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!
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.
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!