Well Being

Exercise for New and Nursing Mothers

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Denise Austin - Bounce Back After BabyEach year for the past several years I have resolved to exercise at least four times per week. That resolution is harder to keep at some times than others–there may be a week I don't exercise at all, and another week where I manage to cross five days off on my calendar. Looking back at the last year, I can see I didn't quite meet my goal. No matter because 2007, here I come!

If you are like me, you may be wondering what the scoop is on exercise for nursing mothers. (If your New Year's Resolution is to quit smoking, see my Fast Facts about Cigarette Smoking and Breastfeeding).

Brand-new Mothers
New mothers, particularly those who have had a cesarean section, should get clearance from their doctors before beginning or resuming an exercise program. Once you've gotten that okay, start slowly and let your body be your guide.

In The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League advises that mothers do nothing to consciously bring about weight loss during the first two months postpartum. (p. 219). Personally I exercise as much for my mental health as my physical health, and not so much for weight loss (particularly in those early months after giving birth). It can do wonders for both mother and baby to get out for a walk with the baby in the sling or stroller. In cold weather, even a baby who is properly bundled can enjoy some fresh air.

Of course if conditions simply don't permit outdoor exercise, there are plenty of other options. Take a stroll around an indoor mall or try any one of the workout videos for moms and babies (these are especially helpful for moms who want to nap when the baby naps and save exercise for later, or those moms whose babies don't want to be out of mom's arms while she exercises!)

With each of my children I made a too-early attempt to get them to stay in the gym daycare. I was not successful because I couldn't stand for them to cry–that's not a relaxing break for me, knowing that my child is crying for me. We were both happier when we waited until the child was ready to separate from me for half an hour at a time. I'm happy to report that my toddler now loves the gym and squeals “There it is! Gym!” when we pull in to the parking lot!

Exercise for Nursing Mothers in General
At one time it was thought that mothers should not breastfeed immediately after exercising due to changes in the mothers' milk, but now we know that exercise does not change the composition of breast milk.

As long as you replace fluids lost during moderate exercise, your milk supply will not be affected. In fact one study suggests that mothers who exercise generally have a greater milk supply than those who do not exercise.

While mothers who exercise at 100% intensity (exhaustive exercise anyone? Anyone? Not me!) show an increase in lactic acid in their milk, there are no known harmful effects on the baby. Kellymom.com explains that there was one study that implied that babies rejected milk with the increased lactic acid content, but the researchers had tested their theory by feeding the babies by dropper. I think my baby would reject a dropper too if she had never been fed that way before–what baby wouldn't prefer the breast, lactic acid or no lactic acid? Fortunately, a later study confirmed that babies do not refuse to nurse even when there is a slight increase in lactic acid in the milk.

Exercising for Weight Loss
If your goal is to lose weight after those first eight weeks postpartum have passed, then there are a few things you can do. The number one thing to do, though, is to continue breastfeeding! The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding reports that studies have shown that breastfeeding mothers generally lose more weight three to six months postpartum than mothers who take in fewer calories but are not breastfeeding! (p. 219).

If you slowly increase your exercise level with activities like aerobics and swimming, avoid foods with excess fat and sugar while not restricting calories too much, you can safely lose weight while breastfeeding.

One of my favorite exercise activities is swimming or playing in the pool with my baby. Babies generally are not bothered by the chlorine on a mother's breast, but if a mother is concerned she can rinse off the breast with plain water before nursing (using soap is not usually recommended as it washes away the breast's natural lubricants).

Vote in the exercise poll in the sidebar to the right or through this link! Feel free to leave a comment about whether your New Year's resolution involves exercise. How do you manage to incorporate exercise into your day?

To go back to the Carnival of Breastfeeding on New Year's Resolutions, click here.