Recently, running mothers have gained attention because of elites like Kara Goucher, Paula Radcliffe, and Deena Kastor. Goucher has written several articles on how she balances running and motherhood as an elite athlete. However, none of these women mention or discuss the challenges of breastfeeding while trying to maintain a rigorous training/racing routine.
Breastfeeding a newborn is a very personal and private choice and unfortunately there are several fallacies linked to it when it comes to running and nursing at the same time. Fallacies such as “exercise makes your milk sour” or “exercise diminishes your supply.” Although it does add another dimension to training, it is possible and offers many benefits to a running mom and her baby.
I have three young children and I nursed my first two until they were 18-months-old and my 13-month-old only drinks breast milk. While nursing each of them I have run marathons and set new personal bests. I must admit that, initially, nursing and running was a bit of an adjustment and quite challenging. Nursing is difficult until you and your baby “get it.” It can take time and a lot of patience. My advice to new running moms would be to first work on getting into a good rhythm feeding and drinking with your newborn, respectively, then start adding in running.
Some helpful tips include:
- Find a schedule that works for you and your baby. For me, this means nursing/pumping early morning, then heading out for a run while the baby is asleep.
- Drink extra fluids and eat well. Also, drink at least 8 ounces of water every time you pump/nurse.
- Nurse or pump, then go for a run shortly afterwards so you know your baby will have the necessary milk while you are gone.
- Introduce a bottle to your baby as soon as you can. If you wait too long your baby will be dependent and refuse a bottle. I missed my opportunity with my first two children, making training more challenging but still manageable.
- If breastfeeding works for you and your baby, invest in a high quality breast pump. It will definitely save on time and efficiency. (Medela models are the most compatible)
Once you establish a routine, running and nursing become a natural process for you and your baby. Racing, though, adds another dimension. Depending on the length and type of race this may become tricky. For instance, I have done point-to-point races including the Boston Marathon, which was the most challenging. Prior to the race, I contacted the race director, but there was no guarantee my pump would arrive safely at the finish line. Because of this my husband drove me to the start of the race, and I nursed my baby as close to the starting time as possible. For shorter races, including 10ks and half marathons, I have become accustomed to pumping in the car after doing a warmup.
Finally, I should note proper nutrition and hydration take additional planning and preparation. Make sure you are drinking extra water daily leading up to the race. Experiment with your routine before race day and remember if it gets tough that it is possible and rewarding to nurse a baby and run competitively at the same time!
Heidi Peoples is a Run SMART Project private coach. She’s a 2-time Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon, 3-time Steamtown Marathon champion with a PR of 2:39:48. To work with Heidi privately sign up here.