This week I had my 6 week postpartum checkup. She gushed over my son and checked my incision. Really, it was just a formality. I did ask one specific question: When can I start exercising?
And the answer I wanted to hear, I got – I am good to go.
Great! Now the pressure is on!
My goal is to be able to run the 5 km home from the office by the time I return to work, in March. A tall order for someone who has sat on her, well you know, for the past 10 months. Sigh … where to begin?
I guess the first thing to do is to get some muscle tone back, there’s quite a bit of flab going on, to be honest. I know, I know, I just had a child so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. The initial plan was to start going for walks and I think that’s a good place to start. The baby loves to be in a carrier, so taking him out for walks is good for him, as well as for me (he’s almost 10 lbs now, so the extra weight I’m carrying offers increased resistance, right?). As much as I’d love to get out there and start running, the last thing I need is to do too much too soon and risk an injury. I think it’s also important to get some flexibility back – I started doing some gentle yoga stretching a few days ago.
The other concern I have is the impact exercise will have (if any) on breastfeeding, or more specifically, my milk supply. A quick Google search came up with a few hits from the usual suspects: La Leche League, (I found this great article on Postpartum Fitness from the La Leche League), KellyMom, BabyCenter. The general consensus from these sites is that exercise doesn’t affect breast milk supply, though go to any “mom forum” and you might read differently. I have personally heard from some friends that exercise did in fact, affect their supply.
So, I decided to do a little bit of research, because really, what else have I got to do these days?
A Google Scholar search came up with this study from 1994, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Thirty-three women, all exclusively breastfeeding and 6-8 weeks postpartum were randomly assigned to an exercise group or a control group (no exercise). The exercise group were supervised and did aerobic exercise at 60-70% of maximum heart rate for 45 minutes, 5 days a week for 12 weeks. Energy expenditure, dietary intake, body composition and the volume and composition of breast milk were assessed. The results showed that aerobic exercise 4-5 times per week, beginning 6-8 weeks postpartum had no adverse effects on breast milk supply and significantly improved the cardiovascular fitness of the women. Interestingly, the rate of weight loss was not different between the two groups. Bearing in mind that the study size was quite small, it’s encouraging to see that exercise didn’t appear to affect a woman’s milk supply. The article also goes on to discuss the importance of keeping hydrated before, during and after exercise, as well as keeping one’s caloric intake up to support breast-feeding. While weight loss is of course the eventual goal, it is important for me at least, to recognize that this probably won’t happen as quickly as I’d like since I do continue to keep nursing. In the long run, that’s not so much a concern as I know my body and it naturally reverts back to what it knows (at least, I hope it does this third time!).
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada published a joint Clinical Practice Guideline with the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology in 2003, titled “Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period”. Here’s an excerpt:
Exercise and Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the best method of providing optimal nutrition, immunologic- based protection, and emotional nurturing for the growth and development of infants.51 Therefore, exercise frequency and intensity should not interfere with a mother’s ability to breastfeed. Although exercise does not negatively affect milk production or composition,52–54 lactic acid has been shown to be increased in the breast milk of women exercising at maximal intensity, but not in those exercising at moderate level.55–58 There is controversy as to whether this short-term increase in lactic acid makes the breast milk less palatable to the nursing infant.55,56, 58–61 Mothers who find that their baby does not feed as well right after exercising may consider feeding the baby right before exercising (which may also make the breasts more comfortable during exercise), postponing feeding until 1 hour after exercising, or expressing milk prior to exercising to be used after exercising. The growth of breastfeeding babies of exercising women is normal, even for the infants whose mothers are losing weight as part of their exercise regimen.53
Women should be advised that moderate exercise during lactation does not affect the quantity or composition of breast milk or impact infant growth. (I-A)
Well, that’s good enough for me.
The other “mom forums” also had a few good suggestions, like nursing before exercising. This makes complete sense to me – a well-fed infant will sleep while mommy goes out for a run! The other suggestion I read was taking baby with you – ie. in a carrier while going for a brisk walk, or using a jogging stroller! Brilliant! We happen to have a Chariot and husband has been talking about buying the jogging handle attachment, though I’m not sure how we’d fit three kids when it seats only two? Hmm … might have to think about that one a bit.
In any event, it appears I have no excuse not to get started. There is a pair of Guess jeans that are desperately waiting to be worn again, and LOTS of left over Hallowe’en chocolate that is taunting me.
Get ready. Get set. Go!