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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The Five Rules of Perinatal Fitness

Almost two years ago now I became a certified perinatal trainer, meaning I can now work safely and effectively with women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, and are postpartum.

This is not my first such “specialty” certification.  A while back I got Silver Sneakers certified, which helps me work with seniors and the elderly population, and before that I took a special course in working with the obese and morbidly obese (even bed-ridden).

Working with mommies; however, is truly a passion for me.

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My amazing client at nearly 9 months!

As a woman who has never had kids (but assuredly wants to when the time is right!), it is an absolute privilege to watch my clients transition from their former bodies into new, powerful, transformative ones – bodies that are giving life.  And if I can offer some sort of strength, comfort, and guidance during that time, I am honored to do so.

So what have I learned over the past two years, working with nine different prenatal and two recently postpartum clients?

5)  Never underestimate the reparative power of a body that has given (or is giving!) life.  A lot of my first-time postpartum moms are scared to come back to exercise because of the enormity of the task their bodies have just performed.  That said, it is exactly that task (birth) that has prepared you for the relatively simple challenge of rediscovering fitness.  What’s a daily walk with your baby after you’ve spent 32 hours in labor?  How hard is picking up a 5-pound dumbbell when you haul around a 10-pound baby 20 hours out of the day?  My new moms are strong, unrelenting, and adaptable – and I try to remind them that as much as possible.

4) Do the best you can with the time, body, and sanity that you have.  Before you got pregnant, maybe you were the type that hit 3 Spin classes per week in addition to running 20 miles and taking yoga on the weekends.  Now you are pregnant, or have an infant, or God help you have twins, and you’re noticing that you just can’t maintain that level of exercise.  That’s okay.  It’s more than okay.  Because we are all trying to do the best we can with the time, ability, and mental clarity that we have, and if that “best” is simply 10 minutes of push-ups and planks, or a walk down the street to get groceries, or just a nap – that’s ok.  Fitness comes back in pieces, not all at once.

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Rock that core, girl!

3) Your abs may or may not “come back,” but there’s more to core than abs.  Speaking of coming back, there’s this odd perception that in order to have really achieved an “ideal” birth, you will have somehow morphed your postpartum body back into its former shape, including tight, six-pack abs.  And for some moms that is possible.  But for many moms, maintaing a strong “deep core” (transverse abdominus and lower back) is more important, because it is these muscles that actually help you carry your baby, pick your baby up, stand up for hours without back pain, and support overall healing.  I advise my mommies to forget about the visibility of their abs for the first 6-12 months and focus on building the actual muscles that will help them stay strong and pain-free as they recover.

2) Having a baby is not a free pass.  OK, now for a moment of tough love.  You have had a baby (or two!  or many!).  You’ve done serious work.  You’ve been pregnant, then birthed, then recovered.  But all of this being said (and a hearty congrats to you!), it does not entitle you to forget about exercise and nutrition.  In fact, there is no time more crucial to pay attention to your health than during the early throes of motherhood, when you need to be healthy, awake, alert, and present for your child.  Exercise keeps you sane.  Eating healthfully keeps you energized and enhances the quality of breast milk (if you are nursing).  Establishing a pattern of proper diet and exercise now means you are modeling those behaviors for your kids as they grow – and isn’t that something you’d want for any child?

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Teaching postpartum fitness in Culver City

1) You don’t have to do it alone.  Finally, my favorite point as a trainer – in short, it takes a village!  Ask your partner (or a family member) to watch the baby for 30 minutes so you can get your run in.  Organize a healthy food exchange with mommies in your area so you can cook once but swap meals all week.  Join a mommy group or FIT4MOM program that encourages fitness and allows you to work out with your little one.  Find a certified perinatal trainer that can come to your home and work with you privately on your pre-and-postpartum health.  Even if fitness is already a priority for you, finding a support group of like-minded folks can make it feel like you’re not alone out there – and that’s crucial.

My fit mommies out there – what are your favorite pre-or-postpartum fitness tips?