Exercising While Breastfeeding

Can you exercise while breastfeeding – without affecting your milk supply and your milk's nutritional value? And if so, what exercises are best? Find out here.

Exercising is a great way to keep your body healthy and strong. But can you exercise while breastfeeding – without affecting your milk supply and your milk's nutritional value? If so, what exercises are best, and how to fit them in? We have all the answers here.

Can you exercise while breastfeeding?

It's perfectly fine to exercise when breastfeeding – and it's even recommended – as long as your doctor has given you the okay to restart exercising postpartum. Once your doctor says you can start, also make sure your body feels ready.

If you had a C-section or complications when giving birth, your body may not be ready right after birth. But if you gave birth vaginally and there were no complications, you may be able to start gently exercising as early as 1-2 days after birth.

Don't exercise while breastfeeding if you have fluid leakage, bleeding, or abdominal pain. Talk to a doctor about when it will be safe to start or resume physical activity.

Benefits of exercise while breastfeeding

Exercising while breastfeeding has several benefits, including:

  • Boosting your mood, which may reduce your risk of postpartum depression
  • Giving you more energy, which is extremely helpful when feeding and caring for a little one (notably, you might find that you have more energy during late night feeds)
  • Helping you bond with baby, since exercise and breastfeeding combined give a double dose of mood boosting
  • Rebuilding strength and keeping the body healthy in the postpartum period
  • Providing a way to care for yourself while caring for baby

Does exercise affect milk supply?

Exercising won't increase your milk supply. But it usually won't hurt your supply either. Just be sure to drink plenty of water. You need to stay hydrated to keep your supply up – and sweating it out during an exercise session can cause you to lose water quickly. It's good practice to drink water right before, during, and after your workout.

Also, be sure to maintain a healthy diet. Breastfeeding already burns 500 calories per day on its own, and exercising burns even more calories. Usually, you'll need to add at least 300-400 calories to your diet per day when breastfeeding, compared to the amount you ate before pregnancy. And that recommendation is before taking exercise into account.

With a healthy diet and good hydration, you won't see a drop in your milk supply if you exercise regularly.

Does exercising affect the taste of breastmilk?

If you exercise vigorously, one study has shown that your breastmilk will contain much more lactic acid for up to 90 minutes after the exercise. This may make your milk taste different.

But if you exercise moderately, your lactic acid levels won't go up. This means baby won't notice a difference in the taste of your milk. Keep your heart rate at 80% of your maximum or lower, and your breastmilk taste won't be affected.

Keep in mind, though, that sweat can also affect the taste of breastmilk. It's best to shower, or at least wash your breasts, after a workout and before a nursing or pumping session.

Does exercising affect breastmilk's nutritional value?

Exercising doesn't affect breastmilk's nutritional value. Four randomized controlled studies have all shown that if you exercise, your baby's growth won't be affected if you breastfeed them. Within those studies, exclusively breastfed babies whose moms exercised regularly gained weight at similar rates to exclusively breastfed babies whose moms didn't exercise.

Moderate exercise also doesn't appear to change the levels of immune boosting properties in breastmilk, based on studies. Just be sure to keep things moderate – don't exercise until exhaustion.

What are good exercises to do while breastfeeding?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week for postpartum moms.

Starting at a shorter and lower intensity is best, with 10-15 minute exercises like walking, elliptical exercise or swimming. After all, your body likely has less stamina right after giving birth, since you're recovering, feeding your baby every 2-3 hours, and caring for your baby throughout the day in other ways.

As your body feels up to it, gradually add 5-minute increments of exercise and work up to moderate intensity (80% heart rate or less).

Once you're at moderate intensity, keep things at the moderate intensity level for as long as you breastfeed.

How to figure out 80% of your maximum heart rate? 220-your age=80% heart rate.

Strength training and core training are recommended as well if you're postpartum. Starting with 10-minute core sessions is best. Core exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor, which is weaker in the first few months after giving birth.

And try to do strength training at least twice a week. This will help you rebuild strength and muscle in all areas. Weight training should start with the lightest weights and then increase intensity as you’re able.

Some other types of exercises that work well when breastfeeding include:

  • Brisk walking or moderate running
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Postpartum yoga
  • Barre
  • Pilates
  • Sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, and other exercises where you bear your body weight

If you were exercising regularly before giving birth, be patient with yourself. You might not be able to get back to your usual exercise routine right away, and that's okay. Be kind to yourself – your body is amazing!

What to wear when exercising while breastfeeding?

A new sports bra, that's supportive and comfortable, is an essential when you're exercising while breastfeeding. You'll need a new one due to the changes in your breasts that have happened postpartum.

Selecting a sports bra with adjustable straps is a good idea, since your breasts will likely change throughout your breastfeeding journey. And clasps or openings will add convenience when it's time to nurse.

Although the bra needs to be supportive, make sure it's not too tight. This will help prevent clogged milk ducts and mastitis. Taking the bra off as soon as you can after your workout, and replacing it with a regular nursing bra, may also help with this.

As for the rest of your workout gear? Stick to comfy clothing with a loose-fitting top. Keeping the top's fit loose also helps prevent mastitis and plugged ducts.

If needed, you might wear nursing pads to help minimize leaks during your workout.

How to find time for exercise while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding alone takes up lots of time, and requires lots of energy. Along with other childcare responsibilities, household work, and possibly work outside the home, it can be tough to make any time for you (let alone exercise). But we have your back. You've got this, and it's awesome that you're making time for your own health while caring for baby!

Here are some tips that may help you fit in exercise:

  • Start pumping, and introduce a bottle (if you haven't already).This will give you more flexibility – your partner or another caregiver can feed the bottle to your little one, and you can use that time for exercise.
  • Exercising during baby's naps is another great idea.
  • If you're heading to the gym (or doing any exercise outside the home), nurse (or pump and bottle feed) right before you go. This ensures baby's tummy stays full longer. As an added bonus, your breasts won't be as heavy, making things more comfortable for you.
  • Consider a gym with childcare – or a Mommy and Me exercise class that you can bring your little one along for.
  • Consider a jogging stroller, a baby carrier made for activity, or both.
  • Find exercises that you can do at home – including ones that you can safely do during a nursing session.
  • Do what you can, and be kind to yourself. Fitting in small amounts of exercise sporadically is better than not fitting in any at all.

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