Nursing & Marathoning: What Works for Me

It is hard for me to believe that my sweet baby Gus is already just over 8 months old.

He is pure sweetness and joy and I am madly in love with this little man.  I cannot imagine my life without him in it. As his mother I aim to do all that I can do to keep him healthy, safe and happy.

When I became a mother for the first time in 2005 I read everything there was to read about having a baby and taking care of your baby.  What you are supposed to do and what you better be sure not to do.  It was exhausting, confusing and anxiety-producing!  There was so much advice out there and so much of it was conflicting – I was overwhelmed.  Thankfully I have two older sisters who became mothers before I did.  I remember both of them telling me not to worry – that I would have instincts and that I would be a good mother.  I just had to trust in myself and do my very best.  I would not leave my baby in the grocery store, allow her to fall down six flights of stairs or give her a bouncy ball to choke on.  And if any of these things DID occur, it would be okay.  It was all going to be okay!

I remember hoping that I would be able to be a nursing mom, but since I had never tried this before I told myself that I would do my very best and if it didn’t work, so be it.  I didn’t and don’t see anything wrong with feeding your baby formula.  I just felt that if it was something my body would do and my baby would do, I wanted to do it.  When Abby was born it was hard to nurse her at first, but we found our way and she nursed for 10 months.  I was a full-time working mom and it was not easy to keep up my milk supply, but I did it.  I got pregnant with my son Will when Abby was just 8 months old.  Will never would take a bottle and I nursed him until he was 15 months old.  He had (and still has) a lot of dangerous/life threatening food allergies and I had to restrict my diet because he was nursing.  It was really really tough to wean him because he could not drink dairy or soy and he would not take a bottle.

When Abby and Will were young babies I did not run consistently.  I did a few 10 mile races but wasn’t really trained for them at all.  Running was on the back burner in my life when my oldest kids were babies and I was ok with that, or at least I thought I was.  When Will was around 2 years old I fell into a deep depression.  In the span of about one month we moved into a new house in a new town, I had a miscarriage and I lost two friends very tragically (one passed away from breast cancer on September 12, the other died suddenly in a horrible accident on October 12).  It was a dark time for me and I was feeling lost and lonely and negative.

After about 6 months of feeling this way, I started to run again.  I began to train for a marathon for the first time in over 4 years.  The heaviness in my heart began to feel lighter.  I was healing, the fog was lifting.  I was emerging out of my darkness.  Running brought clarity, hope, light, creativity, peace, acceptance – all back into my life.  I was happy and I was aware that running had a lot to do with it.  I understood then that when running is really a consistent part of my life I am my happiest, strongest self.  I vowed to do my very best to keep running in my life in some way shape or form – no matter how hard it is to strike a balance sometimes.  It is never as hard as feeling so strangled and helpless as I do when I am deeply depressed.

So when I found out that I was pregnant with baby Gus (an unplanned and very huge surprise), I knew I would be committed to my running not only throughout my pregnancy but also once he was born.  I also knew that I would plan to breastfeed him as long as he was cool with that.  Thankfully the two of us figured it out pretty quickly and he loves to nurse.  Gus is now over 8 months old and I have been exclusively breastfeeding him since the day he was born.  I have also trained for and run several races, including a marathon, and I am getting ready to run another marathon in a little over 2 weeks from now.  I have been asked by several people how I am able to breastfeed while training and racing, so I thought I would share that here.

I do want to make sure that everyone knows that this is just what has worked for me and my baby.  The best piece of advice I feel qualified to give on this front is that you need to listen to your own body and to your own heart.  This is a very personal thing.  What works for me may not be the best thing for you, but I hope that you will find this helpful if you are a nursing mom or if you are pregnant and want to continue to run after you have your baby.

When it comes to being a marathoner while nursing my baby, there are several things that I have done that I think have made it a success for me: 

I have amazing family & friends:  From the very beginning, I had the love and support of my family, friends and running buddies.  If ever I have been unsure of myself I have turned to them throughout this whole journey.  My husband has believed in me from the start.  My running buddies have been patient with me and were happy to run on “my schedule” especially in the beginning when I was new to the routine.  I have a wonderful and amazing friend in Dorothy – she has been down this road before and has always been so happy and generous to share advice and support when it comes to any topic but especially when it comes to being a running, nursing momma.  (side note, you can also read a great post she did on being a nursing marathoner HERE).  I could not have accomplished all of this without the support and encouragement of my loved ones.

I have an electric breast pump:  I bought a very nice, gently used electric breast pump at our preschool’s rummage sale when I was pregnant last year.  It was in mint condition and retailed at Target for close to $300 (I got it for $30).  I purchased all brand new tubing and accessories for it.  This pump has been sooooo helpful to me.  I don’t think I would have been able to do all the running I have been doing without owning this pump.

My baby will take a bottle:  When baby Gus was a few weeks old I gave him a bottle for the first time.  I would use my pump about once a week and feed him the milk I pumped out instead of nursing him.  I wanted to be sure that he was comfortable with drinking from a bottle, not just so I could go out running but also to make sure he would take it if my husband and I were out on a date or if I just wasn’t home when he needed to eat for any reason at all.  At first he was confused by it, but it didn’t take long for him to get with the program and now he is completely comfortable with taking a bottle from me, his dad, his big sister or brother or whoever.  This is great because I do not ever worry when I am on a long run or at a race – I know my baby is being fed!  I know not all babies will accept a bottle – my son Will was one of those – so I am thankful that Gus has been on board with the idea from early on.

I store my milk:  Once Gus was sleeping more and on a more regular feeding schedule, I began to pump every evening around 9:00pm.  My body became used to producing about 4-5 ounces a milk every evening.  I store this milk in the freezer (it will keep for 3 months) and keep about 6 ounces in the fridge at all times (where it will stay fresh for one week).  This ensures that there is always milk for my baby in case he needs it when I’m not home.  In addition, now that he is eating solid foods I use this milk in making his foods – mixing it with fruit, veggies and cereals.  If you are storing your milk in the freezer, be sure to label it with the date and store the oldest milk closer towards the front so you use that first.

frozen milk – oldest stored at the front

I found a good sports bra:  I never really needed to worry about having a “good” sports bra in the past, because I just didn’t have a lot to carry around up there.  While pregnant I doubled up on my Target bras and wore two of them at a time when I ran.  By the time Gus was born those bras were completely stretched out and my chest had also grown substantially, so I knew it was time for some serious “over the shoulder boulder holders” if I was going to be running a lot.  After lots of research and trying them on, I purchased the Moving Comfort Fiona bra.  I got the first one at my local running shop and then ordered three more from Amazon because I got a much better price (and free shipping) that way.  These four bras have been invaluable to me!  The adjustable straps are awesome.  I chafed a little on extra-long runs but Body Glide took care of that and I don’t have problems with that anymore.

ahhh Fiona, how you have helped me

I stay hydrated:  As you know, it is extremely important to be well hydrated when training and racing.  When you are a nursing mother, it is even more important.  I know that my body is working hard to produce the main source of nutrition for my baby.  This requires me to eat and drink well.  When I am sweating for hours I have to be sure to replenish my fluids and to drink a lot before I run.  This summer I became addicted to nuun.  I happen to love the way it tastes and because of that I have been good about hydrating before, during and after my runs.  My milk supply has never suffered with all of the running I have been doing and I really believe this is because I have been so good about my hydration.

I set a plan, and then I am flexible:  When I first started running after Gus was born, I would feed him or I would pump right before I headed out the door.  In the first few months he was eating every two hours and I felt like my milk would come in almost immediately after I was done feeding him!  I ran a 10 mile race when he was 10 weeks old and it was logistically kind of hilarious.  I fed him before I left for the race, I pumped in the car before going to the start line, I pumped in the car after I crossed the finish line and then I fed him when I got home.  Crazy?  Maybe…but worth it.  Now he is eating more like every 4 hours so I have a lot more flexibility.  When I go out for long runs or big races I feed or pump before I leave and then I feed or pump when I get home.  It just depends on how the morning goes.  I set out a plan for my husband so he has an idea of when the baby will need to eat and then we just go with it.  No matter what there is always milk for him in the fridge/freezer so I can always feel relaxed about that.  Sometimes I will feel my milk come in when I’m out on a run, but it is not so uncomfortable now.  My body is in a rhythm now and it is all working out just fine.

I remember when I first started running – I felt like I was embarking into uncharted territory for myself.  Yes, I was a runner.  Yes, I had nursed my other babies.  I was confident I could do both of these things but wasn’t so sure how it was going to pan out doing them both at the same time.  I took it one day at a time though and it worked out.  I had my moments (and still do, sometimes) of feeling overwhelmed and questioning my sanity, but when it comes down to it I would not have it any other way.  Running is an essential part of my life.  It helps me to be the best mother that I am capable of.  I do not want to make compromises in this area of my life if I don’t have to.  So I figured out a way to make it work.  And it’s working!

8 thoughts on “Nursing & Marathoning: What Works for Me

  1. I so admire you for your commitment to nursing! I nursed both my kids for a year, but I didn't really run much then and I brought them into work with me so it was relatively easy. I really admire the lengths you have gone through to keep it up! Good job mom!

  2. Great post! Looks like you have it all figured out. I'm so sorry to hear about that awful time in your life but glad to see that running helped get you out of that dark, painful place.

  3. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this! I am pregnant with twins and despite all my planning and preparing to be able to run throughout my second pregnancy…the news of twins and reality of preterm labor history with my daughter….left me with a reality that I had to give up running altogether at 13 weeks for the health and safety of the babies….which was great call…at 18 weeks I was admitted for preterm contractions….etc…so even though I know running keep sme sane….for now I just have to keep them safe. I breastfed with my daughter and plan to nurse the twins for at least 6 months. I work full time and I realize these are hefty goals in themselves…but I plan to stay home for 3 months….anyway

    All my rambling to say…..I hope to be running again by 8 weeks postpartum if life allows…at least on some level…and I know it will require adjustments in our schedules to make that happen. The hydration should not be too difficult…I currently require at least one gallon of water a day to prevent contctions.

    How much fluid do consume ? Or do youngest go by signs of hydration?

  4. this is an awesome post, Jess!! So sorry you went through what you did in losing your friends…so glad running has been a part of your healing. I nursed and ran with my second and third, but I didn't run nearly as much as you do. Running and training takes so much discipline in the first place, the extra discipline that you have to have to nurse on top of it…just takes it over the top!!

  5. Love this post Jessica! I nursed both my kids while continuing to run. My youngest is 16 months and we are winding down the nursing now. While the nursing does pose some challenges in terms of keeping the girls where they should be while maintaining a good pace, I wouldn't trade it for the world!

  6. I wish you could have posted this years ago!!! It's funny that we learn so much more about things after we have to embark on them on our own!! Would have loved to have known you / been in contact with you during pregnancy and while bf'ing was just beginning for our boys =)
    This is a great post!

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