Tips on Working Out While Breastfeeding

I’m 7 months into nursing my third baby so I figured it was about time that I wrote a blog post on how I navigate breastfeeding while working out!  (See this blog post for my breastfeeding journey where I share all of the ups and downs after nursing for a combined total of 2 years…I’m at a total of 3 years and 2 months now!)  I nursed my first child for 14 months and my second child for 17 months and trained for and ran a marathon while breastfeeding both of them, so I definitely have a lot of thoughts on the subject.  (I don’t plan on running another one this time around, it was HARD.)  If you choose to breastfeed keeping your supply up is always a concern, so here is what I do while breastfeeding while simultaneously exercising and losing weight.  I don’t really pump at all (neither of my girls took/will take bottles) so I don’t have an exact eye on how much I produce, but all of my babies have been chubby and happy so these techniques seem to do the trick!

I’m not a medical expert by any means, just sharing what works for me 🙂  

breastfeeding and running

Nursing Jack before the Kansas City Marathon in 2015

Tips on Working Out While Breastfeeding

how to keep up milk supply while training for marathon

After running the Kansas City Marathon in 3:43

1.  Drink Lots of Water

I guzzle water all day long.  I have 4 water bottles and cycle through them quickly during the day.  As a busy mom it’s tough to tend to a baby and older kids and also breastfeed, so I’ve enlisted my husband to help me keep them full.  It’s one easy thing for him to do to help support my breastfeeding journey and it saves me time and effort.  If you struggle with drinking enough water then definitely consider asking for help in this area!

breastfeeding while nursing

2.  Wear a Good Nursing-Friendly Sports Bra

First things first, nursing while working out requires a supportive, easy-access sports bra (as seen above, also wearing these $20 high rise shorts which I’ll be reviewing on the blog soon!).  I’ve been wearing this Amazon sports bra since second child was born and it makes breastfeeding in a sports bra so much easier, and it’s only $25, which is nice.  I always wear it when I go to the gym and know I’d need to feed the baby while I was there (remember gyms before the days of COVID 🙁 ), and I also like to wear it at home if I know I won’t get a chance to change out of workout clothes before having to nurse.  The sports bra is not technically a nursing bra (it’s designed to be an ultra-supportive bra with adjustable straps) but because the straps are fully adjustable you’re able to unthread the strap so that you can pull it down and nurse.  Once I’m finished I just fold the velcro back over itself, thread it back through, and then unattached the velcro strap and connect it in its proper place.  It works so well!  I have two of these now and love them.  They also have hook and eye closures on the back (like a traditional bra) which is nice when you’re going through the post-baby weight loss process.

3.  Be Intentional about Eating

I don’t diet ever, even when I’m not breastfeeding.  I yoyo dieted and struggled with an eating disorder in my late teens/early twenties and overcame all of that over a decade ago.  I learned that thinking of food as fuel and not as a “reward” for doing “well” eating-wise, or as a “punishment” if I overindulged.  I try to be mindful about my choices and abide by the “intuitive eating” and “everything in moderation” mentality.  I try to listen to what my body needs and wants, and don’t beat myself up if I have a treat on a daily basis.  (I love my dark chocolate and ice cream!)  I like to eat lots of fruits and veggies, lean meats, proteins, and never eat “diet food” or things with artificial sweeteners.  If I’m going to have a treat I want it to be full fat so I truly enjoy it.  That way I’m fully satisfied and don’t feel like I missed out on anything, and often just a couple bites is much more satisfying than a giant dessert of something diet or low fat.  When I make my coffee in the morning I use regular half and half (fat allows your body to absorb nutrients better) and regular sugar or sugar in the raw.  I don’t use a lot, but I think that truly enjoying a cup of coffee without trying to make it “diet” is important.  I weaned myself from artificial sweeteners when I was pregnant with Caroline and never really went back (more on that here).  I used to love Splenda but now I can detect the artificial taste after just one little sip and also think it’s way too sweet.  Crazy how your tastebuds adjust when you slowly make changes!

marathon training while nursing

After running the Honolulu Marathon in 2018

4.  Eat a Balanced Diet with Healthy Fats, Lean Protein and Nutritionally Dense Foods

To keep up my milk supply I think it’s really important to eat healthy fats.  Avocado, eggs (including yolk), nuts (walnuts and almonds are my favorites), full fat yogurt and cheese (again, the fat helps your body absorb vitamins like A, D, E and K), olive oil, nut butters (I add almond butter to smoothies, oatmeal and baked goods and love peanut butter on just about anything), chia seeds (add to smoothies and overnight oats), and fish like salmon are all a really big part of my diet (though I do need to do a better job at eating fish).  I also like to fuel up on dark greens (high water content and lots of nutrients), beans and legumes (black beans and chickpeas are my favorite), cauliflower, sweet potatoes (I love making tacos with those two veggies) and rely on shrimp, chicken, ground turkey and the occasional really good filet mignon steak as protein.  Oatmeal is a really good meal to eat when your nursing and I always crave it after giving birth.  This chocolate-almond butter oatmeal is my go-to recipe!  Here is my blog post with my favorite snacks, and here are 3 hearty breakfasts that are quick and easy too.

5.  Empty Your Breasts Before Exercising

It’s so important to make sure your breasts are empty before exercising.  It’ll be much more comfortable and that also helps (though doesn’t ensure) that your baby is satisfied during your workout so you hopefully won’t have to take a break!  When I was training for my marathons (while nursing Jack and then again while nursing Caroline) I’d have to get up really early on the weekends to run.  If my baby was awake I’d feed them and then get going, but if they were still sleeping I’d pump right before setting out on my run.

My diet isn’t perfect but it works for me and I’m totally satisfied since I don’t restrict myself or make anything off limits.  By not making anything off limits I never binge like I used to and everything feels balanced as far as eating and exercise go (more in my interview on the Why Should I? Podcast from last year).  I try to not take anything to the extreme and the balance I’ve found this past decade has been freeing!

6.  Nurse on Demand if You’re Able To

I’ve nursed all 3 of my children on demand.  If they were hungry or fussy or needed to be comforted I’d nurse them.  By steadily expressing milk when it was needed and by not sticking to an arbitrary schedule I was/am able to keep producing milk when my baby needs it.  I know that this is not possible for women who work outside of the house (and I’ve had to rely on a pumping schedule during two separate week-long Army Reserve duties when I’ve been away from my babies) but most of the time I try to nurse when my babies want to.  (Although I do sleep train at 4-6 months, so I try to cut out nighttime feedings once I know that they can sleep through the night without a midnight snack.)  So far so good!

breastfeeding and working out

Nursing my third child on a beach in Hawaii

I hope this blog post helps answer any of the questions you might have had about my own personal experience.  If you’d like me to add anything else or expand on something please let me know in the comments 🙂

Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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