After having a baby, it probably seems like everyone wants to give you unsolicited advice. It may be the well-meaning man at the grocery store, or the lady at the gym.

If someone tells you not to exercise while breast-feeding because it can negatively affect your milk supply, it might make you think twice about returning to the gym.

But the truth is, moderate exercise does not hurt milk supply or milk composition. Exercise and breast-feeding are a healthy combination. Still, there are a few considerations and precautions to keep in mind.

Here’s how to stay safe during exercise while breast-feeding.

What are the benefits of exercising while breast-feeding?

Exercising after pregnancy has many advantages. Outside of the obvious effects on body composition and weight, it can also:

  • help decrease the incidence of postpartum depression
  • decrease stress
  • improve coping skills
  • improve sleep quality
  • improve cardiovascular health

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breast-feeding for the first six months. They recommend continuing until your baby is at least 1 year old, or as long as is mutually desired by baby and mom.

Is it safe to exercise while breast-feeding?

Breast-feeding is not usually a barrier to returning to exercise postpartum. If you are in good health and get your doctor’s approval to work out postpartum, exercising while breast-feeding should be safe.

According to the journal Women’s Health, exercising has no negative effect on:

  • breast milk production
  • lactic acid levels
  • infant suckling
  • neonatal weight gain

Continuing exercise in the postpartum period may have other benefits too, including a faster return to prepregnancy weight. For the healthy postpartum woman, there’s no evidence to support that rapid return to prepregnancy activities will cause harm.

A study published in Sports Health also found that women who ran while breast-feeding were less likely to report postpartum depression than those who didn’t run.

How to exercise safely while breast-feeding

If you are going to exercise while breast-feeding, it’s important to remember these tips.

Eat a well-balanced diet and eat regularly throughout the day

Taking in an adequate amount of calories is critical for nursing moms. Breast-feeding can burn close to 500 calories every day! It’s important to be taking in enough nutrient-rich food to meet these demands. It’s considered safe to lose 1/2 to 1 pound per week once breast-feeding is established. If you’re losing more, it may be time to increase your food intake.

Boost your supply with some milk-producing foods

Certain foods may help increase milk supply. Try out the following:

  • fennel
  • oatmeal
  • fats like coconut oil
  • dark leafy greens
  • brewer’s yeast

Try blending a lactation smoothie in the morning. It’s not only delicious, but will help keep you and baby satisfied throughout the day.

Milk supply is based on supply and demand

Make sure that you are feeding baby regularly. If possible, try to get in a feeding before working out. Avoid skipping feedings and if you need to substitute a bottle while you are away, consider pumping while you’re gone.

How much water should you drink when breast-feeding?

It’s very important to stay hydrated! Low milk supply can be associated with dehydration. You’ll need to consume lots of water, especially if you’re sweating. If you’re feeling a little parched and want an extra hydration boost, you can sip on some coconut water or an electrolyte beverage, too.

Drink a bottle of water one hour before you work out, and sip another bottle during your exercise session.

What types of exercise are safe while breast-feeding?

When returning to exercise postpartum, it’s important to take it slowly and gradually work your way back to more challenging workouts. Start with walking, dynamic stretching, and functional movements. These include squats and pushups.

Leading up to your delivery date, your joints can loosen because of hormones like relaxin. This means pregnant and postpartum women are more prone to injury. Rather than jumping back into intense workouts, first focus on rehabilitating and strengthening your core muscles. That way, you can safely gain your strength and endurance back.

Next steps

Exercise is possible while breast-feeding. It can be positive for both you and baby.

Be sure to eat healthfully and drink lots of water to avoid jeopardizing your milk supply. Breast-feeding is not usually a barrier to returning to exercise postpartum, but it is important to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Q:

How soon can you safely exercise after giving birth?

A:

Depending on the mode of delivery, normal exercise routines can be resumed as soon as you are comfortable in the first weeks after delivery. If you had a cesarean delivery, it’s best to wait until your doctor tells you it’s OK to resume exercise at the six-week postpartum checkup. Begin slowly and with mild exercise if you are starting a new exercise program, and seek medical assessment and advice.

Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHTAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.