Ask Amanda: Breastfeeding & Exercise

The first thing I want to clear up on this topic is this: I have never been pregnant.  I am not a mother.  And so you must take each and every piece of my perinatal advice with a grain of salt, trust your physician’s advice and the loud-and-clear messages from your own body above all else, and know that you are the best judge of what your baby needs.

That said, I am certified by two fitness agencies in perinatal (read: prenatal and postpartum) fitness and nutrition, and I’ve trained over fifteen perinatal women before, during and after their pregnancies with great success in fitness maintenance, weight loss, and general developmental wellness.

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Most recently in Singapore, I worked with a client who took my Aquaspin classes religiously and kept a very healthy weight throughout her pregnancy.  Her “Ask Amanda” came through with the following postpartum concerns that I feel so many moms share:

  • should I be eating lots of sugar while breastfeeding?
  • will exercise make my milk supply decrease or go sour?
  • why are my thighs bigger and how can I begin exercising with baby?
  • what should I be eating to lose fat but still breastfeed?

First of all, the sugar ish.  I have no idea why doctors are still recommending high-sugar diets for breastfeeding as though it will make the milk somehow more attractive to the baby.  Newsflash: babies like your milk because you’re their mom, not because you’re squeezing out liquid cake icing every couple of hours.  In fact, what eating more sugar will do is not increase the sweetness or calorie count of your breastmilk (this stays fairly constant at around 70 calories per 100ml), but rather increase the chance that your baby will become obese – not great by any means.

Summary answer: there is no known reason to eat more sugar while breastfeeding.

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Now let’s move on to exercise.  We’ve all heard about this “magic” number of 140 as the top-end ceiling for heart rate during pregnancy – but truth be told, there’s no agreed-upon medical standard for MHR (maximum heart rate) for pregnant women (only an ACOG-recommended 150 weekly minutes of moderate exercise per week).  As for breastfeeding women, multiple studies suggest that moderate exercise (again) will not affect the taste or supply of breastmilk, and it’s perfectly to fine to nurse directly after exercise if you’re comfortable doing so (no need to wait for lactic acid depletion).

Summary answer: moderate exercise will not affect milk supply or taste.

Ah, now for the body changes.  The scientifically confirmed changes are things like hair loss, belly bulge, breast size/fullness changes, and of course some (er, ah) “adjustments” to the areas down below depending on the type of birth given.  But what about new fat stores in seemingly new areas?  Well, chalk that up to a combination of factors – weight gain during pregnancy, a (necessarily!) more sedentary lifestyle directly after birth, in some cases C-section (surgery) recovery rest, dietary changes, a sharp decrease in quality sleep…the list goes on.  What’s important is not to focus on what feels different after pregnancy and labor (note: probably everything), but rather how you can feel your best in your new body and treat it with the respect it deserves.

A great way to start exercising after pregnancy is to use the “work backwards” method – start with the exercises you were doing in the latest stages of your pregnancy, then move back to what you did in the second trimester, and finally progress into your early-stage or even pre-pregnancy routine in approximately half the timeline – i.e. spend about 1-2 months in each “step” of the routine until you feel fully back to your old, active self.

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As for what exactly to do as a post-partum routine, well, if you’re searching for something comprehensive I suggest going to no one other than one of the fittest mamas in the world – bodybuilding and figure champion Jamie Eason.  She offers a boatload of free videos, programs, and nutrition planning tools on her website and doesn’t pussyfoot around the issue of fitness – she really works out, really lifts weights, and really eats clean, and if you don’t get quite as hardcore as she is, her advice is sound and her journey inspiring.

Summary answer: move gradually back to your exercise routine over about 3-6 months.

And finally, the big one: breastfeeding and diet.  Again, make sure to take the advice of your physician above anything you read on a blog, bar none.  Furthermore, the truth is this: you need 1800-2000 calories while breastfeeding, and you need them from a variety of sources (i.e. this is not the time to cut carbs, go low-fat, or eliminate any food  group from your diet).  While it’s not perfect, this meal plan suggests a way of eating that is specific and shows you what types of food combos (think rice and beans plus veggies, oatmeal with milk and fruit, or string cheese with an apple) will help keep you full.

Our trusted friend WikiHow is also a great source here when it comes to common-sense advice for losing fat while breastfeeding – basically keep yourself fed (small meals frequently), choose foods that are nutrient-dense rather than calorie-dense (i.e. chicken and fish over cookies and cheese), sleep as much as you can, and keep honest track of your progress (including weight, calorie intake, milk output, activity level, and sleep quality).

Summary answer: eat clean, eat often, and track your progress for best results.

That’s about it for this week’s Ask Amanda – and whew!  I’m pooped!  Can’t wait to keep giving you all the straight talk on health, wellness, and fitness each and every Wednesday – so stay tuned, there will be more, so don’t forget:

Leave a comment with an “Ask Amanda” question you’d love to know more about!

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On the Topic of Excuses

My favorite quote about excuses is, “excuses are for those who need them.”  I try to live my life in a way that does not necessitate making excuses; if I don’t want to do something or fail at something or want to avoid something, I try to be upfront about it – not skate the issue.

That said, I also have a hard time saying no – which means I get myself into situations that I absolutely dread, but have already committed to, and without a solid excuse cannot remove myself from without a great deal of guilt.  Case in point: Velocity Urban Attack 4.

The Urban Attack is a local obstacle race not unlike a (heavily) watered-down American Ninja Warrior.  From the moment I saw the course being built at the mall down the street, I was intrigued, and when I realized it was only $25 to give it a run, I signed up.

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The morning of the race rolled around and I was confident though completely terrified; the few practice rounds I did before my start time were mostly successful and while the obstacles were challenging, they were not impossible.  My turn came up and I went for it, monkeying across bars, climbing ropes, swinging from poles, and finally, slamming my hands down on the oh-so-gratifying red buzzer to signify I’d finished the course.

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I was one of only a few women to finish that day and it felt good – but lo and behold, my performance was actually good enough to get me into the finals, held two weeks later.  The week in between I spent in Japan, alternating between stressing out about whether I would race again when I returned to Singapore and just enjoying myself with an ultimate overindulgence of booze and food (see below: bowls of ramen as large as my head and gyoza for days).

Reality came back when I returned from Japan and the question remained: would I commit to revamping my performance that weekend, or would I bow out?  The pro/con list rattling around my head looked something like this:

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PROS:

  • could win actual money dollars (first prize was $1500 cold hard cash)
  • physical challenges are kind of my thing
  • adrenaline keeps you young (eh, reaching…)
  • already completed the course; no fear of total failure
  • no additional cost to just try
  • trying to be strong role model for my clients and others

CONS:

  • absolute terror at having to face the course again
  • feeling of impending doom over possible injury (I failed to mention above that I got my leg caught on one obstacle and had a huge, deep cut for about 10 days)
  • adrenaline is overrated
  • deep-down knowledge that winning was very likely out of reach
  • nagging fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt that creeps in with all unknown and/or stressful and/or challenging situations like this

So yeah, while the pros were very tangible, sensible things, as you can see, the cons were very intangible, improbable, and often pointlessly worrisome things that I am always trying to tell my clients not to concern themselves about.

But can you guess what I did?

If you guessed “let the fear consume you and skip the finals even after going all the way down to the venue and actually signing the liability waiver,” then you guessed correctly.  I went all the way down to the site, registered as a finalist, and signed the form – then walked out the door, bailed, and never looked back.  I still have no idea who won that day.

Excuses are excuses, and mine was an amalgam of fear, worry, and some deeply-rooted concern that I would either make a fool of myself going up against all these spry young girls, hurt myself past the point of my insurance coverage, or both.  So I didn’t show up.  

I am not sure what the full point of me writing this post is; in some ways I suppose it’s cathartic to let my readers and followers know that despite the image I try to project on Facebook and Instagram I am not always the warrior princess; I am not fearless; I am far from the podium winner on lots and lots of things I do in life, even though I prefer to highlight the ones in which I am (don’t we all?).

When faced with obstacles in life we have a choice – go through the course, bruises and all, or turn around and bolt away to safe space.  Some days you’re the warrior; some days you’re the weak – and while I hate the situations that make me the latter, I know that sooner or later, I’ll have my redemption, and feel like my strongest self again.

Just don’t make me climb that damn rope again.

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Where Have I Been & Other Excuses

Oh hi, hello.  I’m here, really, but this time, like actually really.

My 2016 New Year’s resolution (loosely) was to write more.  And I’ve sort of been doing so, in terms of submitting more articles to health & fitness publications and starting a collection of short stories (details later, don’t hold your breath) on my own time.

That said, have you noticed the blog kind of died?  Yeah, I did.  And I am turning that around.

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First of all, I am recommitting to giving you guys topical fitness and health-focused discussion here at least once a week.  That means talking about something near and dear to my personal trainer’s (cold, black) heart that might be of interest to you all as well.

Second, and perhaps most exciting – I am bringing back Ask Amanda Wednesdays (absorbing and reviving the ever-popular Would Amanda Eat It? series as well)!  OH HELL YES, loyal readers, we will again have our open-talk venue here and on my Facebook page for you to ask me all the weird / tough / confusing health and fitness questions you’ve been pondering and want some professional advice about.

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And finally, fit people, I’ll make sure to take the time to be real with y’all as well – giving you straight talk about what’s going on with me personally, rating all the best dresses on the red carpet (looking ahead to you, MTV Music Awards), and making sure ThisFitBlonde is giving you lots and lots of reasons to keep clicking back.

Thanks for sticking with me, guys.  I promise I won’t let you down.