Exercise for Nursing Mothers in General
At one time it was thought that mothers should not breastfeed immediately after exercising due to changes in the mothers’ milk, but now we know that exercise does not change the composition of breast milk.
A nursing mother produces 23 to 27 ounces of milk per day, containing 330 milligrams of calcium per quart. This requires an extra energy expenditure of at least 500 calories per day. Good nutrition is therefore just as important for her as it is for her baby. As long as you replace fluids lost during moderate exercise, your milk supply will not be affected. In fact one study suggests that mothers who exercise generally have a greater milk supply than those who do not exercise. While mothers who exercise at 100% intensity show an increase in lactic acid in their milk, there are no known harmful effects on the baby. Kellymom.com explains that there was one study that implied that babies rejected milk with the increased lactic acid content, but the researchers had tested their theory by feeding the babies by dropper. I think my baby would reject a dropper too if she had never been fed that way before–what baby wouldn’t prefer the breast, lactic acid or no lactic acid? Fortunately, a later study confirmed that babies do not refuse to nurse even when there is a slight increase in lactic acid in the milk. Founded by perinatal exercise specialist and author Helene Byrne, Be-Fit Mom helps women stay fit and healthy during and after their pregnancies. Offering an instructional DVD and several books, the Be-Fit Mom system rebuilds the abdominal wall from the inside out and develops core strength. The “Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning” DVD features two progressive postpartum workouts, which blend Pilates, yoga and dance. With exercises demonstrated by actual postpartum moms, the first workout, “Gentle First Moves” offers restorative exercises that you may start just days after giving birth. The second workout, “Bounce Back Fast!” builds off the first program and provides a more challenging, total-body workout.
Yoga is beneficial during pregnancy and postnatal recovery. Postpartum yoga can help improve respiratory endurance, muscle strength and flexibility. Targeting the back and stomach muscles, yoga poses suggested for new moms include the Locust, the Triangle, the Downward-Facing Dog and the Plank.
What to eat when nursing
The quality of breast milk is only affected in extreme cases of deprivation, or by excessive intake of a particular food. But the quantity of milk depends very much on the mother’s diet. Food absorbed by a nursing mother not only fulfills her own nutritional needs, which are greater during the postnatal period, but also enables her to produce milk. A woman who does not feed herself properly may still have a healthy baby, but it will be to the detriment of her own health.
We hear a lot about foods that can irritate the baby, by giving him gas or changing the taste of his mother’s milk. Turnips, celery, watercress, citrus fruits, onions, cabbage, spices, leeks, cauliflower are typical examples cited. Some people say that garlic increases milk production; others say it gives the baby gas. There is no universal rule. Moreover, different cultures prefer foods that others consider to be “bad” for nursing mothers. Each baby reacts differently to the foods his mother consumes. When nursing, observe your baby so you can eliminate from your own diet any food that seems to bother him. If your baby is particularly disturbed one day, try to remember what you have eaten in the past twenty-four hours. If one food seems suspect, eliminate it from your diet for a while.
Certain nutritional supplements are said to increase milk production. Their effects have not been proven scientifically, but they have a placebo (psychological) effect. Be careful, some of these supplements have a very high sugar content, and are therefore high in calories. Also, some midwives will tell you that fennel and beer increase milk production (not true), and that parsley stops it.
- Increase your water consumption by one quart per day, so that you are drinking a total of two and a half to three quarts. Nursing women tend to be thirstier anyway, especially during feeding sessions, because part of their water consumption goes directly to milk production. But don’t overdo it: too much liquid can also reduce milk production.
- Increase your daily caloric intake to 2,500 calories: you can even eat more if you are planning to continue breast-feeding for more than three months (2,800 calories per day). But again, be careful: many nursing mothers are tempted by sweets. Stick to healthy foods instead! Eat more proteins. The basic rule is to eat one gram of protein each day for every pound you weigh.
- Spread your caloric intake over five “meals,” breakfast, lunch, after- noon snack, dinner, and an extra snack during the evening. Each snack time is also an opportunity to drink water, eat a low-fat dairy product, and a piece of fruit. As your body is continually producing milk, it needs your caloric intake to be regular
- Eat food containing vitamin B9. In Western countries, the only vitamin really lacking in women’s diets is vitamin B9 (folic acid). Birth control pills accentuate a woman’s vitamin B9 deficit, and may also contribute to a vitamin B6 deficiency. During pregnancy, folic acid is vital to the development of the baby’s nervous system. Nursing mothers are well advised to continue taking their prenatal vitamins. Folic acid also can be found abundantly in asparagus, cabbage, corn, chick peas, and spinach. Many other foods, such as wheat and orange juice, have been enriched with folic acid. Check the package labels.
- Take zinc supplements. According to a British study, pregnant and nursing women also often lack zinc. They should consume 15 to 20 milligrams per day. Zinc is found in eggs, meat, whole flour, and oats.
- Consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. A balanced diet only provides 800 to 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. Because nursing mothers need 1,200 milligrams, a calcium supplement will probably be necessary. Calcium needs can also be partly met from dairy products, raw vegetables, almonds, and hazelnuts.