Breastfeeding and Pumping While Racing (and Training!)

I’d say one of the most frequent questions I’m asked when talking about my training and racing during the first year postpartum is: “are you breastfeeding?” And then, “how do you do it?”

The answer is yes, I exclusively breastfeed (haven’t used formula) and started my little guy on some “solids” starting at 6 months. He’s currently eating a few ounces of food (mostly purees) at mealtimes and the rest of the time he’s breastfeeding or taking bottles of breast milk.

Like training at a high level, breastfeeding is hard work. It takes a lot out of you, physically, mentally, emotionally! But it’s something that I am able to do and I’ve always wanted to, so I don’t see it as a burden or a hassle. I just make it work in my life. I understand it’s not for everyone, but for anyone who is interested, here is how I make it work for me. I’m going to start with a few tips, then go to what I did at my recent marathon which was 8 months postpartum, then go back to how I handled breastfeeding/pumping and training in the early months.

First of all, if you plan to train and race plus breastfeed you HAVE TO EAT. You will feel like a glutton, but if you don’t eat enough you won’t produce enough milk and you will end up injured. The baby weight will come off. This is not a time to diet!

Just a snack for a breastfeeding runner mom... only half joking here.

Just a snack for a breastfeeding runner mom… only half joking here.

Next, (if you have enough of a supply) I’d recommend starting to pump an extra bag/bottle of milk every day starting sometime in the first month or two postpartum. I used 6oz bags and froze them. If you store the bags flat in the freezer, you can stack them and fit quite a few, even in a small space. With both kids I had around 300 six ounce bags full of milk by the time they were 5 months old. This gave, and still gives, me freedom to leave the house to run and travel to races. While I hate pumping with every ounce of my being, I enjoy the freedom it gives me so I do it when necessary.

I have the Medela Pump in Style Advanced in the backpack version. It’s my only pump. I also bought a battery adapter so I don’t need to plug it into an outlet when I’m in an unfamiliar place. I bring it with me everywhere I go, but these days I only pump before races or if I’m going to be gone for many hours. I’m no longer storing any breastmilk as my little guy just turned 9 months and he can transition off my milk within 3 months if we decide. (I breastfed my daughter 17 months and plan to let my little guy self-wean as well). Feeding him straight from me is much more pleasant and rewarding for me, so my pump hasn’t gotten much use lately. However, let’s talk race day… the last time I used my pump.

For Grandma’s Marathon, I left my kids at home and Wells got my supply of frozen milk. Although it’s so hard for me to “pump and dump”, watching all my body’s hard work go down the drain, I don’t save my milk when I travel. You can, and I applaud anyone who does, I just don’t. The few days leading up to the race, I tried to pump a lot in the morning, then not pump again until 2pm, then pump one more time before bed. (Wells usually eats 5 times a day, then 1-3 times at night, so I try to slow my milk production slightly and alter it so I don’t produce as much during the race. Who knows if 2-3 days of doing this really makes a difference, but I feel it sort of does.

At Grandma’s Marathon, I pumped in my hotel room at 5am for a 7:45am start. I had to be ready to catch the bus at 5:45am and just wanted to get the pumping done. By the end of the race, around 10:35am, I was feeling pretty full of milk. Sometimes when I have a hard effort, I don’t produce much milk at all, other times it seems like my body produces like normal. This race had me at normal production and I went back to the room and pumped 12 oz before I was comfortable! I would have brought my pump with me, but race security and the clear plastic gear check bags, I’m wasn’t sure what kind of extra screening I’d have to go through and I didn’t want anything to worry about on race morning. That being said, I’m sure it would have been fine and I could have easily pumped before the race. It was just something I didn’t want to deal with on race morning.

Speaking of screening, you CAN bring a pump as a carry-on in an airplane, or tucked into a carry-on suitcase. It will have to go through extra screening most likely (I think I’ve made it through one time without extra screening.) I always declare, “IT’S JUST A BREAST PUMP!” but TSA still wants to check it out.

I did bring my pump to gear check at Gate River Run when I was just 5 months postpartum. I pumped just 30 minutes or so before the race and I think I went behind a curtain or faced a wall, but I don’t make too big of an effort to hide my pumping. You gotta do what you gotta do! I know people will go to great lengths to hide their breastfeeding or pumping, but I’m just not going to do that. I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a porta potty or similar space and I figure if someone is uncomfortable they can turn their head away. (If you feel uncomfortable but would like to get more comfortable with breastfeeding and pumping in public, let me tell you it’s just like anything else. Practice makes it easier! If you would have told me even 4 years ago that I’d be breastfeeding while walking down the aisle at Target, while hiking, while sitting or standing at a baseball stadium, or while waiting to start a race, I wouldn’t have believed you. Each time I nurse or pump in public, I realize how normal and natural it is. I’m completely comfortable with it now. Be proud Mama!) If you aren’t comfortable you can always bring a nursing cover or find a quiet, somewhat secluded place. There’s always somewhere to go where you can get some privacy.

Breastfeeding my little guy at the Pirates baseball game this past weekend, waiting in line for the kids to run the bases.

Breastfeeding my little guy at the Pirates baseball game this past weekend, waiting in line for the kids to run the bases.

A few thoughts of starting to run and breastfeeding:

I started running about 4 weeks after giving birth. At that time, my breasts were a good 2 sizes larger than usual, leaking all the time, and very painful. I found it easiest to feed the baby and pump any remaining milk right before my run. That way, I was storing milk for future use AND making my chest as light and comfortable as possible! I definitely wore (and still have to wear) 2 sport bras to be comfortable running. Dark colors (think black) are best in case of leaking. You can also slip breast pads or wear a sport bra with built in padding or liners for this stage.

Your body (and most likely your baby) will love a schedule, eventually anyway! It can still be hard to meet up with others as a feeding might take longer than expected, you aren’t able to pump enough milk, the baby is crying and you can’t pull yourself away, etc. I definitely miss running with people. In my situation, I’m also in a new city and didn’t know many runners when the baby was small. Now that I’ve been in Pittsburgh for 9 months and my baby can go 4-5 hours between feedings I have more freedom and know a lot more local runners!

Breastfeeding might make you very emotional! For some reason, pumping is even worse for me. Sometimes, I’ll pump a bottle before a hard workout (and before hard workouts I make sure to pump out every last drop of milk!) and I will feel so sad about leaving the baby that I get teary eyed. Sometimes, I’ll agonize over leaving my baby to run for the whole warmup, maybe even longer! I know it’s crazy while the thoughts are in my head, yet I can’t stop the feeling. This feeling is always worse after I’ve pumped myself dry. Just a warning in case that happens to you. You will be happy you ran long before you get home from your workout!

For the local races, I fed the baby and pumped right before leaving, then headed home as soon as possible after the race to feed him again. Yes, breastfeeding takes a bit of the social aspect of your running life away, but it can definitely fit into an intense training plan!

I hope this is helpful and please ask away in the comments or by email if you have any specific questions. I’m not an expert, but I know what has worked for me!

51 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and Pumping While Racing (and Training!)

  1. Looooooooooove this post!!! Oh my gosh, the picture of you at the game?? Amazing!! I had very low supply with my two girls, and I think it may have been calorie related, but I don’t know :( each time I’ve made it longer than before, so maybe the third baby I’ll make it all the way to 12m! Anyhoo, love this and will definitely be sharing with others: you have success in both nursing and running… Perfect for taking advice from! Thanks for the post!!

    • Thanks, Heather! Congrats on breastfeeding even with a low supply! I think I have a larger than average supply and I feel lucky for that, but I know it’s not true for everyone!

  2. So many similarities, so many differences. I have exclusively breastfed, plus adding food beginning at 6 months (whatever we were eating though, no purees), and my son is over 17 months now. The most breastmilk I ever had in the freezer was 7 or 8 bottles, as we were constantly using it. I have PLENTY of milk, my son is growing great, but I don’t have excess. No matter how often or when I pumped, I could never get “extra”. Only 4 ounces when I was away from him for 4 hours (and during that time he drank a bottle of breastmilk), We did travel quite a bit together (he hit 94 flights before his first birthday) to allow me to work and to race without neglecting his feeding needs. It is amazing how many different ways there are to be Super Mom! Keep up the great work!!!

    • Thanks for sharing, Tonya! Yes, I think I have a larger than normal supply so I know what worked for me won’t work for everyone. :) That’s awesome that you were able to take your little guy on so many flights and rearranged your life so much to feed him! Big high-five to you!!

  3. Right on! I’m so glad you wrote this for everyone. I also BF my daughter until she was 18 months and shared a lot of the same experiences that you’ve had so far. I really hope other running mamas find this post because you’ve got some great insight in here about how you’ve made it all work and have continued to excel in your postpartum running (x2). Brava!

  4. You are awesome! This post was amazing, and as someone who’s not quite comfy nursing in public all the time I SO appreciated the baseball picture! I definitely fell into the “not eating enough” trap I think…not because I was trying to diet, but because I found it hard to find the time to eat! My Supply didn’t suffer, fortunately, but I did: I got really burnt out/had NO energy to do anythingm and had to take a nice long break before I felt normal again. Lesson learned. Did you just eat a lot of grab and go type stuff? I think it was also harder because I wasn’t eating dairy, and previously that’s where a lot of my fat/calories came from. How did you do it dairy free?

    • Thanks Abbey!

      I know what you mean… yogurt, cheese and crackers or just plain chunks of cheese are my go-to grab and go foods and with dairy cut out, it’s more of a challenge! I do eat a lot of grab and go stuff. I eat 6-8 bananas spread with peanut butter a day. They are just so good and so easy to gobble down quickly. I think it’s good “runner food” too so I go through tons of bananas. I go to Trader Joes every 4 days or so and they cashiers ask me about my banana purchase every time – “huge family? Big smoothie maker? Having a party?” haha. I also do a lot of almond butter toast, avocado toast, eggs on toast, things that take less than 5 minutes to make! I snack on trail mix all day as well. Trail mix, picky bars, and dried fruit come with me everywhere I go! My dinner can be more of a real meal since my husband is home by then and I have at least 30 minutes devoted to cooking. I hope that helps a bit!

  5. I had no idea how much went into breast feeding and pumping. This was extremely helpful just for my random knowledge if I ever do have children. I didn’t even realize how much milk woman produced.

    I think you are such an inspirational woman Jen and you are raising two lovely and beautiful children.

  6. Thanks for sharing! I am impressed how brave you are about nursing in public. I am on baby #3 and nursed the other 2 for over a year each, yet I still get nervous nursing in public. I have a somewhat unrelated question- I noticed on instagram you mentioned working on fixing your umblical hernia. I have a pretty ugly one myself that I would like to improve . . .

    • Thanks Rachael! I wasn’t always brave about it! It took me a good 4 years! :)

      As far as the umbilical hernia goes, I’ve read so much conflicting advice. Some people say it must be surgically fixed, but I remember it was bad after my daughter was born and it got better and better until I thought it was all healed up then I got pregnant again! What I did before and what I just started again are gentle, deep abdominal exercises. Simple things like contracting the lower ab muscles and holding (almost like sucking my lower belly in) and planks, side planks, bridges. That’s where I’ve started based on Google searches! Hope it helps!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this post, it is awesome! I’ve always been inspired by your running, but this is just fantastic. Thanks for encouraging nursing mothers to keep it real.

  8. Love this post. I am 9 weeks pp and am back to running and I am also ebf. It is tough sometimes – I’m starting to throw in longer run and it’s hard to be away that long even tho my little girl is great and takes a bottle. I’m sort of comfortable with breastfeeding in public. Haven’t done it too much but I know it’s way easier to just be open about it. Since I am running a lot I am trying to eat as much as I can. I do notice my supply isn’t as good in evenings that I run hard. By chance do you know a ball park number of calories you intake during training while bf? I haven’t been counting just eating when I feel hungry but I feel like I may not be getting enough still.

    • Great question, Joanna! I have no idea how many calories I take it, but I’m sure it’s well over 3,000. I have a fast metabolism in general so that might not be the magic number for everyone. I should really try to track it one of these days…

      As far as nursing bras go, I don’t have nursing sport bras! I just wear my regular ones doubled up. If you find a good nursing sports bra, please let me know! For regular nursing bras, I just go with the good old target ones. I have a few “sexy” lacy ones, and then some of the ugly white/beige/black ones! :)

  9. Thanks so much for sharing this information Jen! I actually shared this post on my local Breastfeeding Facebook page because I feel so many women struggle with finding time to breastfeed and workout (myself included). Everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different and a part of me got excited when I heard you were still breastfeeding. (I am too.)

    I still use a cover for the most part while I nurse in public. I’m the first one in my family to have had a baby in a long time so I feel like I’m still in uncharted (yet supported) territory. At first I would hide in the bathroom, sit on an empty toilet seat and feed her in there. Then, as I got more comfortable, I ventured out of the bathroom…

    Thanks SO MUCH for sharing your story! The more we talk about breastfeeding, the more normal it becomes. This is what our bodies were made to do. We shouldn’t feel ashamed while feeding our children, whether they are fed from the bottle or breast.

    • Thanks so much Kelly!!

      Glad you were able to venture out of the bathroom for nursing! You know, I was very modest at first too. I would get red-faced and start sweating and everything! And that was with a nursing cover! That’s one of the reasons I had to write this post. I’ve changed so much and I want women to be proud of feeding their baby and not feel house (or restroom) bound! Thank you so much for sharing it!

  10. Do you ever nurse right after you run, before you shower? Just wondered if the baby would be bothered by the sweat at all.

    • I’ve nursed both kids straight after a sweaty run… too many times to count. I’d say this happens more than 50% of the time and they have never acted any differently. I feel a little strange about it, but they still love it!

  11. This sounds a lot like me except for the fact that I lost 400 oz of breastmilk two weeks ago (freezer power incident). It was tragic. My LO is 6.5 mos. I think I am up to 10 or so bags as of today.

    I used to have a crazy oversupply. I still have more than she needs but not like the first 4 months. Which makes the loss that much more annoying.

    Anyway, I also pump to empty (like hand compress my boobs during the pump) to make sure I’m totally dry before long runs and races. I haven’t done a full yet. Next is St George and I think I will likely pump and dump (like you I don’t save milk when traveling – too much hassle) up at the staging area.

    Oh and we’ve flown twice now and security hasn’t batted an eye when I put the pump through the scanner. Then again I also have had the baby with me so maybe they put 2 and 2 together.

    • Oh no! I think I would cry if I lost all of that milk! So sorry to hear about that!

      Yes, I totally hand compress my boobs to get every last drop out as well! :) Go us!!

      You are so lucky to get through security quickly with the pump! I bet it did have something to do with you having the baby with you – good point!

      I’ve heard good things about St. George! Keep up the good work with breastfeeding, training and racing!

  12. Thanks for sharing! This is fascinating! I definitely hope to continue training and running post partum (planning to start a family in the next year or two) so this is so helpful! I never thought about freezing a supply!

  13. ok, you’re my hero.

    i’ve ebf my son since birth and wish i had read this 13 mos ago for guidance on juggeling it with running. we’ve found our way and developed a good routine, but grandma’s was only my second race since his birth so i’m still a rookie when it comes to race-day prep. things worked out well for grandma’s but the travel day two days prior was AWEFUL. flight delays and no access to an outlet resulted in super painful engorgement and minor mastiitis. luckily i was able to get it resolved in time and now i know how to prepare better for travel and racing in the future.

    we’re still nursing 5x a day and i’m also hoping that he self weans when he is ready though it’d be great to make it to 2 yrs (as per the WHO recommendation). it’s up to him though and i like that he has been guilding the process.

    thanks for sharing, this post was great!

    • Thanks Lucinda!! I had those kind of problems on a flight once when I didn’t bring my pump in my carryon and got delayed! It was NOT FUN AT ALL! I’m glad you were able to resolve it before the race!!

  14. Thank you for this post! I have a 7 week old and although he is my 4th, my training and goals are much more intense than they were with my other children. You have proved that it is possible to nurse and train hard effectively. I’m so impressed with how you have bounced back. You look amazing!

  15. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s always great to read about other women going through the same things, especially when most people act like you’re crazy when they hear what we go through to juggle running and breastfeeding. I am almost 6 months pp now, and ran Boston when my baby was 3 months old. There was no bag check at the start this year so I was really worried about how I was going to manage going so long without breastfeeding or pumping, but I emailed the race directors and they had actually arranged a special bag check and “pumping station” for breastfeeding mothers. It was a large tent in the athlete’s village where we could all go and pump before heading to the starting line. It was definitely not something I’d have ever imagined doing, but it was really kind of cool to be part of what seemed like a special group of mama runners!

    Between nursing and marathon training, it’s almost embarrassing how much I need to eat. That’s a good idea about the bananas and peanut butter – I’m going to have to keep a jar in my desk at work!

    • Dana- thank you so much for sharing that Boston story! I had no idea they had that pumping station for runner mamas… how wonderful! Also, congrats on doing Boston 3 months PP! Amazing!

  16. Great post! I totally stressed about my breast feeding/racing logistics after giving birth and probably ended up shelling out extra dough on hotels for races that I would have driven to pre-baby, but you do what you gotta do! I used a manual pump pre-race so I could pop it into my bag and I swear that no one really paid attention or cared about what I was doing. It’s totally worth the extra steps that it takes to be a breast feeding running mom – if anything, I dropped weight so easily and I swear it’s why I PR’d in everything and got my first BQ the first 14 months after giving birth! My gosh, I should just have another baby right now . . .

  17. This post was perfect timing! I am 36 weeks with my 2nd. I’ve been lucky to feel good running through both pregnancies, and was back to it pretty quickly after my first. Last time, I didn’t run a full until my baby was over a year old and this time I found out I got through the lottery for Houston at what will be about 6 mos pp. I am planning to stock my freezer as much as possible, too! I did a bit before, but didn’t have to travel or worry too much about how much I had. And it’s been 4 years, so it was so helpful to remember how this all works! Way to go juggling training and bfeeding!

    • Thanks Laura! Yes, my kids were almost 4 years apart so I had forgotten a lot about how I did things the first time around too!

      Good luck on the milk storage and I know you will do great at Houston!

  18. Thanks for the awesome post! Super helpful!! When you pumped those first five months how often did you pump a day and how long after nursing? I am building up my freezer stash:)
    Also from the comment above I am going to e-mail NYC marathon and see about a nursing place!

    Thanks
    Denae

    • I usually only pumped in the morning before a run. So I ended up nursing both kids only on one side at a time. At each feeding I rotate breasts, R then L then R, etc. But in the morning before my run I would feed from one side, then immediately pump the other side and maybe pump from the feeding side too until I had no more milk left. Sometimes I’d get just one bag of milk but most days (in the beginning especially) I’d get 2 bags of milk. Occasionally I’d pump another bag at night before bed, especially if I felt really engorged and needed some relief to sleep!

      Great idea about contacting NYC about a nursing place! Would be really cool if they had one!

      • Thanks Jen!

        So another question… Sorry…

        I need to run pretty early to beat the heat and baby still doesn’t wake up at the same time. I am planning on meeting a couple of friends so I plan to pump before I go and then have my husband feed her with the bottle. I hate missing a bf session but I really like meeting friends for motivation etc. and don’t want to be late. I only do this once a week or so. The rest of the week I run at home on tm so then I don’t miss her feeding. I know I could just run by myself after I feed her, but I run on trails and it’s not really safe to do those solo…ugh so basically I am rambling and was just wondering what you would recommend…

        Thanks
        Denae

        • Yes, I would say go meet up with those friends and beat the heat! Just pump as much as you can before the run and she will be fine. If you can pump more than what she eats, save the rest. I do that sometimes. I was in a pattern where I got my body producing a lot in the morning so I would have a bottle for the baby plus a bag to freeze, but I’m not freezing any now so I just pump everything into a bottle and then leave without any worries. :)

  19. Thanks for sharing, Jen! I struggle with eating enough calories (which is probably what contributed to my injury a few months ago) despite going through a jar of peanut butter every other day. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of cheese, eggs, avocados, anything quick and high in calories. I’ve been keeping my mileage low and focusing on quality, and that seems to be working for now.
    I’m impressed with your balls in public! I like using a cover, which Em pulls off half the time, and I haven’t tried nursing without it. I’ve definitely become less concerned with staying covered, so I could see how you get more comfortable with the second baby.
    You’re awesome, Jen! Hope your training goes well this summer! xo

  20. Such an important topic – thank you for sharing your experiences!!!

    I’m looking at fall/winter marathon options and not planning to wean before then so I really appreciate your perspective on traveling to run a marathon. My supply seems to take a hit during the work week when I have to pump – so I am worried to leave the baby for too long. Have you noticed any issues like that when traveling away from your son?

    P.S. Love the matter-of-fact breastfeeding around town. I was nervous my first time, but chose the running store’s women’s night for my first experience and got a ton of support (in retrospect, not a surprise!). I’ve even done it at a couple track meets!

    • Hi Paige! Yes, the supply definitely changes when I’m away from the baby, but after a few days it’s back to normal. Of course I’m with him almost all the time, with just a race here and there so I’m sure what you are dealing with is different and much more difficult! I really admire working moms like you who breastfeed and pump! I know it’s really hard to keep the supply going. You are doing awesome!

      • Thanks – good to know your supply goes back to normal! It’s funny during the workweek in that I seem to have a really low supply Mondays (stress? transition from baby to pump?) and then back to adequate+ the rest of the week.
        P.S. Was inspired by your bf photo and got my husband to take a shot of us pre-race Friday night. :)

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  22. I’m about 3 weeks behind you (baby #4 was born on oct 11), so I love reading these updates! We sound very familiar in milk production!! I handle it about like you do. I ran my first ‘race’ this weekend-a 25K at midnight! By the end I felt like my boobs were going to explode! It was fun to be back racing though. My baby won’t take a bottle though so it makes leaving for a run a little tricky. I had to time the race just right and cross my fingers he stayed asleep during that time. Since he won’t take a bottle I have an abundance of milk in my freezer from pumping when I’m really full. So, I’ve been donating it to a milk bank in north Texas and my milk is dies for premie babies!! Keep the updates coming. I looove reading them!

  23. Thanks so much for this post. I found your blog just yesterday and scrolled down to this post that was most interesting to me. I am impressed by your milk supply and how you balance everything. With both of my babies I felt like my supply slowly decreased until I had no more and weaned them between 8 and 9 months which is so sad for me. I think nutrition is a big part of it, I have always struggled ith eating enough and eating healthy. I will have to look through your blog, but I would love to read a post on your nutrition in general, when you are nursing but especially when you aren’t. I am a runner and know I could run so much quicker if I got the nutrition down. It’s something I have always struggled with and does not come natural for me. Thanks!

  24. Hi Jen! Thanks for this post. I just returned to running after having my second, who is now 6 weeks old. I found your info to be very helpful andI always appreciate honesty! I found you via Oiselle and Instagram and now am so glad to find your blog. I love reading about your running adventures. I am by no means an elite runner but I can relate in so many ways. I live in Pittsburgh, have two kids, and despite running t&f and xc in college, I really found my stride after having my first child. I also feel I have a lot of untapped potential :) I look forward to reading more and hopefully cross paths someday. I am running a few 5ks this winter, the Pgh half and the NYC marathon next year. Keep up the great work! You are a real inspiration.

    • Thanks Nicole!

      Sorry for the extremely late reply! I haven’t logged onto this site in a long time, but hoping to be more regular again soon! Yes, I hope to run into you soon! I’m doing the PGH half this year as well! Possibly Spring Thaw next weekend too!

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