Friday, June 1, 2018

One Year of Nursing

Almost exactly a year ago, I was returning to running after having a baby. My body felt stiff and foreign, but more than anything else, my boobs hurt. Last week, I found myself in a similar spot: my body stiff from a marathon and time off, with my boobs crying the loudest. This time around, instead of my body learning how to run and feed Baby, it was learning how to cope as I stopped feeding Baby.

When I had Baby, I set a goal of breastfeeding her for one year. I wasn’t sure that would be possible, especially in the early days, and I didn’t know what to expect as I added running and racing to the mix. Below is a summary of how that year went for me, but I’m curious to hear how other mamas dealt, so feel free to share your experience in the comments! (Also please know that I am a stay-at-home mom who works from home part time. I’m sure I would have stopped nursing earlier if I had to pump at work and am uber-impressed with all you Mamas who deal with that!)

But before I get into everything about nursing, let me start by saying more generally to Mamas everywhere: cut yourself some slack and be happy with whatever path you’ve chosen, not just regarding breastfeeding, but running too. I know Moms who are crushing marathons/Boston qualifiers/Trials standards who didn’t run much when their babies were small, and Moms crushing it with babies in diapers. If racing and trying to run fast makes you feel more overwhelmed, by all means take it easy. If it makes you feel more like yourself and gives you a break, then go for it. Don’t let other people and the path they take make you feel any less proud of your own. 

And in that vein, don’t feel pressure to breastfeed if it’s not for you. Don’t feel pressure to run while breastfeeding if it’s not for you. For whatever (often unknown) reason, some babies are super demanding and fussy, some boobs struggle to produce enough, some bodies are injury prone. Do what you can but don’t drive yourself crazy forcing anything, breastfeeding-wise or running-wise. If you do choose to breastfeed and run, know that the combination puts a lot of demands on your body. Take care of you and your baby first; running takes a backseat.

The first few days of Baby:
Breastfeeding-wise, these days were a nightmare. I dreaded having to feed my daughter and the lactation consultants at the hospital made me feel worse, not better. But the more sympathetic nurses helped by recognizing how hard it was, reminding me I was doing a good job just for trying, and not judging if I wanted to stop. For the first week or two I opted to rotate between pumping* and breastfeeding; pumping was less painful and gave my boobs a bit of a break from Baby, who was also struggling to figure out how the heck to do this. (This has nothing to do with running, but it’s a reminder to not feel bad if it’s a struggle; it is for nearly everyone! Also: try not to think about how long you want to keep it up, just take it one day at a time.)

*To feed a newborn pumped milk, you may need to syringe feed her, which a lactation consultant can give you the supplies for. No one mentions this beforehand, but it is totally an option.

The undisputed best part of nursing is the closeness.
Now I just have to settle for these incredibly rare moments. 

The first few months:
When I started running again, I quickly learned to splurge for better sports bras (i.e. not the Target ones I’ve had for five years). I was also careful to time my runs around Baby’s feeding schedule: I would nurse her right before I left and be home before she needed more. At that point she was going about two hours between feedings and I was not running anywhere near that long, so it wasn’t an issue so long as I planned it out.

Starting to train again, 4-9 months postpartum:
I started pumping in the morning before my run, so she’d have milk when she woke up (and I could get out the door earlier to fit in more miles). Pumping also enabled me to totally relieve myself; Baby had a tendency to only drink from one side first thing in the morning, leaving me uncomfortably lopsided. If I noticed I pumped a little less one morning, I would be sure to eat more that day, but it was never really an issue. I also periodically checked I was still producing enough by self expressing a tiny bit after Baby finished nursing, reassuring myself there was more there if she had wanted it. (This was really just to ease my always-worried mind: Baby was a healthy weight and seemed happy and satisfied.) At six months, we introduced solid foods (and by “solid” I mean pureed mush) so even though I was still nursing she was no longer relying on me 100 percent.

The biggest breastfeeding-related issue I faced was that my diastasis recti wouldn’t heal until I stopped nursing. While nursing, your body produces hormones, like relaxin, that keep ligaments loose, making it hard for the abdominal muscles to come back together properly. This meant I had to be a little more cautious about my running and I couldn’t do all the strength and supplemental work I’d normally do, but it also served as a reminder that (a) for me, nursing my daughter was more important than running, and (b) some things just take time and I can’t force anything. The only other issue I had was that I was thirstier on runs, but that was an easy fix: I just carried a bottle more often.

I purposely choose a logistically easy marathon for my first (the Richmond Marathon, where I live), so I could pump before I left the house, have a short drive to the start, and then pretty easily find my family after. I ended up not nursing Baby until we were back at home, which was longer than I had planned but Baby and I were both fine. (She had a bottle and a snack while I was running.) Of course, major marathons—and all the waiting around at the start—would make this more complicated), so that’s something to keep in mind when racing and nursing (although Boston does allow you to have a pump at the start).

Transitioning to solid food... and the inevitable mess.

Training for an OTQ, 10-14 months postpartum:
Breastfeeding for a year would have meant stopping in mid-March. I went in to the spring season with a flexible attitude: if breastfeeding seemed not to be causing any issues, maybe I’d keep going through the marathon and not have to worry about how my body might react to weaning.

And that’s what happened: in the buildup to Pittsburgh, I honestly didn’t really feel affected by breastfeeding. My abs started to close (probably because Baby was getting more calories from solid foods) and I started to hit times and mileage that were in the realm of pre-Baby. I wasn’t sure whether weaning would throw my body for a loop: would the drop in hormones make me crazy cranky, gain a bunch of weight, or feel totally off? Things seemed to be going pretty well, so rather than fix something that wasn’t broken, I decided to keep breastfeeding through race day. (Although I did start to slowly cut back starting around her first birthday; by the time of the marathon I was down to two sessions: pumping before a morning run and nursing her at bedtime. I noticed I was pumping less as I cut out the other sessions, but she still had plenty.)  

The final days:
A day after Pittsburgh I cut out the morning pumping session with no obvious effects. Two weeks later I stopped nursing at bedtime. And 36 hours after that, I was so glad I had waited until the marathon was over. I was a mess. Baby was cranky from a cold, but I seemed particularly drained dealing with her crankiness. (The week I cut from three sessions to two was also a rough one. Again, I’m not sure if Baby was just being particularly difficult, but I felt crankier and more overwhelmed than usual.)

But more than my moodiness was something I hadn’t considered: my boobs were incredibly painful. I hadn’t really had any issue weaning to that point—maybe I felt a little full but nothing too bad—and I had clearly been producing less so I naively thought it would just taper off and that would be that. Not so. From about 36 hours to 4-5 days after I stopped I was painfully full; my chest was so sore I couldn’t lift my arms above my head and when I’d pick up Baby, she’d hug me and leave me wincing. (It’s a sad day when your baby’s hugs hurt!) This corresponded to when I started running again and I was happy to only go a few short miles, because while the post-marathon tightness eased after a mile or two, the boob pain did not. I’m glad I wasn’t trying to train hard or race during this period. (Not that it would have been impossible, but very uncomfortable. I’d recommend timing weaning for a down week if you can.)

So in the end, I’m happy with how I timed everything: I was able to run two marathons while breastfeeding and hit a big time goal in the latter. My paranoia about the added injury risk (the hormones that kept my abs apart can also cause joint trouble) made me more cautious then I have been in the past, making me take a few days off here and there, especially in the lead up to Richmond. But before Pittsburgh, I felt healthier than ever. (Even before CIM, where I set my current PR, I was dealing with a cranky butt muscle.) I can’t attribute it to breastfeeding exactly, but I do think that taking care of Baby and having her rely on me made me take care of myself better. I was more conscious about eating well, I took a prenatal vitamin daily (it’s recommended to continue those while nursing), and I was extra diligent about sleep, given everything that I was asking of my body.

Some say breastfeeding slows you down; maybe I would have run faster this spring if I had stopped earlier, but I’ll never know, nor do I really care. (I'm obviously not complaining about how the season turned out!)  I’m just glad to have hit another goal, one that seemed incredibly ambitious in the early days.

Dream big, 


  1. Martina Di Marco-AngeliJune 2, 2018 at 11:34 AM

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I still have 4+ months to think about a breast-feeding plan, but it was surely helpful to hear how things went for you and baby!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Just remember that everyone is different and be proud of whatever you do!