Breastfeeding was not the blissful experience I expected it to be. Before my first child was born, nursing was the least of my worries. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and I wasn’t concerned that anything might go wrong. Two breast abscesses and one two-week stay in the hospital later, I realized that breastfeeding isn’t always the picturesque experience I had imagined.
I’m stubborn by nature, though, and fortunately I was able to continue nursing. The two abscesses I had required major surgery and several weeks of recovery, but I went on to nurse my daughter happily – and even comfortably – until my next pregnancy, when she was about 22 months old. Then my second child was born, and I had that picturesque experience. Nursing the second time around was a breeze, and with the exception of a few clogged ducts, I had no problems.
You hear a lot these days about all the benefits of breastfeeding, and it’s all so true. Nevertheless, it seems to me that somewhere in the midst of singing the praises of breastfeeding, it’s easy to lose sight of the challenges it can present. I’m not trying to be a downer; I just know what it’s like to feel the disappointment, and even inadequacy, that a woman can experience when things just don’t go as smoothly as expected. So here are a few pointers for breastfeeding I’ve learned in my brief, but eventful, experience as a nursing mom – specifically for all the active moms out there:
1. Get Support
I’m not talking about the La Leche League, although that’s also helpful. I’m talking about your brassiere, and specifically the one you wear during your workout. For women with a larger bust, I’ve heard great things about Enell and Bravissimo bras, although I’ve never had to use one myself since I’m not as well-endowed. If you wear a nursing bra, you might want to double up with a sports bra on top. I once heard a spinning instructor tell a story about a broken nursing bra clasp in the middle of her class. For me, leakage was always more of a problem. Make sure you put some breast pads in your gym bag, just in case.
2. Take Cues From Your Baby
My first baby would get really fussy when I tried to nurse her after a vigorous workout. At first I thought it might be the taste of my milk, but I realized after a while that she just disliked breastfeeding when I was wearing a sports bra (she’s the picky one). My second child has an aversion to sweat. If I’m sweating, she doesn’t want to breastfeed, and I can’t blame her. Pay attention to your baby’s cues and figure out what’s really bothering her if she seems fussy after a workout.
This is especially important for active moms. I’m ninety-percent positive that if I had changed my diet and increased my caloric intake after my first daughter’s birth, I wouldn’t have had the problems I did. At the time I was eating very small meals, mostly comprised of grains, dairy, and legumes. I ate meat once or twice a week, but I craved it constantly. During my recovery, I made some changes to the way I ate and actually found that increasing my calorie intake (a lot!) made a huge difference. Pay attention to your cravings and try to figure out what they’re telling you. Avoid extreme dieting and focus on quality rather than quantity.
4. Know When To Stop
I err on the side of caution with this one, due to my previous experiences. My first time breastfeeding, I ignored all the warning signs. I tried to heal my own mastitis, push through the pain, and overcome. That’s all good and fine, but after a few weeks of misery I should have realized I needed rest and a good doctor. I continued to push myself and ended up seriously regretting it. If you have clogged ducts, be very careful and nurse frequently. If you have a bad case of mastitis, take a few days off. Instead of killing yourself with a workout, just go lie down in your bed, skin-to-skin with your baby, while you nurse, sleep, and watch episodes of your favorite TV show. It sounds indulgent, and it is.
5. You Know What I’m Going To Say
I know it’s totally a textbook answer, but hydration is essential for the active, breastfeeding mom. Interestingly, in his book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, Dr. James Clapp notes that although active women tend to spontaneously increase caloric intake while breastfeeding, they don’t always increase their fluid intake. Clapp recommends using urine color as a guide: the clearer the urine, the better hydrated you are.
For me, breastfeeding hasn’t always been blissful, but it’s definitely been worth it. I hope my readers have all had pleasant, pain-free breastfeeding experiences. I usually have to learn the hard way. Did you continue to workout while breastfeeding, and if so, how did you make it work? Any recommendations for other active moms out there?