I continue to be amazed at the amount of advice so freely given to pregnant and new moms. Comments and suggestions regarding the pregnant woman's size and shape, weight gained or weight lost, predictions of gender and arrival date, activity levels. Over and over people have asked me about my running, exercise and food choices. "Do you really think that is safe for the baby?" I ran a half marathon at 25 weeks with my second. I listened to my body and didn't have to slow down much. I wore my heart rate monitor and I had a great time, despite my jacket being a bit tight around the middle. As I have continued to nurse him and then pump for him as his primary food source, I have adapted a plant based diet consisting mainly of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. There have been many questions from friends, family and strangers about my health and the health of my 3 1/2 year old and the baby. Oddly, nobody asks about P. Apparently they think that he can forage for himself if "starving". HA!
In addition to all the comments, there is the poking, prodding and touching of a pregnant belly (so weird). After the baby arrives, the barrage continues with questions about the "next baby" (hello, I have barely started to heal from this one) and comments about the post baby body. Suggestions about how to coax a baby to sleep, how and what to feed them, where to let them sleep, etc.
If you are a runner, you get another whole deluge of advice. "Be careful, your uterus will fall out", "do you really think that you are ready to run?" I even had one person tell me that I was "neglecting" the child because I was out running. Come on people, everyone that knows me knows that if I can get a run in, no matter how short, the time of day, or the weather, I am a much happier girl. That just helps everyone. The other comment, I got repeatedly was "your milk is going to dry up if you run." Read on to see proof that that hasn't been the case at all.
Add the word "ultra" in front of "running" and people almost don't know what to say. Almost. It's true, there are some challenges when it comes to running postpartum while providing all the nutrition for a small human. Here are 5 things that I have learned to make training for ultra distance events and breastfeeding a baby work cohesively.
1. Logistics and pumping
Pumping is important. My littlest one is almost 9 months old now and I am exclusively pumping. Some people on the breastfeeding bandwagon would say this is not actually breastfeeding but I say that if there is still milk being produced and extracted in some form and the child id exclusively getting breast milk it freaking counts. I work full time and my husband is home with the boys. The baby figured out quickly that a bottle was easier. I was exclusively pumping by 5 months. I have managed to maintain my supply with no issues and continue to "bank" milk in the freezer as well. It's certainly not my activity of choice, especially when I am home and it would be so much easier to just nurse him. Instead, we give him his bottle and then I pump, double duty. With running, at least initially, it is all about timing. Pumping or nursing right before going out on a run makes things much more pleasurable and much drier. Everything is a little sore in the beginning and the less milk in there the better. At almost 9 months post delivery, this isn't as big of an issue immediately before a run, however it depends on the duration of the long training runs. If I am running three hours or more, I set up the route so that I go by my home or car. I will stop in the middle of my run to pump, put the milk in the cooler and set off again. This gives me a chance to also grab more calories or to change out or refill my bottles. I have not yet raced long while pumping (thinking July) and so I can't speak to this on a race course yet but I plan to have a loving family member meet me with my pump at a designated point. Talk about feeling lighter when you take off again. Ha.
2. Double up on sports bras
Sort of self explanatory but this little change made all the difference. In the beginning there is the "ouch" factor. Doubling up sports bras in layers this decreases most all of the negatives with nursing and running including friction and bouncing around. Both of these issues subside as the months of nursing go by, but man, in the beginning they can really affect a run and a mindset.
Producing breast milk is a high energy activity. Ultra training is a high energy activity. Combining them with a reduced amount of sleep is taxing on the body. I wake up at 4:20 am to do my long runs. My husband and boys are still asleep 4 hours later when I get home and I haven't missed any part of their day. Working full time means that the time I do have at home is precious. All of my workouts happen between 4:30 am and 7:30 am. I used to be a person who would NOT miss a workout. If I didn't feel well I would power through regardless. I have found this philosophy to be inadequate in my current position. I have a training schedule and I do tend to follow it. That said, I have become so much better at listening to my body and then building in easy and off days as needed. I have found that a yoga class each week and daily sun salutations and a few moments of meditation have really made a difference in not only my body but my mind as well.
This one is huge for me. M was born in August and I had been on the MSPI diet since the beginning of July to prepare for his arrival. I bounced around a bit once it was determined that he tolerated dairy and soy. In December, I made the decision to go completely plant based and in March I also eliminated refined sugar. I noticed that I felt better generally after going to a plant based whole foods diet but I noticed a drastic change when the sugar was gone. I recover so much more quickly because there is nothing feeding the inflammatory response. My mind is amazingly more clear and my disposition is much happier. I just feel so much better. One of the things that I enjoy is to make my own food for my runs. Most gels, bars, blocks, and sports drinks have food dyes, preservatives, processed sugars, or stimulants in them. I refuse to put that stuff in my body when it is working so hard (and so well) to both train for endurance sports and feed a baby as well as perform all the every day tasks I need it to. I wrap up homemade granola bars and energy bites. I take peanut butter packages, bananas, sweet potatoes, or brown rice balls. Lots of times I put things in the freezer and then just pull them out and let them thaw in my pocket as I run. Many of these things have nuts or nut butter and dried fruits in them so they are fairly calorie dense which means I don't have to carry as much volume.
5. Do what feels good to you
There will always be people criticizing your choices. Find your network of people who cheer you on. I've been told that eating a plant based diet isn't safe for me, my nursing baby, or my toddler. I have been told that running is bad for my health and my milk supply. I have been told that doing the two together is a recipe for disaster. I am happy to say that so far, this isn't the case for me. If, in fact, something does start to "go wrong", if my milk supply dwindles, my body feels poorly, my family feels neglected I would be the first to reevaluate the current system and work to change it.
Giving my baby breast milk, eating a healthy, plant based, whole foods diet, and running are all big factors in my life right now. My husband is very supportive of all three, making life easier. Play with it, find the equation that works and tuck it into your lifestyle. It is doable. A happy mom makes a happy family, for sure. That said, I am off to pump 10 oz and run 3 hours.