I've received a few Facebook messages asking me what it's been like to exercise whilst breastfeeding, so I decided to sum up my experience here as a bit of a sounding board for those folks.
Okay. Some important things to note here: I was not an exercise-a-holic while I was pregnant. I went to Zumba once a week and took walks here and there, and that was all. It definitely helped during my pregnancy (I had more energy this time around!), but it wasn't like I was clocking miles a few hours before going into labor. I'm a big fan of, what's it called ... laziness? Whilst pregnant? So I did exercise a little, but not a lot.
I say that to clarify that I really started working out and working hard after the baby was born, so it's not like my body just eased back into the shape it was in before I got pregnant. Because I wasn't really in shape before I got pregnant. And I'm only clarifying that because there's nothing more frustrating than reading about someone's post-baby workout only to find out they're basically body builders and have never really been out of shape. That can be hard to relate to when you are in the throes of postpartum, wanting to work out but not exactly knowing where to start. So, just take encouragement when I tell you that everything I will be explaining here has only existed since Lydia was born. Not before.
I cross-train twice a week with my friend Alyson, who I've mentioned before. By "cross-train" I simply mean boot camp-ish body sculpt-ish weight training and toning, with some cardio. Twice a week, for an hour. When Lydia was about four months old, I started the C25K program (Couch to 5k) in prep for a 5k race I was planning on running. I love this program because it mixes walking and jogging to start and is actually achievable. Love it. I started slow and then ... I broke my toe. Remember that? OW. Then, as my toe healed, I discovered my milk supply had started to decrease. Lydia's pediatrician suggested that it was most likely dehydration (and maybe hormonal change). Since the summer temps were just starting to swelter, I knew hydration would be a big issue with exercise. So, I chose to stop running and only cross-train. I knew that if I continued to build muscle then it would be easier on me once I started running again.
I started drinking three liters of water a day and put running on the back burner. Which, honestly, wasn't that hard, since it was SWELTERING outside. My milk production stabilized and Lydia continued to grow, over the next two months. Then we had a random cooler weekend in August, so I went out for a jog and ran three miles. My thought process had been right--while running was by no means "easy", I could tell that the weight training had helped. It was too hot the next weekend, so I stayed put and didn't run. Then the next weekend, I added another mile. And continued to cross-train with Alyson. The next weekend I added another mile. And then another.
All while pushing the baby I am continuing to breastfeed. She's done great. A week and a half ago I ran eight miles. That's INSANE for someone like me. I've never been a runner. Ever. I played volleyball in high school so I wouldn't HAVE to run. Um, or catch. Anyway. There are no running glory days I can reminisce about. This is my first time, in my life, to do any of this.
1) Stay hydrated. Stay hydrated stay hydrated stay hydrated. And then drink some more.
2) Be sure to give your body a full workout. If you plan on running, don't only run. My friend enlightened me to the fact that the muscles used in running only get a forward-backwards type of workout. Do some kind of cross-training or exercise to work your muscles laterally, too. This is a big reason why running can cause so much injury. Keep the exercise evenly distributed. If your milk supply starts to slow, slow your work outs. Focus on strengthening the body that just birthed life! And do it at a pace that respects that body.
3) I'll say it again: Start slow. I am a slow runner. My brother, in all of his awesomeness, runs eight minute miles. HA! I am minutes and minutes behind that. But, it doesn't matter. A good friend of mine told me, "Don't think about time, just think about distance". She's right. I started at the very beginning. Couch to 5k, two miles, twice a week, with two days of cross-training. Now I am running one three mile run and one long run (my next is nine miles, eek), plus two days of cross-training. I have to wake up early to get it done and it's taken me seven months to get there. Start at the beginning. Listen to your body.
4) And, when it comes to postpartum exercise in general, set a goal. Goals are great. Set a goal and make it public. I'm running a half marathon in a month (gulp). Just typing that makes me want to bust out laughing. The thought of me running a half marathon is just funny. I'm so not a runner! But, for me, I have to have a goal, so I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. And make it public. I have an app that works as a GPS while I'm running and then posts my final mileage on Facebook. Making your goals public puts more pressure on yourself to actually achieve them. If people find it annoying that you post about it, then okay. Who really cares what people on Facebook think, anyway?
5) Just get out there and do it. Walk to the end of your driveway and back. Then walk to the end of your street and back the next day. Then maybe walk around the block. It will be one more block than you walked the day before. You just have to start somewhere! When I started running, I would just run around our 5-acre property. In the grass, in one big circle, over and over. Just work with what you've got and find what works best for you. Be it Zumba, walking, whatever. Find your thing and go with it!
I hope that helps!
Have a lovely day, friends.