There is so much about being a new breast feeding mother that is not talked about. Add on being an athlete AND breastfeeding then it really gets grim. When I first started to research, the information and pictures out there made it look beautiful and easy, or like it was the most impossible thing on earth. Where was the middle ground? Where was the real talk? The struggles AND the triumphs??
After a while, my interest (and honestly time) for other mom athletes declined and I decided I was just going to figure it out on my own. I am now seven months in with 3 big races under my belt since having Max and Spirit.
- an 8 hour adventure race at 3 months postpartum
- a 12 hour adventure race at 5 months
- a 100 mile mountain bike race at 6 months out.
And in two weeks I will be doing a 36-hour nonstop adventure race just as Max turns 8 months.
My journey has been frustrating, annoying, satisfying and beautiful, sometimes even been all of these things at once!
The logistics (and calories!) that goes into training and racing when feeding another human is hard work, but in my opinion it is worth every minute. Being outside in nature, sweating, breathing hard and pushing myself is my church, so for me getting right back into training was non-negotiable. The question was never “If” – it was always “how” and “when”. I was (and am) determined to figure it out with Jason, Max, and Spirit’s help. And a lot of trial and error.
Below are my personal tips complete with little stories for being a breastfeeding athlete. Every women is different in their approach and in their level of determination. I went into it with a good balance of softness and stubborness. Softness in the sense that I was open to what ever unfolded and stubborn in that I was going to work like hell to be able feed Max and race hard.
Take Time, there is no hurry.
Before I had my boys, I heard this a lot. I knew that patience was NOT my strong suit, so I made a conscious effort to give myself a full 8 weeks off before attempting to do any training. And after Spirit B left us, I gave myself all the time I needed emotionally to process and grieve. At 8 weeks I felt physically ready, but emotionally I wasn’t. Every time I would get my heart rate up, I would start to hyperventilate and the tears would start to flow. My therapist said as long as I wasn’t hurting physically, the release may actually be good for me. She called it exposure therapy. So, I just kept on putting my self out there. At 12 weeks, I crossed the finish line of an 8 hour race and balled my eyes out. It felt so good, naked and terrifying to be back out in the world like that.
Emotional stuff aside, every woman has some raging and fluctuating hormones for that “fourth trimester.” After all, we did just grow and push out (or surgery – arguably more traumatic) another human! So relish in your achievement and give your body all the time it needs! We all heal differently, so listen to your body and do what will be good for YOU both emotionally and physically.
Something that helped me get ready and excited for this time was a book called “The First Forty Days.” I highly recommend this book to every expecting mother, as it gives you and everyone around you a plan for your first three months with your baby or babies.
Breastfeeding is a Team Sport:
This became very apparent in our first days as parents. From the very first day until 2 .5 months Jason had to help feed Max with a syringe of donor milk at the same time that I was feeding him from my boob. The whole “Daddy doesn’t really get involved” thing was not us. Jason was and is my biggest supporter and cheerleader. After the birth, he knew that getting me outside was going to be better for everyone. In the beginning, If he wasn’t helping me feed Max, he was feeding me, bringing me fluids and making sure I got plenty of rest. As I started to feel better physically, he either came out with me and coached me while his parents watched Max or took care of Max himself. Now, if I am racing or doing a longer mission, Jason or his parents either brings Max to me or Jason relieves me himself!! Making it all work with a baby is what excites us, and it is in our nature to make a challenge into an adventure. So do what works for you, but be sure to have a team around you who is aware of your goals!
Set Some Goals:
Going into breastfeeding, I had been told that it may be really hard for me since I had inverted nipples, had a traumatic birth and had a c-section. So honestly, I set the bar pretty low for us. My goal was to breastfeed for at least 3 months and then if it wasn’t working out, we would do formula. For those three months I pretended like making milk was my one and only job. I was either pumping, eating lactation increasing foods, slathering on the nipple cream, or trying to feed Max and often times doing it all at the same time! At two months in, after a few break downs, I was sure that by the time 3 months rolled around I was going to throw in the towel. However, by 11 weeks, Max and I had finally hit our stride. I started being able to comfortably leave him for 2- 3 hours, knowing that he would be ready to eat and I would be ready to empty by the time I got home.
Race wise, my goal was to try out a smallish adventure race by 3 months and see how I felt. Physically, I felt great, emotionally it was very hard but as I said before, it felt cathartic and necessary. Boob wise, I had gone 8 hours with out feeding or pumping and while I was pretty uncomfortable by the end of the race, Max had an excellent time feasting at the finish line! It was nice to win the race, but even more profound just to finish it and see my boy waiting eagerly for mama – love and hunger in his eyes – with no concept yet of what winning or losing is.
Be prepared to EAT :
I have always been into eating, so the idea of having to eat more didn’t really scare me. If anything it excited me. But for those who are not used to eating so much, get ready. I probably eat on the order of 6-8 small meals a day. Every meal is followed by a snack or a second meal an hour later. I don’t mess with watching my calories (whether that means making sure I am getting enough or going over board), I just make sure I am eating well and paying attention to not over fill my tank. However, now that Max is starting to eat more and more solid foods, I am staring to wean myself off of eating all of the time, as it is not feeling necessary. Bottom line, listen to your body and try to be as healthy as you can.
Instead of anticipating the punches, roll with them
Google can be a scary tool. After Spirit B left, I would stay up late into the night searching for stories about losing a twin. I was addicted to traumatic and painful stories. I was convinced that Max would grow up scarred and like he was missing something. After banning me from the internet, Jason helped me see that if he does, we will “cross that bridge” when we get it. “There is no use worrying about what will come” Jason said, “Then if it does, you have done twice the amount of worrying!” So, when it came time to start training again I opted NOT to look up what could go right or wrong for us and instead focused on doing my best. If something came up, I would tackle it then.
7 months in I hit one of those problems – Mastitis. Longer training days and higher intensity training led to a plugged milk duct that got infected. Flu like symptoms that got pretty serious and saw me laying low for a week with chills, antibiotics, frequent hot compresses and a lot of feeding time for Max.
Honestly, I thought I would get it much sooner, so I am quite pleased that it took this long to get to me! But, once I noticed it, we took quick action and moved to resolve it. The most uncomfortable stretch was only a few days, and let me catch up on my rom-coms.
Happy Mama, Happy Baby
This one is easier said than done. Mama guilt is a real thing. I knew that getting outside and back into a training routine would make me feel better, but taking the first step proved to be much harder than I had imagined. I am a stubborn one, so I went along with my plan anyway but the whole way to the trails I remember worrying about Max and what would happen if he got hungry, tired, etc. Then, with in minutes of being on my bike and feeling the wind in my face, I knew that all was well and we were all going to be ok. No matter what your course of action is, know that your baby is happiest when you are at your best and happiest, so set some goals, let your team in on the plan and commit to it for at least a few weeks!
Your baby is the best training tool ever! USE it to your advantage!!!
Going into parenthood we got many comments like “Your life is going to change forever, kiss your life as you know it goodbye!”
Jason would politely smile and respond with “Yep, and we are ready!!”
We spent a lot of time talking with one another about our life after baby and how we wanted to keep doing what we loved as long as it still brought us each joy and growth to our family. And if an aspect of our many passions ever got to be to much, we would reassess. While there has been a bit of a learning curve with Max and Spirit in the picture, we have embraced Max’s needs fully and have used them to make us train more effectively and efficiently. I actually believe that since having my boys, I am a wiser, more focused and stronger athlete than before. As soon as I have my 2-3 hour window, I am out the door and am fully present with my training. My “me” moments are precious, I savor and look forward to them more than ever. The days of “swiping” or absent mindedly being on the internet are over. Having Max and Spirit B has shown me what is important and has weeded out what doesn’t need my attention any more. It may sound selfish to some, but to me and my family it is absolutely necessary!
If you’ve made it this far, I hope you have caught on to my underlining message to trust yourself, let others help you and embrace this time! As athletes and mothers we are all different in our needs and wants so take the time to learn what works for you. What I have shared is what worked for me personally in my unique situation. If you find anything useful, awesome, let me know. And if you have a different approach, please share!