Breastfeeding and running – the end of my 19-month experience
What follows is my experience of juggling breastfeeding my son with getting back to running and running a marathon and eventually, after 19 months, stopping feeding. I’m no expert. If you’re finding breastfeeding or stopping breastfeeding difficult, there’s more sources of information at the bottom.
Other than a couple of bouts of mastitis, I had a really positive experience of breastfeeding and feel lucky that I’ve been able to do it. From not being sure if I would, to then deciding to give it a go for a few weeks, to then setting 6 months as an end point, I’ve continued for 19 months.
When I decided it was time to stop, I found very little information on how to do that, and what I did find was solely focussed on the impact on the child, not the mother. So this is my experience.
At the start of this year, and after my son was a year old, I started to reduce the amount of times I would feed him each day. From four times (7am, 11am, 3pm, 7pm ish) I dropped the 11am and then a few weeks later, the 3pm feed.
Each time it would take by boobs about a week to adjust to the decreased demand. My son, too, took a few days to adjust to the new regime. I gave him regular, full-fat milk instead and, although he was used to the occasional bottle of formula, he didn’t like this new change. But we all adapted.
Removing the 11am feed was a game-changer for running though. No longer did my breasts become uncomfortable towards the end of my Sunday morning runs. And I wasn’t rushing back to feed my son. This was around the time I started training for Manchester Marathon and it made a lot of difference as my runs got longer.
Marathon weekend I was staying away from my son, so I had to pump the night before and the morning of the race. But I didn’t have to rush to feed him after the finish, which wasn’t the intention but worked out pretty well. The downside, though, was that my period made a reappearance a couple of weeks before the race, but luckily not on race day.
Stopping, full stop
I carried on doing morning and bedtime feeds for a few months, but at around 18 months, I decided it was time to stop. It was a difficult decision to make because 95% of the time it was fine, but it was interfering with my freedom occasionally and I didn’t want to get to a point where I resented it. And you have to stop at some point.
I stopped the morning feed first, which was pretty uncomfortable. It meant spending all day with full boobs until my son’s bedtime. But after a few days, once that had subsided, again it had a positive impact on my running life.
I would usually feed my son at 7am which meant that if I was going to run, I’d have to wait until after then. So I’d usually make it out to run around 8am. It was now summer, so on hot days it was great to have the freedom to head out at 6am to run – well, as great as getting up that early can be.
The final feed
It took me a few weeks to say enough. I fed my son for the last time on a Sunday night, and then I had a couple of gin and tonics. I knew I would be out the Monday and Tuesday evening and miss the evening feeds, so it felt like a happy coincidence.
On the Wednesday evening I put my son to bed with a bottle of milk, and he didn’t seem to care about the change.
The first few days my breasts were full and tender. I was worried about getting mastitis again, but I didn’t want to express and encourage milk production to continue. I couldn’t find any information on what to do, all information on stopping seemed to be geared at encouraging mums to continue. Not for mums who’ve decided to stop and need advice on how to do that safely.
In the end, I hand expressed one particularly lumpy breast in the shower, but only as much as relieved it. Within a week it had settled down, but it took a good couple of weeks for there to be no sign of milk.
My periods returned in March, but stopping feeding full stop brought with it the return of the PMT that goes with a cycle – irritability and low mood. Some women find stopping breastfeeding and the hormonal changes that happen as a result brings on a bout of depression. I was on high alert for signs of this but seem to be ok.
One thing that I didn’t write about in my last breastfeeding and running post was my weight, because I know it can be a sensitive subject for some people, so if you think it might trigger something in you, don’t read on.
I spoke to my GP last year because I was concerned about how much weight I’d lost. I wasn’t running a huge amount, but was feeding a lot and while rushing around looking after a baby, sometimes not prioritising feeding myself. I ate cake most days, I wasn’t scared of food I just found I lacked time or hands to prepare anything during the day. My GP said that this was normal for some people while feeding, and to eat cake twice a day (she was joking but I think it’s the best prescription ever).
When my son feeding less because he started eating solids, my weight returned to a healthy range for me. And since stopping altogether, my energy levels have increased.
Ending on a high
I breastfed for 19 months. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t have a positive experience. Stopping has had some positive impacts on my running and my wellbeing but the running was never the motivator (but so what if it is for you, that’s ok too). The fact that my son was growing up and no longer needed it was. I was a sad to stop, mainly because it meant my son wasn’t a baby anymore.