by Renee Kam, Physiotherapist, IBCLC and ABA Breastfeeding Counsellor.
Exercise is an important part of their life for many breastfeeding mothers. With a little planning they manage to fit it in with the demands of a young family. Walking is a common form of exercise. Some mothers find it motivating to join a pram walking group, while others choose to walk to the local café or shops to meet up with friends in the area. You could even choose to walk to your next Australian Breastfeeding Association group get-together!
However, breastfeeding mothers may worry about whether exercise can affect breastfeeding.
Effect of exercise on the mother
Exercise assists in the wellbeing of mothers in many ways. For example, exercise can:
· improve heart health1 and general fitness2
· improve mental wellbeing and energy levels3
· reduce stress levels3
· assist with weight control3
· improve bone strength4
· assist with the treatment of post-natal depression.5,6
Effect of exercise on breastmilk and supply
Some research has looked at the level of lactic acid (a by-product of high intensity exercise) in mothers’ breastmilk after exercise.
While lactic acid can increase in breastmilk following maximal exercise (exercising to the extreme of exercise intensity), mild or moderate exercise does not cause lactic acid to increase in breastmilk and does not affect a baby taking the milk.7, 8 Since most mothers only wish to exercise to a moderate intensity to lose weight, and improve/maintain fitness and general wellbeing, most would say that maximal exercise is not relevant anyway. Regardless, there is no evidence to suggest that breastmilk with increased lactic acid levels harms a baby in any way.
Moderate exercise does not affect:
· breastmilk supply2,9
· important immune factors in breastmilk (SIgA, lactoferrin, and lysozyme)10
· major minerals in breastmilk (calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and sodium)11
· major nutrients in breastmilk (fat, protein, lactose) or energy density.9
Effect of exercise on growth of baby
Recent research12 suggests that mothers can exercise and breastfeed without affecting the growth of their babies. Research2 also suggests that, once breastfeeding is established, overweight women may do moderate exercise 4 days per week to promote a weight loss of 0·5 kg per week without affecting their baby’s growth.
Breastfeeding, exercise and 'loose ligaments'
A woman’s body is designed to carry a baby through pregnancy, give birth and breastfeed. Hormonal changes in pregnancy and childbirth allow a woman’s pelvic ligaments to loosen so that a baby can be born. After birth, many of these hormones are no longer needed and so their levels drop off. Various hormonal, postural and muscular changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth may play a role in causing various musculoskeletal conditions (eg pelvic floor or abdominal muscle weakness, or ‘loose ligaments’). For some women these changes may cause pain (particularly in the pelvic or lower back regions) or other problems (eg incontinence). For some women, these problems may continue for a period of time after birth. A mother who has any of these conditions may benefit from seeing a physiotherapist who can advise on ways to relieve the condition and which forms of exercise may be suitable for her. There is no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding plays a role in causing, maintaining or worsening any of these conditions. Provided the mother is comfortable, breastfeeding is not a reason why a mother has to avoid any form of exercise.
Breastfeeding and the pelvic floor
Research has found that breastfeeding after vaginal childbirth was not associated with the development of incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.13
Exercise tips for a breastfeeding mother
· Breastfeed prior to exercising for your comfort.
· Wear a supportive bra.
· Drink water.
For more information
See our ABA booklet: Breastfeeding: diet, exercise, sex and more.
Breastfeeding: diet, exercise, sex and more booklet
Breastfeeding: Diet, Exercise, Sex and more uses the latest research as well as real life experiences from families on how babies and breastfeeding may affect your life.
- Amorim AR, Linne YM, Lourenco PMC 2008, Diet or exercise or both for weight reduction in women after childbirth. Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews, Issue 3.
- Lovelady C 2011, Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote post-partum weight loss (Review). Proc Nutr Soc 70(2):181–4.
- Rich M, Currie J, McMahon C 2004, Physical exercise and the lactating woman: a qualitative pilot study of mothers’ perceptions and experiences. Breastfeed Rev 12(2):11–7.
- Lovelady CA, Bopp MJ, Colleran HL, Mackie HK, Wideman L 2009, Effect of exercise training on loss of bone mineral density during lactation. Med Sci Sports Exerc 41(10):1902–7.
- Daley A, Jolly K, MacArthur C 2009, The effectiveness of exercise in the management of post-natal depression: systematic review and meta-analysis. Fam Pract 26(2):154–62.
- Norman E, Sherburn M, Osborne RH, Galea MP 2010, An exercise and education program improves well-being of new mothers: a randomized controlled trial. Phys Ther 90(3):348–55.
- Carey GB, Quinn TJ 2001, Exercise and lactation: are they compatible? Can J Appl Phys 26(1): 55–74.
- Wright KS, Quinn TJ, Carey GB 2002, Infant acceptance of breast milk after maternal exercise. Pediatrics 109(4): 585–589.
- Dewy K, Lovelady C, Nommsen–Rivers L, McCrory M, Lonnerdal B 1994, A randomised study of the effects of aerobic exercise by lactating women on breast-milk volume and composition. New Engl J Med 330: 449–453.
- Lovelady CA, Hunter CP, Geigerman C 2003, Effect of Exercise on Immunologic Factors in Breast Milk. Pediatrics 111(2):e148-e152.
- Fly AD, Uhlin KL, Wallace JP 1998, Major mineral concentrations in human milk do not change after maximal exercise testing. Am J Clin Nutr 68(2):345–9.
- Daley AJ, Thomas A, Cooper H, Fitzpatrick H, McDonald C, Moore H, Rooney R, Deeks JJ 2012, Maternal Exercise and Growth in Breastfed Infants: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Pediatrics 130(1): 108–114.
- Lovejoy DA, Roem JL, Blomquist JL, Pandya PR, Handa VL 2019, Breastfeeding and Pelvic Floor Disorders One to Two Decades After Vaginal Delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol 221(4): 333.e1-333.e8.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association, November 2019