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.

pregs

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.

breastfeed

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.

ironmama

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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