How much exercise is okay when you’re breastfeeding?

There are a few things to keep in mind if you're a breastfeeding mum doing some exercise.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you're a breastfeeding mum doing some exercise. Photo: Hero Images

After having each of my babies, I was keen to get back into exercising. Following lots of back pain during pregnancy that restricted my movement, once those babies were out I couldn't wait to move properly again.

What didn't appeal to my impatient self was having to continue taking things a bit easier than normal, due to having just given birth and breastfeeding. However, it became really important to look on the bright side of what I could do, rather than what was off limits.

When it comes to such limits, it's hard to know where the lines are. Some women are able to jump, squat and run their way straight back into exercise, others need to ease back more, and some – like fitness enthusiast Sharny – take the phrase 'exercising while breastfeeding' literally with the hashtag #breastercising showing her doing squats whilst feeding her little one.

And it's this sense of each to their own that's the key to exercising during this stage of life, say the experts.

"Each mum is different, and what's right for one mum won't be right for another," says Jen Dugard, a fitness expert for mums.

"Some women are scared of exercising while they're breastfeeding because they're not sure what it will do to their milk supply. The Australian Breastfeeding Association says it shouldn't affect breast milk, however some women find it can take some time for their body to adapt."

Most importantly, get to know your own body. "Don't let breastfeeding deter you from exercising," advises Dugard. "Just educate yourself on what you can do and get to know the warning signs if you're pushing too hard."

There are a few things to keep in mind if you're a breastfeeding mum doing some exercise:

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Nutrition is an important piece of the puzzle.

"Many women cut calories when they exercise," says Dugard. "I advise most women to keep a food diary or track what's going on."

For example, if you're tired, skipping breakfast, rushing out the door and exercising, it's easy to blame to the exercise for a lack of milk supply but it could be due to a range of those factors.

"Fuel is important," Dugard adds. "It's advised to eat an extra 200 to 300 healthy calories while breastfeeding, so make sure you're doing that when you're exercising."

What you've always done may not be right during this time.

If you've been really fit and able to do lots of exercise, you may be expecting to jump right back into it, but that won't always be the case.

"Some women have exercised before pregnancy but find postnatal exercising quite challenging and some women are fine," says Dugard of her observations. Give things a try and keep track of how you're feeling.

Avoid lying on your chest. "Any exercises that involve lying down on your chest (like a cobra pose) can be uncomfortable, and it's not good to compress your chest while you're breastfeeding," says Dugard.

Have good support. Sure, moral support from those around you is important when you're a new mum, but support takes on a new, much more physical meaning when you're exercising while breastfeeding.

"If you're running with your chest bouncing up and down, it isn't good for breast tissue and it's really uncomfortable," says Dugard.

She advises investing in a good, supportive bra or wearing two bras. "Make sure you take it off afterwards," she adds.

Start inside and work your way out.

"Every mum needs to learn about her pelvic floor and her abdominals and whether there's any separation or not," says Dugard, "and then build an exercise routine around that. Work inside out."

Don't go too hard too soon. This is about creating habits that work for you, based on what's going on in your life and feels good.

"You want to use exercise to energise yourself," says Dugard. "Be kind to you, settle into being a mum and allow your body to nutritionally, emotionally and physically build a strong foundation so you can do all the things you want to do."