Choosing to breastfeed or not is a deeply personal decision for mothers everywhere. But if you are a breastfeeding runner, recent research out of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds that your active lifestyle provides additional benefits to your baby.
The researchers were able to identify a compound, 3’SL, that provides lifelong health benefits to infants. “Our data in mice showed that increasing 3’SL during the nursing period resulted in improved metabolic health—reduced body weight, body fat, and improved glucose tolerance—and preserved cardiac function in offspring throughout their lifespan,” says lead researcher Kristin Stanford. The presence of this beneficial compound is increased through exercise and passed on specifically through breast milk.
Stanford believes that the compound can have a positive effect in preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease long-term. They don’t yet know how much activity is needed to see the benefit, but recommend that nursing mothers get moving if they’re able. “We have not quantified the number of steps, but our data in humans suggests that any increase in activity is beneficial,” she says.
The researchers are also looking into whether or not they can isolate the compound to add into formula for infants who can’t be breast fed or if their mothers are on bed rest and unable to exercise.
Getting out for that run can, of course, also be beneficial for the physical and mental health of new moms. “Physical activity and breastfeeding both boost endorphins, which can help reduce the risk of postpartum depression,” says Tameka Jackson-Dyer, lactation consultant and chair of the Metro Detroit and Wayne County Breastfeeding Coalition.
If you’re a nursing mom and looking to take your running to the next level or get started, here are some tips to make movement a little more comfortable:
Don’t return to running before your body is ready.
Even just getting out for a walk or other low-impact movements can increase 3’SL levels in breast milk. “What is prescribed as far as exercise is very individualized and is dependent upon the factors surrounding her delivery,” says women’s health physical therapist and founder of Chicago Physical Therapists, Dr. Meredy Parker. “It’s ideal to be strong and pain-free in your regular activities of daily living before returning to run.”
Make a running plan, but be flexible about it.
“A little planning goes a long way,” says Parker. She recommends trying to get out for a run after the first feeding of the day. “A 30-45 minute run will feel great and will likely leave you more energetic for the rest of your day, whereas pushing it to over an hour might leave you with less energy to tackle things later in the day,” she says. If you like to run with a friend to hold you accountable, “pick a friend that will be understanding on those days that you just can’t finish baby feeding,” she adds.
Invest in good, supportive sports bras.
Look for the models that have the Velcro-adjustable straps for easy access for baby. Cadenshae is a medically endorsed brand that creates activewear for breastfeeding runners and athletes. Their bras and tops are specially designed so you don’t have to change or remove layers to nurse. They also have a partnership with Olympian, advocate, and mother of three, Alysia Montaño. Jackson-Dyer also recommends absorbent nursing pads as one of the most important pieces of equipment for running. Invest in good breast-pads or carry disposable ones as guards against leakages.
Make sure your own hydration and fueling needs are being met.
Breast milk is approximately 90 percent water. And on top of that “lactating women burn around 500-600 calories a day making milk,” says Jackson-Dyer, “so that, along with their running regimen, should be taken into consideration when making fueling choices.” To stay hydrated, Parker recommends that breastfeeding runners have a glass of water with each feeding, each meal, and before and after a run. “If you notice your milk supply diminishes, you are having trouble with bowel movements, or your energy is low, you likely need to hydrate more,” she says.
Be kind to yourself.
Both Parker and Jackson-Dyer say that postpartum moms should view running as “me-time” to feel in control of their bodies again. “It can often feel like your body no longer belongs to you,” says Jackson-Dyer. Running shouldn’t be adding pressure or stress to your life. “I think most nursing moms should consider it a success whenever they manage to get out the door for a run,” says Parker.