.m., but this will be a topic for another post. Stay tuned!