Pump and Run: What new moms need to know about pumping and running

Run_Oregon_LogoIf you have recently had a baby, are currently pregnant, or someday hope to have kiddos, there's a good chance you'll get to use a breast pump. One of the biggest perks to pumping? I could time my pumping schedule to fit in with my runs. However, I still went through a trial-and-error period to see what worked for me, and I expect you will too. Your body will have changed after having a baby, and it can be really hard to find the time and energy to still feel like "a runner." Here's some breast pumping information for all new runner-moms, including some information from Lactation Consultant Kathleen McShane, who works out of the Kaiser Westside Medical Center in Portland, Ore. The best news, before we get too far into this, is that "Studies have shown that moderate to high-intensity exercise has no impact on milk supply," says McShane. "As long as you replenish your fluids by drinking lots of water, you shouldn't see any change in your supply." Amazing news for breastfeeding moms that want to get back into a healthy lifestyle!

Pump before you run so you will be more comfortable.
If you are able to schedule your pumping sessions around your runs, or vice versa, do it. Since you probably won’t be starting to run until a few weeks after your milk is established, this should be fairly easy to do if you have a support network that can watch your baby for you at specified times. When you need to pump, your breasts will be heavier and feel more sensitive, and you are more likely to leak. They will also be larger, making your sports bra less comfortable. Even if you fit in a mini-pump to just get a few ounces out, it will make your run more enjoyable. And, the extra pumping session can help stimulate you to make more milk. “It’s a good idea to pump or nurse before running, and nursing pads can help if in fact you do have some leakage,” McShane adds.

Drink more, pee more.
Yes, you need to increase your water consumption while you are nursing/pumping. And you will probably feel the need to pee more, too; because STUFF HAPPENED down there. If you feel like you are leaking too much, keep in mind that exercise-induced urinary incontinence is common among women (especially those that have had children), but that it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you are concerned. Here’s a good information article from KellyMom that explains why and how much more water you should drink.

No, you don’t need a nursing sports bra.
You won’t be pumping while you run, so don’t waste the money on a nursing sports bra. Instead, invest in a good sports bra that will support your miracle food-producing breasts. I highly recommend getting fitted at a specialty store. In Portland, there are three I suggest: Just Like a Woman, Title 9 Sports, and Nordstrom. McShane explains why: “A tight or poorly fitting bra can restrict the breasts and result in mastitis. Stress, not completely draining the breast, fatigue, too much compression of breasts, and not removing the sports bra after the exercise are all triggers for plugged ducts or mastitis.” So, ladies – get a good bra that fits correctly, and take it off when you’re not exercising!

Yes, you do need an amazing nursing bra.
Most, if not all, women need a different size bra when nursing. This is the bra you’ll wear 90% of the time you’re up and moving around. It’s very important to be fitted for a nursing bra – especially if you need an underwire – because a poorly-fitting bra can hinder milk production and even cause clogged milk ducts, leading to mastitis. Which sucks, trust me, I had it with baby #1. Essentially, a good nursing bra should have distinct good fits to the body and to the breast. The part of the bra that hugs your side should not encroach on the cup area and vice-versa. See the list of stores in the previous point. I think it’s also a great idea to wear a nursing tank or sleeping bra at night – I like the lower-cost Gilligan & O’Malley brand sold at Target.

How to pump at a race.
While I don’t think anyone should pump while running, it’s likely that you’ll need to pump while at a race, either because you have an early morning start time, a long drive, or your pumping schedule just demands it. So, a few tips. Pumping in the car is always a good solution if you have someone else that can drive you that you don’t mind pumping around. Just bring a lightweight cover so you don’t get cold or cause anyone to have an accident. If you need to pump while at an event, the car is a good idea there, too – and if it’s hot out, DO NOT close the doors and cook yourself. Find a shady parking spot, leave the windows open, and the door for the seat where you’re sitting. Depending on the venue, you may also be able to secure a private room, but don’t count on it.

How to pump while volunteering at a race.
First of all, be upfront about your situation. I had to pump while volunteering at the Bridge of the Goddesses Half Marathon this summer, and Paula (Harkin, race director) made sure my shift was only four hours long and that it was in a location on-course where I’d be able to find a secluded spot. Don’t wait until the day of the race to ask where you can pump. If your pump requires an electrical outlet, be sure to let the volunteer coordinator know.

How to keep your milk cool after pumping at a race.
Don’t rely on the race to provide you with ice. Bring it yourself, along with a cooler. I think that actual ice in a cooler does a much better job of cooling down warm items than ice packs. Then, bring along a Ziploc bag to put your bottle or milk bag in and submerge it in the ice. Even if you do bring ice, try to keep your cooler in a shady area. If for some reason you forgot the ice or cooler, it is okay to ask a volunteer or medical staff if they can help you out in some way; but you may need to make tracks to a nearby grocery store or gas station because breastmilk is only safe to consume for a few hours when it’s not refrigerated. As a last resort, if you need to, pump and dump. I know it’s gold, but if the safety of the milk is compromised, you can’t feed it to your little one.

Don’t listen to anyone that tries to tell you pumping isn’t great.
It’s an amazing thing you can do for your baby and your own body. Pumping not only burns calories (I read on KellyMom that each ounce you pump burns about 80 calories), but it helps relax your body. And breastmilk is amazing nutrition for your baby. Anyone that tells you otherwise should probably worry more about themselves, if they’re not willing to find out how they can be a supportive influence in your life. Remember, those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter!

Just like adding mileage, adding up the ounces takes time.
You won’t be pumping a full bottle the first few months. You will be getting a few ounces from each side, more likely. And that’s okay; because your baby can only eat a few ounces at a time when they are really tiny. I asked McShane how much a woman might expect to get (knowing that every woman is different) and she told me, “According to the most recent literature, exclusively breastfed babies take an average of about 25 ounces per day  between the ages of 1 month and 6 months.” A woman may even get varied amounts with different babies they deliver; with my daughter I had a stand-up freezer full but with my son I had to supplement from the very get-go. Eventually you may be able to get on a regular pumping schedule, but don’t plan on creating one until your milk is well established, usually around four weeks after your baby is born, says McShane. Talk to your health care provider about what’s ideal for you; you’ll see your milk production increase but it’s always good to keep your lactation consultant or doctor in the loop.

Just like running, sometimes things don’t go as planned.
If your milk supply is starting to wane before you’re ready to wean or stop pumping, there are things you can do to try and increase it again. If you are exclusively pumping, McShane says, “the best way to increase [your] supply is to add one to two more pumps in a day and/or pumping for longer time frames.” Post-pumping hand expression for 2-3 minutes can also help to completely empty the breast. Nursing moms can put their baby to their breast more often and compress the breasts while feeding to make sure they are completely empty. Making sure you eat a healthy diet and plenty of fluids is also important. (Note that if you want to learn how to hand-express or compress your breasts during a feeding, a lactation consultant can provide instruction.)

Pumping is not like a relaxing massage, but it shouldn’t HURT.
Most women will need time to get used to how pumping feels. And, after a few weeks it will probably only be uncomfortable the first few minutes. But if it HURTS, see a lactation expert. (Feel free to ask for one that is supportive of pumping. I had one once that was baffled at why I wasn’t continuing to try breastfeeding even though it clearly wasn’t working for my daughter or me and had good results with the pump.) It could be that you need larger flanges, or you have the pump turned up too high; or you could try a warm pack on your breasts before pumping.

Ameda gel pads are the best.
(My own personal opinion.) These are short-time use get pads that stick to your breast, covering the nipple. I used them with my 2nd baby after using lanolin with my 1st. The gel pads don’t leave any residue, go on and off easily, but more importantly, they work. They are cooling and soothing and are a must-have for any woman for whom nursing leaves the nipples raw. I also tried the Medela brand and wasn’t as happy with them. Every woman is different though, so try different ones until you find one that you love.

If you use leak or use lanolin, invest in some cotton nipple pads.
Do you leak? Some women do, and impressively so. If that’s you, cotton (washable) nipple pads are awesome. They can also be useful if you use lanolin nipple cream, to prevent the lanolin from getting on your bras. I used the Medela brand lanolin with my daughter and found it to be easy to apply; I also liked the Lasinoh brand.

Match your distance event training schedule up with your weaning schedule.
If you have a date in mind to stop pumping, keep this in mind: your breasts will probably be uncomfortable while you’re reducing your pump frequency. When you go down from five to four times a day, then four to three times a day, and so on … let’s just say you will notice. This might not the time to be running a 50k, or at least, not the time to be doing a 25-mile training run for one at long, slow distance pace. You know your body, so if you experience uncomfortable soreness when it’s close to “pumpy time,” just keep that in mind when planning your race schedule.

Neither of my kids could latch, so after countless tears and feelings of inadequacy (unfounded), I came to embrace my pump. It’s a complete myth that “all women can breastfeed.” Not all women will have success getting their kids enough nutrition from breastfeeding.

Even though humans have somehow managed to survive as a species, and all other mammals have as well, it is still something that is hard to do for some women. Part of me feels like I may have missed out on that intimacy of snuggling with my baby, having them fall blissfully asleep in my arms, and being able to just feed them anywhere and everywhere (and not wash bottles); but because it didn’t work for me, I made the best out of my many hours spent with my pump. I came to really love the time I was up before or after everyone else, either devouring a James Michener book or watching HGTV. And I loved the fact that my kiddos both got breastmilk for more than a year, which made it all worth it.


About Kelly Barten (1152 Articles)
I started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because I felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. I also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support LOCAL race organizers. I'm a Creighton Bluejay (undergrad) and an Oregon Duck (Sports Marketing MBA), and I live in Tigard with my husband and two kids. My "real job" is working for an incredibly awesome math textbook company doing marketing and production.
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