Running and Milk Supply

Hello! I’ve written this post in my head dozens of times, but lack of sleep, lack of time, etc. pretty much ensured I never took time to sit down and write. First, a few disclaimers-

  1. If you don’t really care about nursing, babies, or how they affect your running, this probably isn’t the post for you. I get it. Before I had a baby, I was all like, “Why do moms always want to talk about their boobs?! No one cares. Just feed the baby.” But to be honest, this baby and how he is eating and sleeping affects every aspect of my life, especially running, which is so important to my mental health.
  2. I am a firm believer that a fed baby is best. I am dedicated to making breastfeeding work, but even with a great support system, preparation, and getting lucky (no mastitis, thrush, etc), it is FREAKING hard. So, I completely get why it sometimes doesn’t work out. I think as a whole we can do a better job supporting nursing moms, providing more paid leave, pumping opportunities, education, etc, but that is a whole other blog post. All moms are doing the best they can and I don’t judge anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to breastfeed.
  3. All that being said, I am dedicated to making nursing work for as long as I can. Whenever I’ve run in to an issue, I’ve found fellow moms and blogs to be an invaluable resource. I haven’t found too much information on how running can affect one’s milk supply (or how breastfeeding and the associated hormones can affect running), so maybe by sharing my experience I can help other mom runners. I’d love to hear other women’s experiences!

Early Daystiny baby

Some background – Before I gave birth, I thought I would hate breastfeeding. Honestly, I did. As someone who is fairly modest, I was terrified of having my boobs out in the open all the time. But I actually ended up really liking nursing. It’s created such a special bond between me and Teddy and 90% of the time I love it (the other 10% of time I’m like, “ugh can I have my body back?!)”. Howeverrrrr, those first few days and weeks of breastfeeding were hard AF. Things were okay in the hospital (besides the toe-curling latch pain which I know they say shouldn’t happen, but it does). But the night we got home from the hospital, my milk came in and the babe wanted nothing to do with my engorged boobs (it’s tough for them to latch). I blearily found my pump and parts and tried to read the instructions, sterilize the parts, etc. all while my 2-day old was screaming in hunger. (Side note: would have been good to do this prep in advance, but ah well, hindsight is 20-20.) I ended up pumping and feeding him expressed milk in a bottle throughout the night and that served as a temporary fix. The next day I scoured the internet for local lactation consultants, but since I live in a very rural area the closest ones I could find were about 45 minutes away. Not super appealing or practical when you’ve got a fragile little newborn and are feeling pretty beat up from labor & delivery. So instead, I sent my husband to Target for a nipple shield and although some people say they can cause more issues than good, this tool honestly saved our ability to breastfeed. Before the nipple shield, I was ready to throw in the towel. In fact, I was already researching which brand of formula to buy. With the shield, I had zero nipple pain and Teddy was able to latch without a problem. He quickly put on weight (2 lbs the first month!) and we all started to settle into a routine. Nipple shields aren’t a solution for everyone and lactation consultants consider them a temporary fix, but for us, they were a godsend. At first, I made it my goal to get through the first 2 weeks of breastfeeding, then 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and so on. We are now currently a few days away from the 6 month mark (!) and I hope we can continue up until 12 months or longer. But I’ve also learned that parenthood and advance planning don’t often mix, so we’re just taking it day by day.

Finding a Balance 

As the weeks went by, we really got in to our breastfeeding groove. I fed on demand and Teddy was eating (and gaining weight) like a champ. By 2 months postpartum, I still wasn’t running much (2-3 miles a few times a week), so I didn’t notice any difference in my supply. Around this time, Teddy started sleeping more and more (5-6 hour stretches at about 5 weeks old, 8-9 hour stretches at 9 weeks old). This was AWESOME, but…it also meant I had to wake up and pump (I didn’t want to get clogged ducts). Overall, my supply was still regulating. Many mornings I woke up drenched in milk and had to change the sheets. Fortunately all this extra milk was put to good use and I was able to build up a pretty good freezer stash. In mid-September, when Teddy was about 11 weeks old, I had to have some minor surgery that necessitated about 2 weeks off from running. And even when I started running again, we had some travel planned, so I wasn’t running more than 3-4 miles a few times a week. At this point, my supply appeared to be very strong.

A Return to Training first postpartum long run

By early October, I was fully healed and ready to start training seriously again (well, as much as one can train seriously with an infant…). I ran a 5k on October 8th in 22:17 and was encouraged! I increased my mileage over the next month, racing a 10k in 48:06 and then a 15k in 1:11:44. By early November (4 months postpartum), I had completed a few 10 mile runs and was logging 30 miles a week. Historically that isn’t a ton of mileage for me (I try to peak around 60 miles for marathon training), but it was still more than I had run in probably 18 months. I was feeling strong and good! But then…

What’s Going on?

In late October, Teddy turned 4 months old and went from sleeping 9-10 hours a night (nonstop, no feedings) to waking up either multiple times a night or waking up really early for the day (~4am). In retrospect, a couple things were probably at play – 1) the 4 month sleep regression [a developmental shift in sleep when baby sleep cycles start to become more like adults…a.k.a. they start having distinct cycles and less deep sleep], 2) we transitioned from the bassinet to the crib, 3) daylight saving time effed us up, and 4) I believe my milk supply dropped a bit.

We recovered from daylight saving time fairly quickly and the sleep regression and the crib transition are something we’re still working on (sleep training is a whole OTHER post….), but I truly believe Teddy was hungry for awhile in mid-November. Looking back, he started sleeping like crap right around the time I started logging double digit runs. During that same time, I noticed that I weighed about 4-5lbs less than I did before I got pregnant. It’s not a huge deal and I’m still at a very healthy weight for my height, but all of these things started ringing alarm bells. I took Teddy to the pediatrician and she asked a bunch of questions – does he seem satisfied after feedings? (not really…). Does he just want soothing or is he ravenous when he wakes up in the middle of the night? (he attacks my boob, so I’m gonna say hungry). Is he gaining weight? (Sort of, but probably not as much as expected, even for a breastfed baby who often gains slower). I felt like an idiot and a terrible mom. After a few tears, the ped and I agreed to start giving him a bottle of milk from my freezer stash each night to see if that helped. So that’s what we did. And it worked. He started sleeping a little better. He got that “milk drunk” look again. And he started putting on some more weight.

I also worked really really hard to build my supply back up. Some things that worked for me:

  1. I started double pumping after the morning feeding to stimulate more milk production (and provide milk for the nighttime bottle as my freezer supply started to disappear quickly).
  2. I paid more attention to how much I was eating and drinking. When I’m busy and tired, it’s easy to forget to fuel, but I made it a priority, especially after long/hard runs.
  3. I started drinking milkmaid tea, bought some brewer’s yeast (increases milk supply), and made a big batch of lactation cookies. My substitutions: wheat germ instead of flax seed (what I had on hand), cut the sugar by 1/4 cup, used 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + 1 cup white flour, added 1/4 cup chia seeds, and used 2 Tbs canola oil instead of 4 Tbs coconut oil. They are amazingly good.

lactaction cookie lactaction cookie

Sleep got iffy again recently, but that’s due to a need for sleep training more than anything else (I think). Lots of well meaning friends and family members have suggested rice cereal, which we’re not too keen on doing, for a variety of reasons. I know he’s getting more milk these days and I honestly think any sleep issues he has have to do with some bad sleep habits we’ve hung on to (nursing him to sleep, unpredictable nap schedule, him getting overtired, etc).

My running has taken a hit recently, mostly because the weather has been crappy, but I’m still hoping to run a half-marathon sometime in early 2017. Realistically, until I’m no longer his main source of nutrition, I doubt a PR is likely. Breastfeeding takes a lot of physical energy and I just don’t think I can run more than about 40 miles per week and still feel good. I’m hoping that when he’s closer to a year old, the energy requirements for nursing will start to decline a bit. I have my eye on running a marathon in late 2017 or early 2018, but as with everything right now, I’m taking it one day at a time.

Thanks for all of your feedback on my last post re: the jogging stroller! I’m still planning to get one soon, so hopefully that will increase the amount of miles I’m able to run. I guess this snow will have to melt first though…

A quick list of things I’m loving right now:

This book. We are a few days in to sleep training, so I’m gobbling up all the info I can get. It could be a fluke, but we saw pretty drastic results in just 2 nights.

This pizza. I am obsessed with this farm-made pizza. Locally grown flour, homemade tomato sauce, a minimal amount of high quality cheese (which limits the grease), and their own organic veggies. We order from them at least once a week. If you’re in the Saratoga area, check them out.

This podcast. I especially loved the episodes about Instagram and AirBnB.

And just fyi, none of these links are affiliate links (I don’t even know how to do that lol). It’s just stuff I want to share!

  • Colleen

    Hi Megan! I’m a long time reader with an almost 9-month old. I saw your tweets about sleep training and thought I’d pass along a site that really helped me. It’s a bit confusing to navigate but it’s a great resource. If you join the FB group that is mentioned on the site there’s tons of people obsessing over baby sleep and willing to give useful tips to help you out. (ie. not just “this is a phase, it will pass”). Just thought I’d mention it because I’ve just been through it (and TBH still working on it here and there). Please ignore if you’re not interested. I don’t want to be *that* person giving unwanted parenting advice 😉 Also realizing this reads like an ad but I swear it’s not!

  • runnerskitchen

    Thank you so much for the comment! I love that site!! This post (along with Weissbluth’s book) was my bible for the sleep training process:

    We’re only 3 days in and I’ve learned to *never* expect anything to last when it comes to baby sleep, but he gave us 11 hours last night, so I’m a believer. Just signed up for the site’s newsletter!

  • I’m not a mom but still find all of this fascinating. And I’m super excited about that pizza recommendation! I’ll be up in Saratoga/Ballston Spa in February and will definitely now try them for pizza 🙂

  • runnerskitchen

    I’m glad you found it interesting! And definitely try 9 Miles East. They also sell stuff besides pizza like “Go Boxes” (salads with grains and protein) at local gyms and YMCAs. Great for a quick lunch!

  • coco

    I have a 8 months old and breastfeeding is my main priority to keep her healthy. Fortunately I don’t see my milk supply dropping with running… although my weekly mileage is around 20-25 miles. I think fueling properly, both food and liquid and sleep enough is key! 🙂

  • Laura Sprtel

    Hang in there. Breastfeeding is tough and it’s a journey. You are doing a wonderful thing for Teddy. I breastfed for about 11 months and we definitely went through challenges. My son was born 8 weeks early so I had to exclusively pump for quite a while, use a nipple shield, got mastitis twice….ugh. But we made it and you will too! Thanks for sharing your insights 🙂

  • runnerskitchen

    yes, i agree – drinking and eating (and sleeping) enough is key! i’m trying to do a better job fueling between breakfast and dinner.

  • runnerskitchen

    thank you! we are taking it one day at a time. in those early days i was just trying to get from one feeding to the next. i remember thinking…”well, even if you stop right now, at least he’s gotten the colostrum” or “at least he’s gotten a week of breastmilk”, etc. i never thought we’d make it to 6 months! fingers crossed we can keep the momentum going for awhile longer!

  • Laura Sprtel

    Exactly! Anything is better than nothing and six months is great! But remember a happy mama is best for baby, so make sure to take care of yourself and do what’s right for you too. He’s gotten a great start!

  • Thank you for sharing all of this — I think it’s great for more fit women (runners or otherwise) to talk about these issues openly. I’m more of a 15-20 mpw runner, but I noticed the most differences in my supply with hydration — like, if I was diligent about hydrating on days I worked out, things were fine, but if I didn’t drink enough water, then things were dicier, even if I wasn’t running/exercising that day. I ended up following something similar to the path you envisioned for yourself — my daughter turned 1 in September, and at that point I was able to ramp up to training for a half marathon (slow — definitely a PW! — but better than I thought I’d do) in November. We were down to only nursing mornings/nights by the time I was running more substantial distances, and I dropped morning shortly before race day. I definitely needed to be nursing less (and her to be sleeping more) before I felt like I had the physical and, frankly, emotional strength to run for 90+ minutes! I’m so impressed by how quickly you’ve gotten your speed back!

  • runnerskitchen

    You’re so right about staying hydrated! I think more than the mileage, the dehydration is what probably affects my supply. I’ve been keeping a water bottle close at hand in the attempt to be better!

  • I never ran post babies, but it’s crazy how anything can affect supply issues. Both my kids did fine on until I went back to work and started to pump. I was fine supplementing and nursed at home well past the one year mark. Only gripe is the free stuff. Are you staying home with Teddy?

  • runnerskitchen

    I definitely notice that when I pump, I don’t empty as fully/produce as much. But man, the days I do long runs, my supply seems to really tank (even when I try to eat/drink a ton). it’s tough!

    I’m staying home with him at least until this summer, then we might look into more formal daycare options. Right now I have babysitting help a few days a week, but he’s probably only getting 1 pumped bottle a day.

  • Helen

    Definitely do that – I panic if I leave the house without my water bottle 😂 I remember my midwife saying you need to drink a pint of water each time you sit down to nurse – which seems like an awful lot! But actually it probably isn’t, especially when not only are you keeping your baby hydrated, but also yourself (we forget about that one don’t we 😜)and on top of that even more to account for the sweaty running 😆 I might not drink the whole glass but just making a habit of having it there in front of me encourages me to drink most of it. You’re doing brilliant by the way – I’m only just starting to feel normal 7 months pp. Mileage just about in double figures haha, and attempted a couple of track sessions so getting there! 😊