Demand and Supply

>> Saturday, May 19, 2012

One of the most frequent questions I receive related to my running these days is about increasing mileage and breastmilk supply issues. I thought it'd be helpful to post all this information, as I see it ringing true, in one place.

When I was pregnant (at 32 weeks, I think -- above), I took a breastfeeding class and asked a question about running and supply. The lactation consultant sort of looked at me blankly and said she didn't know, but thought probably a half marathon wouldn't be in the cards while EBF (exclusively breastfeeding).

By now, we all know this isn't true -- I've done several races these past 6 months, first chilly 10Ks to hilly 15Ks. So, how have I managed to continue breastfeeding exclusively AND train for a half marathon?

#1: I increased my mileage slowly. True, I started running 3 weeks postpartum. But I kept it in the 2 to 4 mile walk/run range -- it was more for mental sanity than physical fitness. The first 6 weeks of breastfeeding are particularly important because that's when supply is established. To be honest, I couldn't shouldn't have manage more than what I was doing at the time anyway.

After 6 weeks, I still didn't train with any structured plan. But I did increase my mileage with a weekly long run. It was helped to not sign up for a big race too soon after giving birth. Instead, I gave myself almost 6 months so I wouldn't need to rush into running. I did a few 10Ks in January, but with the idea that time didn't matter. I sincerely think this relaxed approach to training helped me build my supply AND ease back into being a runner without encountering injury or absolute depletion.

#2: I let Ada call the shots. Sure, it was hard in those early days with the cluster-feeding. There were times when I felt like I was glued to the couch for the entire afternoon and evening. I love hyperbole, but I'm being entirely serious. Glued. So, I would feed Ada -- no bottles -- during those times like it was my job. Which, sort of, it was. Waiting to run until Ada was done and then sneaking in shorter bursts of running on those cluster-feeding days (and, yes, skipping my workout sometimes) meant my body was getting the cues from Ada to produce more milk.

After all, that's what the cluster-feeding is for. It's the baby's way of telling your body that he/she needs more food. Supplementing with bottles of expressed milk in the first six weeks isn't terrible by any means -- but to play it safe, it's best to put baby to breast as often as possible because he/she is the most efficient at expressing milk and sending the signals to the body for HOW MUCH to produce. (In the early days, I wasn't able to pump much -- nor is pumping entirely advisable while things are regulating.)

#3: I guzzle water and when I'm full, I guzzle more. My water bottle is now an extension of my body. Hydration is absolutely key to maintaining good breastmilk supply. It's that easy.

#4: I consume enough calories and choose particular foods to fill my tummy. Training for a distance race taxes the body of a normal person. Training for a distance race taxes the body of an already taxed new mom and breastfeeding mom. Like whoa. I am hungry all the time, so I eat all the time. I mean it: All. The. Time.

If you've been following the blog, you know that I am not back to my pre-pregnancy weight even at 6 months postpartum. I haven't at all tried to diet, restrict calories, etc. while breastfeeding AND training. It would be silly. I desperately need the fuel for both activities, so I don't count calories and I listen to my hunger cues. I may not always choose the best foods, but I'm trying.

I also try to incorporate the following lactogenic foods into my diet:
  • Oatmeal (I observe a HUGE difference when I eat oats. HUGE!)
  • Fenugreek 
  • Garlic 
  • Nutritional yeast 
  • Fats, like olive oil 
  • Dark beer on occasion 
  • Here are some more good foods, spices, etc.
#5: I get as much rest as I can. Luckily, Ada isn't a terrible sleeper. Sure, she has her moments, but I'm usually able to get at least 7 hours of (almost always interrupted) sleep a night. I've never been much of a napper, but these days -- I can doze even when the sun is shining in my face. If I'm tired and have the time, I do take the opportunity to rest versus catching up on emails or blogging. And sometimes rest means skipping workouts.

I'll be the first to admit that my training for the most recent half marathon was far from perfect.

My plan had me running 5 days a week, but I -- instead -- averaged 3 or 4. When I had time and energy, I tried to make up some of the long runs I missed . . . but I often skipped the other miles entirely and didn't look back. I still finished in a respectable time and got my fitness to a level closer to my pre-pregnancy days.

Overall, I treated running these first 6 months as a second . . . or maybe a third, fourth, or fifth priority in my life. My health and well-being came first. I'm sure some of you are thinking: "Shouldn't the BABY come first, Ashley?" No. The way I see it, if I'm not healthy and thriving, she won't be either -- especially since we have this symbiotic relationship right now. I make the time to eat and take care of myself so I can do the same for her.

Of course, she's a very, VERY close second priority. And then running comes in somewhere after that . . . along with e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g else.

You may have already read, but today on Writing Chapter Three I posted about Ada's first adventures with solid foods. I wouldn't exactly call her a foodie just yet . . . but she's getting more used to tastes and textures as each day passes.

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