Breastfeeding can be full of challenges, from cluster feeding, fast letdowns, supply issues and mastitis. But what impact can those heavy breasts have on your exercise?
First thing’s first: there is no ‘safest’ exercise to do while breastfeeding. There are a range of exercises that allow mums to work safely towards their health and fitness goals. Mild to moderate exercise does not impact milk supply so long as fluid and calorific intake is maintained, nor does it affect a baby taking the milk1,2.
Many of our favourite exercises at Fit For 2 involve low to medium-impact strength training while we rehabilitate our pelvic floor and abdominal separation. Classic moves such as squats, clams and rows are safe to do and get those big muscles moving without ‘jiggling’ and can aid weight loss (a common goal for many mummas).
With all Safe Return to Exercise programs, it’s important to consider your personal mumma journey and ensure you only exercise to the weakest link. For many mummas, that will be your pelvic floor and/or abdominal separation. Professional advice with the right trainer and seeing a Women’s Health Physio can be extremely valuable, even if only for your first 1 or 2 sessions.
Like many aspects of new motherhood, with a little bit of knowledge we can continue to enjoy the many benefits of exercise such as improved heart health, mental wellbeing, weight control and minimising pain and injury, all while breastfeeding.
Tips for effective exercise while breastfeeding:
1. Feed or express prior to your workout
Breastfeeding prior to a workout provides a couple of benefits:
- Less pressure in the chest (no one likes leaking in lycra!)
- Baby is settled during the exercise time
2. Leave high-intensity exercise for later – and avoid prone positions (lying on your chest)
The nipple of a bouncing breast can move in a figure 8 pattern about 15cm while running3. That’s a lot of g-forces! Breasts have no substantial anatomical support and breast motion is exacerbated in activities where your torso moves vertically (e.g running or jumping – i.e. avoid these!) Mild or moderate exercise which focuses on strength and connection through the pelvic floor are a great way to shed weight and protect your recovering body.
Many women find that laying prone (face down) on their chest is uncomfortable – particular in those first 8-12 weeks postpartum when breastfeeding is being established and our breasts can be variable.
3. Give the girls some short-term support
A good quality, supportive bra will improve your comfort while exercising, however be aware that in order to get that extra support, they may be a little bit tighter/more pressured which can prevent good milk flow when feeding. A breast that is free to move expresses milk easiest which helps prevent complication such as mastitis. A good idea is to wear your exercise bra for exercise, then swap back out to something more nursing-friendly.
Keeping well hydrated when you work out is always important, but even more so when breastfeeding. Take small drinks throughout your workout – and check your pee – the stronger the yellow colour, the more dehydrated you are and need to top up.
More information can be found at Breastfeeding Australia.
As a midwife and certified Safe Return to Exercise trainer with MumSafe™, I say this: Be rest assured that exercise is very safe while you are breastfeeding. As long as you not exhausting yourself, training in constant heat like Hot Yoga and visiting hot spas and saunas, your milk supply will not decrease.
Remember, exercise is very important for a mum for her mental health and wellbeing. Make time for yourself at least 3 times a week.
Anita Guerra is a Registered Midwife and Certified Fitness Trainer. She runs Fit For 2 in South Morang, Victoria. To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.
You can also find her on Instagram.
If you are a new mum returning to exercise and are not sure where to start check out our FREE Safe Return to Exercise for New Mums program to learn all you need to know.
Carey GB, Quinn TJ 2001, Exercise and lactation: are they compatible? Can J Appl Phys 26(1): 55–74.
Wright KS, Quinn TJ, Carey GB 2002, Infant acceptance of breast milk after maternal exercise. Pediatrics 109(4): 585–589.
McGhee, Deirdre E.; Steele, Julie R.2020, Biomechanics of breast support for active women, Exercise and sport sciences review 40(3): 99-109