Breastfeeding and running

I’m writing this one-handed on my phone while feeding my son after getting home from a 10k race. So excuse any typos. Below is my experience of running and breastfeeding. I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience. 

When I was pregnant and we went through the prenatal classes and discussions, I was very much ‘I’m not sure if I’ll breastfeed’, which was somewhat of a taboo in our north London enclave. 

I’d worked in breast health for eight years and edited a booklet on breast changes during and after pregnancy. I knew that sometimes, despite all the desire and effort put into establishing breastfeeding, it might not work out. So I went into it with a ‘we’ll see how it goes’ attitude.

After my son was born, we stayed in hospital for a week. We began with mixed feeding which took some pressure off being entirely responsible for his food, allowed me to get some sleep at night and his dad to be involved in night fees too. 

14 months later and I’m still breastfeeding. My son has a bottle of formula once a week when I’m not there at bedtime. I say this because I feel like there’s a lot of stories of ‘nipple confusion’ and babies refusing to take the breast again once they’ve had a bottle. Or of milk supply drying up. So while it may be the experience of some parents, this hasn’t been my experience.

Returning to running

I started running again eight weeks after my son was born. Running with full breasts is uncomfortable and something I avoided. I’d always assumed that feeding a baby then nipping out quickly for a run before the next feed was all about the babies needs. While they’re obviously at the top, it’s also about fitting into your sports bra and being comfortable. 

We gradually established a rough routine over the months so I wasn’t feeding on demand so much, so my boobs became more predictable along with my son. My first race was the British 10k and I managed to feed my son, get to the race, run and get home again before he needed his next feed. That’s a good reason not to rush back into marathons.

Around six months things got a lot easier. He started to eat solids and needed me less.

I had mastitis, which is a blockage in your breast, twice. Both timed mine got infected and I had to have antibiotics. It was like having flu and a really sore boob. I’ve tried not to wear bras that are too tight (pretty much the function of sports bras, right?). So I take my bra off as soon as I can. This has meant packing a comfy bra along with the usual flip-flops for post-race comfort.

 Don’t sweat the small stuff

Gone are the days of sitting in my sweaty running kit in the pub all afternoon. I’ve been super concerned about nipple thrush (which is A THING), so I have wet wipes and change my bra ASAP after racing.

After his first birthday, we cut out one daytime feed – the post-morning-nap 11am one. Swapping this out for a snack and some whole milk has been a big game changer for me. It means that when I go running (or racing) on a Sunday morning, my body isn’t gearing up to feed at the same time and my bra isn’t gradually getting tighter.

Pump it up

Back in October I went to Portsmouth overnight to do the Great South Run without my son travelling with me. A night away in a hotel for work was great. But it meant pumping the night before and the morning of the race. Something new to work into race prep and to add to the packing list. 

I know that breastfeeding can cause a lot of stress for many parents. Many mums I know have found it hasn’t worked out for them and some experience a lot of guilt and sadness about this. I got chatting to a dad during a parkrun who was finding that his baby wouldn’t take a bottle and he was worried about his wife not being able to have a break. 

I don’t have any advice for anyone because I’m certainly not in any position to give it. What I think has worked for me though, is not being anti-formula. It has given me freedom to work, run and go for an evening out here and there. All of which has helped my mental wellbeing and allowed me to enjoy this period with my son more. 

Having a breast pump has has been essential. Otherwise I’d be waking my son up every Tuesday night after coaching to get him to feed. Also cake has helped, lots of cake.

Breastfeeding is hard work. Formula feeding is hard work. Like everything baby-related, there’s no easy option.