When I stopped breast feeding and started pumping about nine months ago, I was surprised at how few resources I could find regarding exercise and pumping/breast feeding — so I’ve decided to write a series of posts recapping my experience from a runner’s perspective. FYI, if you’re looking for other running/breast feeding/pumping info, I’ve linked to a couple of other bloggers at the end of this post!
I don’t think running majorly impacted my pumping/supply or vice-versa (the body is an amazing thing — I don’t know how mine trained for a marathon and pumped out 30+ ounces of milk a day!). But I do think I have a few running-specific tips to sprinkle throughout these posts.
Since I’ve juggled the highs and lows of having a breastfed baby, a bottle-fed baby, an NG tube-fed baby, and a cup-drinking baby, I’ve learned quite a bit about infant feeding and hope I can help other mommas out there looking to maintain their lifestyle (whether that includes marathon training or not!) while also supporting their little one with the benefits of breast milk. (And obviously, I’m just putting this out there — I’m not against formula or whatever you decide to feed your little one. You do what works for you. This is just me sharing my own personal experience!)
For the first post, I thought I’d tackle the most difficult topic: How to find time to pump! Although there’s no magic secret to fitting pumping into your schedule, there are a few ways to weave in it in a less annoying way. Bottom line is that you basically need to consider your pump as your second baby. Don’t ever neglect it!
Don’t hold yourself to a schedule. I think that one of the main reasons I was able to keep my supply up and sanity level somewhat normal for nine months of exclusive pumping is because I never really stuck to a strict pumping schedule. I pumped whenever I could find time, going no more than three hours without pumping during the daytime and pumping at least once overnight (those wee hour pumping sessions are when I fit in my Bachelor in Paradise/Dancing with the Stars episodes!). Sometimes I would pump only an hour after my last pumping session — and sometimes I’d go a full three hours without pumping. I let my body and daily routine dictate my pumping schedule, and having this flexibility made pumping seem like less of a chore. I also think it kept my supply up since my body had to be prepared to produce milk at any given moment — it was like my boobs didn’t know when they’d be needed, so they were always ready!
Pump right before you run. There’s nothing worse than feeling uncomfortably full during a run, so make sure to empty out all your milk right before you run. Before a long marathon training run, I would get dressed for my run, eat my bagel/toast, lace up my shoes, load my GPS satellites and then… sit down for 15 minutes and pump before heading out the door. That way I could go out for a solid three-hour training run without having to worry about feeling terribly uncomfortable. When I got back home, I’d pump while eating my post-run breakfast! Make sure you have a sports bra that folds down or zips open easily (more on that topic in another post) for quick pumping.
Me at the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon. One reason I was able to finish in 3:28 was because I knew my boobs wouldn’t let me run any slower :). I had my pump plugged in and ready at my friend’s apartment, only minutes away from the finish line. Phew!
Pump often. As you probably know, breast feeding and pumping are all about supply and demand. The more you pump, the more supply you’ll have. When I first started pumping, I pumped A LOT — maybe 10 sessions a day — to help boost my supply (I also ate these lactation muffins on a daily basis. Hehe!). Once my body got into a pumping rhythm, I averaged about eight sessions a day. I pumped whenever I had a free moment — especially those magical occassions when I was seated and baby girl was secure in a bouncer chair/car seat/crib etc. I’d pump even if I’d only pumped an hour ago, because I never really knew when my next opportunity would arise! When I started weaning off the pump (I’ll have to dedicate a whole other post to this topic), I gradually dropped pumping sessions over the course of two months. Here’s a chart recapping all of my pumping sessions… that’s a lot! (the 12+ session days are when I tracked left and right as separate sessions, and the gap is one week when life got too busy to track my pumping sessions).
Pump while working. I still work part-time (mostly during baby A’s nap time). When I was pumping I always took advantage of this quiet, seated time as an opportunity to pump. If you’re working on boosting your supply, pumping while working is a great way to fit in extended pumping sessions of 15-20 minutes (instead of a “normal” session of 10-15 minutes). You’ll pump a full bottle without even realizing it! You’ll need a hands-free pumping bra to do this, of course (and I’ll dedicate a whole other post to the topic of pumping gear, too!).
Pump while driving. Also requires a hands-free pumping bra :). I bought a portable pump battery pack and power inverter for my car and they were LIFE-CHANGING. Anytime I had to drive 10+ minutes somewhere, I pumped. If I was out for a while, I’d pack a little cooler to keep the milk cold and an extra set of bottles/pump parts so that I could pump on the way home, too! If you’re worried about people seeing you pumping, you can use a breastfeeding cover/wrap for privacy! (Side note: car-pumping in the winter can be kind of tough. I recommend letting your car warm up before you go topless!)
Pump while watching TV. Another great way to pump without even knowing it! Anthony and I often watch an episode of TV before heading to bed and I’d always pump during this time. That way I could go a good four hours without having to wake up and pump in the middle of the night.
Pump while… just to add to the list: 1) talking on the phone; 2) doing dishes; 3) eating; 4) folding laundry; 5) chopping food/cooking (this takes a bit of coordination); 6) reading. Basically, any time you are somewhat stationary… get out the pump!
Get two pumps. Just like I didn’t confine myself to a pumping schedule, I didn’t confine myself to a certain pumping location either. This gave me the flexibility I needed to keep pumping even when I wanted to put that darn pump away for good. Sure, this meant that we had milk spills all over our house — but who cares?! Cleaning up milk is a great way for husbands to take an active role in feeding your baby 😉 Since our town house has multiple floors, this means that I wasted a lot of time carrying my pump and supplies up and down the steps and from room to room. If I had thought of it sooner, I would have bought at least one extra pump to keep upstairs permanently. And I would have bought a third one to keep in my car, too!
Get a pump carry bag/strap. I have the very popular Medela Pump in Style pump. I think it’s a great pump, but if I could change one thing about it, I’d add a strap so that it’s easier to tote around with one hand. Anthony had the clever idea of putting some bungee cords around my pump so that I could carry it with just a single finger!
Choose the perfect settings and size. If your pump isn’t on the right strength/speed settings and your flanges don’t fit properly, you’re not going to efficiently pump. Get the most milk out of every session by making sure your flanges fit just right (I ordered a specific size from a third-party manufacturer — more details in the another post!) and that you have your pump strength set to something that feels comfortable, but noticeable.
Wash your parts right after you pump. As if pumping doesn’t take up enough time — cleaning the pump parts, bottles, caps, etc. is a real drag. Instead of letting dirty stuff pile up all day, I made an effort to clean my pump parts and bottles immediately after using them. The milk cleans up faster that way — if you postpone cleaning, you have to scrub a little harder to remove the dried milk.
Be brave, go public! The last thing I’ll note is that you should take pride in pumping — so don’t be shy about it or spend additional time identifying and setting up shop in some special, secret place. If you have to pump, just do it. I’ve pumped all over the greater DC/MD/VA area: at doctor’s offices, restaurant bathrooms, airports, cafes, parking lots, etc. Life is too short and breast milk is too precious to waste time or reduce your supply because you’re too shy to pump in public. If you need to pump, don’t let anyone or any place make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. Just go for it!