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CrossFit and Breastfeeding: Yes, It’s Possible!

krista December 19, 2016

By Merideth Eshelman

In addition to making sure one is getting the right nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the consensus is that staying active is so important to one’s physical and mental health during those intense early weeks and months of motherhood!  But many people are not sure if CrossFit and breastfeeding is a good idea, and wonder if they will need to give up their WOD in order to continue to nourish their little one. Guest writer, Merideth Eshelman, is here to share her own experience, and to offer encouragement that CrossFit and breastfeeding can indeed, be compatible!

CrossFit and Breastfeeding: Yes, It’s Possible!

First of all, let me just say a bad mother wouldn’t feed her baby. Period. Whether you breastfeed for five minutes or five years (or never), I am not a better mother because I nursed the amount of time we thought best (around two years). I think the research is clear that biologically, breastmilk is best, but there are many factors that go into deciding how to feed YOUR baby. Ok, that’s out of the way. On to the fun stuff!

I was able to CrossFit throughout my third pregnancy and it was my best pregnancy and best post labor recovery. I even worked out the day before I went into labor. By “working out” I mean five squats and a couple wall balls. But, when you’re thirty nine weeks and five days prego, just getting two little kids and yourself dressed and to the box is a WOD. I’m pretty sure I was even on time to class. BONUS!

I waited the requisite six weeks and then headed back to my box. YAY! Side note: please, please make sure you have a coach that is informed and supportive of pregnant and postpartum mothers! My coach is awesome that way and very experienced. Remember, it will be awhile before all that relaxin hormone goes away. After you have the baby is prime time for injuries because your body is TOO flexible.

Come to Workout Prepared

So that I could get through a workout, I would bring a giant bag of snacks, activity books, diapers, wipes, blankets, and I nursed right before we left. The older two would generally stay occupied and the babe could usually make it until the end of the WOD. He would eat around every 2-3 hours—meaning from the beginning of one nursing to the beginning of the next was two-three hours. Under three months of age it took anywhere from 30-60 minutes to complete a feed (latching on, burping after each side, and one or two diaper changes). My box is very supportive of kids and babies. There is a baby swing and a littler kids’ area for them to be in, nobody openly gags when I’m changing a diaper, and I never once got a weird look when I was nursing. I love being able to see my kids while I work out!

The Right Support is Key!

What is it like to nurse after a WOD? Let me back up and talk about “the girls.” First of all, they were giant, sore, full of milk, and did I mention humongous? Holy cow. Get yourself an amazing sports bra that doesn’t let your boobies move. Don’t hold back because of price! I bought two and paid eighty dollars each. If you are bigger than a DD, you won’t be able to find a GOOD sports bra at a normal store. Online sites and Nordstrom are your friend. Most sports bras are not supportive enough for a CrossFit workout. Yoga? Sure, Old Navy bra will work. Burpees? NO WAY. OUCH!! The downside of an awesomely supportive bra? It is almost impossible to get out the milkers out to nurse a hungry baby post WOD. Be prepared to unhook your bra completely to nurse. Basically, the “support” makes easy nursing impossible. Also, you will be sweaty. Very very sweaty. At first, I tried to wipe off the nipples because the babe didn’t like the taste, but he got used to it and accepted that his milk was going to taste different sometimes. When you have a newborn and two little kids to keep track of, wiping off adds an extra unnecessary step. What can I say, he’s a third kid.

Check Your Expectations

I don’t lose weight nursing. I just don’t. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t, either. I have met many mothers that don’t lose weight while nursing! If you are planning to combine CrossFit and breastfeeding, I wouldn’t even think about losing weight or “getting my body back”, per se. Believe me, I know. So annoying! Just concentrate on feeling good (and by “good” I mean only a partial zombie not a full blown one), and getting back in shape. Remember, you have just grown a person for over 9 months and now are nutritionally supporting said person. It’s amazing what our bodies can do! All that plus an intense workout routine!? You are asking a lot of yourself! Just keep that in mind when you are judging yourself harshly. Just. DON’T!

Make Sure You’re Eating Enough

The average woman needs 1800-2200 calories per day to maintain weight, a pregnant woman needs 300 extra calories per day, and a lactating woman needs an extra 300-500 calories. However, keep in mind, that the older the baby, the more calories you will need. I practice baby led weaning so my babies didn’t really start any food at all until around 8-9 months and it was around 10-12 months before it started to be significant calorie intake. I tried to find out how many calories are burned during an hour workout as well as a WOD. The articles I read had a consensus that a WOD burns about 12 calories per minute and an hour workout burns about 500-600 calories (for women). It could be more or less depending on how hard you work. At one point in my CrossFit and breastfeeding journey, when I was nursing an exclusively breastfed eight month old, I estimate I needed around 4,000 calories (sometimes more!) to maintain milk supply and not feel like garbage. Personally, I ate for hunger, and didn’t calorie count, but when I downed two avocadoes, a package of bacon, two eggs, and a coconut milk smoothie I reminded myself that I needed A LOT of calories.

When you are figuring WHAT to eat (often the hardest part), remember that breastmilk is mostly water and sugar, or lactase. Definitely eat some carbs and drink water. This is totally anecdotal, but from my experience and a couple of nursing/CrossFitters I spoke with, they had a harder time with milk supply when carbs got too low. I eat a very strict grain free/dairy free diet for Crohn’s disease. Carbs can come from fruit, squash, onions, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, and a variety of healthy sources. I think the take away is to eat nutrient dense, but don’t diet or restrict for weight loss. When you are hungry, EAT!!

 If you still have more breastfeeding questions or want to look at the science behind nutritional recommendations, look at Kellymom.com. This is a wonderful and comprehensive website for breastfeeding mommas.

You CAN do this! Just eat enough and don’t get frustrated with your body or yourself. I know. You are exhausted and tired. I’m not saying “enjoy every moment” (that’s impossible!), but enjoy the moments that you can and get through the, shall we say, “other” moments. This is a very special and relatively short period in your and your baby’s life.

Have you been able to make CrossFit and breastfeeding work?

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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