Fast Food: Coordinating Racing and Breastfeeding

Gives new meaning to pump and run now doesn't it?!
Gives new meaning to pump and run now doesn’t it?!

OMG, friends! Can you believe Salty Running has been silent on the topic of boobs for almost a year now?! We are certainly overdue to break that streak! Salty’s already given us the low-down on training while breastfeeding but racing is an additional logistical challenge.

How do we deal with the boobs so that baby gets his milk and mommy gets comfortable to race?

The first thing to consider is whether the baby is coming or not. Factors to consider are distance to the race, distance of the race, who will watch the baby (or will he ride in the stroller?), weather, baby’s usual eating pattern, and your baby’s temperament. Since my son is not old enough to ride in the jogging stroller while I run, it’s generally my husband to decide whether they will attend or not.

Regardless of whether your baby is attending, I recommend bringing your breast pump. I have both a hospital grade and a manual pump and the manual is clearly more convenient for this purpose. If you don’t have a manual pump, consider what your options will be for electricity, or invest in an adapter for your vehicle’s car lighter.  Most likely the best pumping location will be in the car; however I had good luck recently at a 5k at a car dealership where an employee graciously allowed me to borrow her office. That lady’s got some good karma coming to her! Scope out the setup of the staging area before race morning so you can figure out your options.

English: WPA poster promoting breast feeding a...
Trouble as in sore boobs and a hungry baby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Try to maintain your baby’s usual feeding pattern, but also plan to pump (or nurse) about a half hour before the race for your own comfort. My routine before a 5k now consists of a 15-minute jog, 5-10 minute pump session, then another 10 minutes of jogging and strides before the race start. Depending on the length of the race and your typical breastfeeding schedule, you may need to plan to pump or nurse as soon as possible after the finish as well. My baby enjoys the occasional drink with a salted rim margarita-style (TMI?), but it’s a good idea to have a washcloth or towel available to wipe down.

For pumping you’ll need to pack some additional accessories: hand sanitizer and/or wipes, a ziplock bag to store pump parts, towels for coverup and cleanup, and a cooler with ice if you’re planning to store your milk. If your baby is attending, pack a bottle in case your little one’s appetite hits while you are racing. I have not had a problem with leaking milk while running, but I always pack breast pads as well.

In training you’ve probably figured out what sportsbras work for you, but if you’re going to need to sneak in a quick pumping or nursing session, you might have to try something with even easier access. Several companies make sportsbras for nursing mothers, but my preferred method is layering an old looser-fitting sportsbra under a higher-quality one. After the race I like to change into something less contricting (and less sweaty!)  or at least take off the outer bra — remember, overly constricting bras can cause plugged ducts or even mastitis.

Speaking of your wardrobe, your new figure may make you more susceptible to chafing, both upstairs and downstairs. Don’t be stingy with the lube! Trust me.

Finally, as a nursing mama you’re probably well-aware of your increased needs for calories and water. Racing is not a time to skimp!  I learned the hard way — what used to be enough fuel for a 5k might leave your tank on “E” before halfway. Not only can this be a miserable experience for you, it can also negatively affect your milk supply.  However, like Salty reported, exercise itself has not been linked to supply problems. Bring snacks and a cold drink to supplement whatever the race offers. Also, even if you usually don’t carry gels or other fuel, consider tucking a little something in your pocket to avoid an unexpected bonk.

Moms, what strategies worked for you? Anyone running PRs while breastfeeding? Have we met our quota for boob talk for now?  

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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  1. These are all great tips! It probably all sounds so daunting to someone who hasn’t done it all, but I can attest it’s not that bad. Also, I’ve found that once I’m a few months postpartum I can get away without pumping or nursing right before running no problem, but even as a nursing mom I have pretty small boobs 🙂

    And that tip about avoiding overly constricting the boobs is really important! I had mastitis twice and once was definitely from hanging around with my sports bra on a busy day when I didn’t have as many opportunities to pump and nurse as usual.

    1. Fortunately my first two postpartum races were close to home (like less than 10 minutes) and I was running so few miles in was only planning a very short warmup– So initially I didn’t have to worry about feeding the baby. But when my 3rd race was a 45+ minute drive I was definitely overwhelmed by the logistics!! You’re right, it’s really not too complicated for short races at least. I still can’t fathom how some women are able to get back into halves and marathons though!! I bow down!

  2. Mastitis is no fun at all! I, too, got it once from wearing a sports bra too long after a workout.

    I laughed when I read about breastfeeding after the race. Last year, my baby used to lick my shoulder when I came home from a run. He loved my salty skin. It was hilarious.

    1. Ahhh, Erin, I had the same experience! Was holding the baby after a rather sweaty workout and felt something wet on my shoulder. I thought he spit up but he was licking me! I guess i shouldn’t be surprised since my mom, sister and I are all salt fiends.