By BMSG Editorial Team
*DISCLAIMER: You should seek the opinion of your doctor or your gynaecologist before doing any forms of exercise after giving birth.
If you have read Sophie Power’s story, you would not cease to be in awe! She is the amazing mother who stopped to latch her baby AND pump in the midst of a 48-hour marathon through the Alps. The image of her at a pitstop latching her son while also pumping milk from the other breast, is one that will resonate with many mothers, who are avid sportswomen. Power is an example of a mother who would not let her passion stop her from doing what she needed to do for herself.
Here in sunny Singapore, we are not short of mums who truly love sports. We spoke to several breastfeeding mothers who are avid sportswomen themselves, to find out just how possible it is to juggle the act of breastfeeding with sports.
Does Exercise = Decline in Supply & Quality of Breastmilk?
One of the greatest concerns that many mothers may have when it comes to exercising, would be whether it impacts milk supply and its quality. According to the US Academy for Nutrition & Dietetics, as long as the breastfeeding mother is drinking and eating enough to replenish the resources she has lost to exercise, there is no evidence to link a dip in supply with exercising.
Heng Wen Xiu, who has been breastfeeding for less than a year, exercises daily. The swimmer and elliptical trainer said, “It does make me hungry, so I make sure to eat enough to avoid impacting my milk supply”.
Jasmin, an avid road cyclist who exercises several times a week, said that it is important to stay hydrated: “I have to drink more water to replenish the liquid lost, in order to ensure a good supply.”
Dr Mythili Pandi, a family physician, and an EXCO member with the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group, resonated with this. “Plenty of water and good quality foods from all the food groups are all that a mother needs to maintain her milk supply,” said the mother of three who enjoys running even when her three children were babies. She added, “I also find that when I am doing a lot more anaerobic work or long-distance runs, I tend to have more protein rich foods to quicken muscle recovery.”
Some mothers are concerned that exercise can impact the immunologic factors in their breastmilk. Research has found that the IgA compound which is responsible for the immunity factor in the milk, can be reduced after exhaustive exercise. However, this dip is only for the short term and is found to be insignificant. Dr Mythili also added that levels of IgA can remain stable throughout the day: “It is probably best to not exercise to exhaustion especially if the mother has not been active regularly. Even so, the drop in the levels of sIgA are only for a short time (15-30mins) and it will then return to normal levels again. So the total levels of sIgA over the course of the day may be quite stable.”
While we know fatigue from sports may trigger a reduction in milk supply, mothers we spoke to discussed arranging feeding or pumping times to fit in with exercise. Jasmin, an avid cyclist, finds that pumping just before and after her riding sessions is important to help her sustain her milk supply, as a single ride could take a few hours!
Others, like Vicki, who usually goes to a gym during lunchtimes at work, deciding to pump or to workout, can be a challenge. She sees both as important to her, but believes that pumping should take priority. “I tell myself pump(ing milk) for my baby is more important than exercise so I make sure I get to the gym as soon as I finish” said Vicki, who also added that it can be more comfortable for mums to exercise on emptier breasts.
Wearing the Right Exercising Gear
Grace, who does High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), also agrees on exercising on empty breasts. She encouraged other mums to empty the breasts before exercising. “I did it (exercise) once without pumping and ended up with mastitis!”
Sports bras and tops, which have large bands underneath the breasts for better support, may pose risks of blocked ducts leading to mastitis if unresolved. Tight clothing, too, can impose similar risks. It is important that the attire you opt for is loose and comfortable, and that you do not wear it for long periods of time. You should remove the clothing as soon as possible and to check for blocked ducts frequently.
Exercise for Your Sanity
Even with all the logistical organisation required, all the mothers we spoke to concurred that exercising helped them to cope better with their roles as a mother and maintain their emotional and physical well-being.
Agnes Nemes-Chow, a stay-at-home mother to seven children, says, “Running helps me to reduce my general stress level. As a stay-at-home mum, it gives me a break from looking after my children and helps me to maintain my physique.” She also added that she did not notice that it had any negative impact on her milk supply as she latches her baby before and after her runs.
A mother who enjoys yoga and pilates, Hwee Min, says exercise has actually helped her improve her resolve to breastfeed. “Staying active by engaging in sports helps me be refreshed and to reset my mind. It gives the emotional strength and tenacity to continue my breastfeeding journey,” says the mother who has been breastfeeding for almost a year.
No Particular Sports to Avoid
Dr Mythili also advised mothers to do the sports they love and enjoy and that there is no particular sports that mothers should avoid.
She also added that mothers could consider exercise in a bid to get over the baby blues. “Being active was the best way I could deal with my postnatal blues and the massive shifts in my life – being a full time medical officer in a bustling public hospital to a full time mummy to a brand new baby.”
So mummies, if there is a particular sport you like or one in which you are hoping to try, don’t hesitate! Prepare yourself and your loved ones for the hour or two that you will be away from baby, and get active! You will find that it may actually help you to feel much more energetic and happier! And a Happy Mummy means a Happy Baby!