If you've been committed to regular exercise before and during your pregnancy, you'll probably be keen to get back to your old routine after the birth and may even be looking forward to the liberation of exercising without that big bump in your belly. If you want to continue exercising throughout the whole breastfeeding period, and to continue to do both successfully, there are some important things to consider. If you’re committed to infant led-weaning - the best way to go for all concerned - you could be nursing for a lot longer. WHO now recommend breastfeeding for a minimum period of two years. The average length of the breastfeeding period worldwide is 4.2 years!
Exercise with your baby
You might prefer to leave your baby with your partner while you have some time out – but if your baby is feeding on demand, or when he’s tiny, you can take him with you. You can actually make him part of your routine. Put him in a sling or a backpack and go for a brisk walk. If you’re a real enthusiast, you can actually do a low impact aerobics class with your baby in his sling. He’ll probably drift off to sleep - soothed by the music that he might remember from when you attended those classes during your pregnancy. If you’re not yet strong or confident enough for either of those options, invest in one of the fabulous baby carriages with giant pneumatic tires. Briskly walking, while pushing your baby in one of these, can provide a great aerobic workout. What’s more, exercising with your baby sets a wonderful example!
Ensuring an adequate supply
Once your milk supply is well established you can be sure that exercise won’t affect it in any way. Although it has been suggested that the production of lactic acid might affect the taste of your milk, I’ve never seen any definitive studies indicating this to be the case, or if it does I’m not aware that babies find it off-putting – maybe just different. Certainly during 10 years of exercising on a daily basis while also breastfeeding my two sons, I was never aware of any negative effects on my milk supply. However, it’s important that you attend to the things that can positively affect your ability to feed while continuing with your exercise routine.
Your diet is of vital importance while you’re breastfeeding. That all-important maternal instinct, as well as the quality and quantity of your breast milk depend on adequate supplies of all the essential nutrients. You can avoid post-natal depression, cracked nipples, a jittery, crying baby and excessive fatigue by eating well and taking appropriate supplements*.
Choose from these organically grown or fed foods:
- Fresh vegetables and fruit
- Whole, unrefined grains
- Nuts, seeds and legumes
- Fish, chicken and meat
- Dairy foods (if you do not suffer from dairy allergy)
- Beneficial oils such as olive oil
- Purified water - keeping well hydrated is vital for an adequate milk supply. Drink 10-12 glasses daily, more in hot weather and always drink before you become thirsty.
Avoid these foods (they deplete your body's store of nutrients):
- Refined products (white flour, white rice, etc.)
- Sugar and foods containing sugar
- Saturated fats
- Processed and packaged foods, and food with additives
- Foods containing hormones and antibiotics
- Excess salt
- Foods you are allergic to.
The choices you make concerning your lifestyle and other factors can play a role in your success at breastfeeding. Here are some thoughts and suggestions for how to improve the breastfeeding relationship you have with your baby, your breastfeeding technique and the quality of your milk.
Carry him close
When bonding between you and your baby unfolds naturally, it lays a solid foundation for a more satisfying and prolonged breastfeeding relationship. The best way to foster that bond is to carry your baby close to you for as much of the day as you can. A soft baby carrier or sling is an easy way to do this. When you're able to feed him at will, you'll quickly establish an intuitive and comfortable breastfeeding relationship. Briskly walking with your baby in a sling or backpack can also increase the intensity of your work-out quite dramatically.
Forget the scheduled feeds
When you compare all of human evolution with one human lifetime, scheduled feeding has been around for about as long as it takes to blink an eyelid. We now know that a healthy, alert newborn may feed as many as sixteen to twenty times in twenty-four hours. So forget the clock - let your baby set his own timetable. That’s why exercising with him, especially when he’s tiny, makes a lot of sense.
Reduce your stress
Stress can adversely affect breastfeeding. Stress is a natural part of living, however it becomes a problem when your coping mechanisms break down. Here are some ways you can help yourself cope better with stress:
- Make sure your nutritional status is adequate (you may need supplements*)
- Try massage, acupressure or reflexology
- Practise regular meditation – you can try this while you’re nursing your baby, but some babies might prefer you to keep your eyes open
- Use aromatherapy
- Try wildflower essences
- Listen to classical music
- Get enough sleep (Often the best way to do this is with your baby beside you in the family bed)
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
When you're breastfeeding it's important that you avoid all of the toxic things that you avoided when you were pregnant. That includes cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs (including oral contraceptives). All of these substances can adversely affect the development of your baby in utero - just because you can now hold him in your arms doesn't mean he's been removed from their ill effects. Not only do they have an adverse effect on your breastfeeding baby, they can also seriously compromise your nutritional status.
Clean up your environment
You probably tried to avoid environmental pollution when you were pregnant, so don't stop now. Breast milk can act as a storehouse for toxins, so it's best to keep your exposure to an absolute minimum. Here are some positive steps you can take to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals and heavy metals:
- Shop at an organic produce supplier.
- Reduce your exposure to chemicals in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry cupboards.
- If you're renovating or decorating, look for a supplier of environmentally friendly, non-toxic paints, glues and other products.
- Use a fly-swat (not sprays) to deal with flies, mosquitos, cockroaches and ants. Some essential oils, such as lavender, citronella and peppermint, also make effective deterrents.
- Limit your exposure to electromagnetic radiation from computer screens, mobile phones, water-beds and electric blankets.
Support groups and information
Once, all women were well acquainted with the mechanics of breastfeeding. Today, however, it's an art that must be learned and the best time to learn about it is long before you hold your baby in your arms. Look to join one of the breastfeeding support groups such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) or La Leche League in the USA.
NOTE: Jan Roberts new book The Natural Way to Better Breastfeeding (Naish & Roberts, Random House 2002 $29.95), is an excellent source for further information on all of the above and related topics.