Exercise and Breastfeeding

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated September 16, 2013.

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After giving birth, most mothers are ready to begin to “get their bodies back” and lose those added pounds they gained during pregnancy.  They wonder if it is safe to exercise while breastfeeding and if it will reduce their milk supply.  The simple answer is that exercising is safe, as long as it is not taken to the extreme for each individual mother’s fitness capabilities.

Exercise and Breastfeeding

Exercise is not only healthy while breastfeeding but a great way to increase a new mom’s depleted energy levels.  Moderate exercise has not been shown in research to adversely affect a mother’s milk supply.  Instead, moderate exercise is associated with weight loss, greater energy, stable milk supply, and the ability to eat more food while still losing weight.  A fresh, brisk walk with your baby in a sling or pushing her in a stroller can do both mother and baby a world of good.

While moderate exercise seems to have nothing but positive results for breastfeeding moms, extreme exercise (exercising to exhaustion) can increase lactic acid levels in breast milk which past research suggested some babies may refuse. 1  However, recent research refutes the idea the babies will refuse this milk. 2  Regardless, extremely strenuous exercise while breastfeeding will increase your caloric needs so make sure to continue eating a variety of healthy foods throughout the day.

Getting used to life with a baby can be challenging enough and trying to fit in exercise can seem daunting.  However, finding ways to exercise with your baby can make it easier.  Going for walks together or even jogging with your baby in an exercise stroller can help a new mom get exercise and her baby get fresh air and enjoy seeing the outside world.  Some exercise programs are specifically designed for moms and babies to do together, including cardio and yoga workouts.  And, if there’s no time (or terrible weather) to get out and exercise, popping in a workout video when you have a few minutes free can maximize whatever “free” time a new mom has.

While most new mothers struggle to find time or enthusiasm to exercise, other mothers are avidly involved in sports training – marathon running, triathlons, etc.  This too, can be perfectly safe while breastfeeding.  Every mother’s fitness ability is different.  For one mother walking one mile may raise her heart rate the same as another mother sprinting 10 miles.  What is important is that each mother listens to her own body and watches her baby and his cues.  Mothers who are active athletes will need to make sure to nourish themselves with additional calories – ideally from healthy, whole foods – so as not to become malnourished (severe malnourishment can impact milk supply).

No matter what you decide, there are many creative solutions for your unique situation.

You may also be interested in reading about dieting and breastfeeding.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Riordan, J. & Wambach, K. (2010) Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones &  Bartlett Publishers, p.501.
  2. Mannel, R. et al. (2013) Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning, p.325.