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Ask Dr. Sears: Breastfeeding and Exercising

Q. I recently got the all-clear from my doctor to start exercising, and I can't wait to get back into shape. Is it true that breastfeeding will help me lose my baby weight faster? A. It's true that breastfeeding makes it easier to lose pounds -- milk production burns about 300 to 500 calories a day. Nutritionists believe that one reason your body stores extra fat during pregnancy is to ensure that you have enough energy from fat to make milk for your baby. When you breastfeed, you draw from that reserved fat, which helps those extra pounds gradually melt away without drastic dieting. In fact, studies have shown that breastfeeding mothers are more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight and waist circumference sooner than formula-feeding moms. However, know that breastfeeding alone won't automatically snap your body back into shape. To shed those extra pounds and improve your mental well-being, you'll want to ease into a healthy postpartum exercise routine as well. Below, a few tried-and-true ways to get moving while breastfeeding and mothering.

Get your milk out before your workout. It's best to feed baby before you start exercising. This not only helps to settle your baby, but you'll find working out more comfortable with breasts not engorged with milk.

Drink extra water. Before and during your workout, drink two or three extra glasses of water. It's imperative that you not get dehydrated -- dehydration is not only uncomfortable for you, but can zap water from your milk supply.

Wear an good sports bra. Support your breasts with a well-fitting bra to reduce nipple friction and jostling during vigorous exercise.

Wear baby while you walk. A convenient workout for new moms is to take a morning (or evening) walk with baby. After you nurse your baby, put him in a sling carrier and go for a long walk. Walk briskly and take an uphill route, if you can. Wearing your baby while you walk builds endurance -- it's a much better workout than using a stroller or baby jogger. And it's also a pleasant way for the two of you to be close to one another. Babies enjoy looking at their surroundings and nearby action, such as children on playgrounds or trees swaying in the wind.

There is a rumor in the breastfeeding world that milk can go bad after exercise and that babies will therefore refuse to nurse immediately after Mom has worked out. The rumor is the result of an unscientific study conducted years ago suggesting that lactic-acid levels (the metabolic byproduct of exercising muscles) may increase after exercising and give breast milk a bitter taste. In reality, this occurs rarely and only if the mother exercises to the point of exhaustion. If your baby doesn't seem happy nursing right after you exercise, take a shower, relax for an hour, and then try again.

Go slowly. If you routinely worked out before you were pregnant, gradually ease into your old regimen. Your primary goal should be to feel better, not to snap back to pre-pregnancy weight. If you're trying to shed excess body fat, you can safely lose a pound of fat per week without compromising your milk supply.

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