I originally submitted this article about breastfeeding and running for the La Leche League‘s New Beginnings publication but it wasn’t published, so I thought I’d share it with you here:
Two weeks after having my third daughter, Amber, I was mentally ready to run again – I greatly missed it. So I registered for the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon. I knew that registering for the race would force me to stick with a training program and I couldn’t wait to hit the roads again. When Amber was 8 weeks old I was ready to go – I had bought new running shoes and some new running gear and I was so excited to get back out there. In my excitement I had forgotten about the fact that I was still nursing her.
How would I be able to find time to run in between feedings? Who would look after her while I ran? Would I still produce enough milk? How would I find the time to train while nursing a baby and raising a 3 and 5-year-old?
The answer? I made time. I fit in running and exercise whenever I could. Before Amber could hold her head up in the jogging stroller I got up and ran three mornings a week at 6 am before my family woke up. This meant that I didn’t need to worry about who would look after the baby or how they would feed her. Amber was a great sleeper and very rarely woke up during that 6am to 8am time period. On the other days of the week I did exercise videos while she slept or she watched me from her bouncy chair, and her sisters would workout with me.
I will admit that for those first few runs my breasts were very tender and I had to wear a VERY supportive sports bra that was almost one size too small. Over time my body adapted, and either my breasts were not as tender, or I had gotten used to the mild discomfort.
When Amber was four and a half months old she could support her head well enough to go in the jogging stroller. This was perfect for me because by then I had grown tired of the 6 am training runs and was very thankful to give them up. I live in Canada and it was near the end of March so it was still pretty cold outside. However, I was determined not to let that stop me. I bundled baby Amber and her three year old sister up well enough that they could sit in the jogger while I ran. My oldest daughter would then ride her bike alongside us – all bundled up as well. It gave us all something to do a few times a week, and allowed us all to get some fresh air. My older daughters enjoyed it so much that they would nag me to run, whether I felt like running or not. I never expected them to enjoy it so much.
Weekends were when I would do my long training runs. I would nurse Amber as she got sleepy for her morning nap, then bundle her up and put her in the jogger as I did my long training runs of 10 – 18km. Her sisters would stay home with daddy, but I couldn’t bear to leave her without me. She slept well in the jogger, and having her with me meant I didn’t need to worry about who would feed her or how. Amber had never been introduced to a bottle.
Finally race day arrived. I had been worrying about the logistics of this day for a month because I had never left all three of my daughters in my husband’s care before. Most of all I was nervous about leaving Amber. She had last nursed when she woke up at 3 am, and I wouldn’t be back from the race until almost noon. This meant that she’d miss two or three feedings. She was less than 6 months old on race day and hadn’t been introduced to solids yet. I had no idea how my husband would feed her or console her while I was gone.
I got up at 6am, dressed in my running gear, ate breakfast and left the house. I cranked my music up in the van as I drove to the race and quickly forgot about the kids, and my husband. My mind had begun to get into race mode. Did I have enough water with me? Was I dressed warm enough? Too warm? Would my running skirt cause chafing? Did I eat enough breakfast to fuel me through the race? As I lined up in my race corral all of my self-doubt disappeared and instead this incredible happiness took over. I was me again. I was racing again. I was managing to breastfeed, look after three young children and train. I was proving to myself that I could be an awesome mom and I could race. I was overjoyed.
I ran a great race, I didn’t worry about the kids and I had fun. I didn’t care that no one was there to cheer me on – I was racing!!! The first 16km went well, but the last 5 were hard – my breasts were engorged because I had missed a few feeds, and the happiness I felt from racing had caused me to let down a few times. My legs felt strong, but my breasts hurt with every step. Finally, after 2 hours and 9 minutes of running I crossed the finish line. I quickly grabbed some of the post-race food (a banana, a bagel and a juice) and drove home. I couldn’t wait to feed my little Amber.
I did it!
When I got home I learned that Amber had barely missed me. She happily drank my expressed milk from a sippy and didn’t pose a problem for my husband.
Since that day I’ve gone on to train for and complete two more half marathons, a 10k race and a 75k cycle. At 19 months old, Amber is still nursing 4-5 times a day and I’ve learned that breastfeeding and running is possible. It takes careful planning, and additional fuel and water for me, but it can be done!