Breastfeeding and the Boston Marathon

I’ve run the Boston Marathon twice, once in 2014 and then again in 2016. Both times, I ran my qualifying race a few days before finding out I was pregnant. And both times, with the amount of time between qualifiers and Marathon Monday, I went to Boston while breastfeeding an infant. (I got smart this year and opted for the BAA 5k, just in case!)

It was a blessing and a curse, I tell you! One blessing was that I learned a lot about breastfeeding and racing Boston. In addition to planning out my fueling and hydration stops, I had to consider how I’d deal with the certain engorgement caused by the hours I’d be separated from my baby while waiting in Athlete’s Village and running the race.

I experimented a little and approached how I tended to my boobs at each Boston differently. If you find yourself lactating in Boston, let me offer up some tips, fun facts, and things I learned about breastfeeding and the Boston Marathon. We’ll call it the secrets of the lactating mother runner.

When running smaller marathons, feeding the baby or pumping right before the start and then handing her or the pump off is doable. Not so at Boston. Transportation to Athlete’s Village and then waiting for the race to start can add several hours to the several hours of marathon running. To top it off, family is not allowed within the Athlete Village. The result? Engorgement. Yeah!

There are two basic methods to handling breast engorgement in the hours surrounding the marathon.

1. Cross your fingers and hope for the best!

I tried this method at my first Boston in 2014 and do not recommend it.

2. Pump in the Athlete’s Village.

This involves a little more prep work, but it’s worth it. You’ll reduce your discomfort and your stress which might already be pretty high on race morning.

After my experience in 2014, before I raced Boston in 2016 I figured it would probably be a good idea to get the scoop on bringing a pump to the Athlete’s Village. After asking around and sending some panicked emails, I found out that a process existed and was pretty simple. (Thanks, BAA!)

If you need to bring a pump to Hopkinton

If you need to bring a pump, you can sign up at the Medical Devices Booth at the expo and a volunteer will give you a special bag to transport your pump to the Athlete’s Village. After you’re finished pumping, you hand the device off to another designated volunteer who will transport it back to the finish line for you.

Tips for Pumping at the Athlete’s Village

Have your pump ready to go before race morning.

You will have to take your pump out of the bag or backpack that it comes in. Mine was velcroed to its black bag, so it was pretty easy to take it apart, but I hadn’t ever done that before.

I used the battery pack because someone else recommended that to me, but on race morning the volunteers asked me if I needed an outlet. So although having a battery pack is not 100% necessary, it did make things easier and gave me one less thing to worry about.

Give yourself extra time to find the secret breast pump (medical device) booth at the expo.

The booth is not marked with a giant flashing neon “BOOBS!” sign or anything, so it might be a little tricky to find. I had to ask a few people where the medical device booth was before I finally found it. I expected something a little more official, especially with how strict the BAA is about bags, and rightly so.

At the medical device booth, all I had to do was tell a volunteer I had a medical device, then sign a piece of paper with my name and bib number. They handed me a clear bag and a piece of paper with instructions, and that was it. I’d make sure that you share the contact person’s name and phone number with your family in case you end up in the medical tent or something (more on that below).

Time flies at Athlete’s Village. Go directly to the Operations Tent.

When you look at the schedule for race morning, it seems like you’ll have so much time but in reality it goes by really quickly. When you get to the Athlete’s Village, grab some food and then head straight to the Operations Tent, which as of 2016, was located directly behind the area where the runners exit to go to the start line (you may want to confirm at the expo that this is still the location).

Just when you thought you had it rough with your giant engorged boobs, check this out. There are private porta-potties back there! And lots of water! It’s like a VIP tent, I tell you. Take your time and relax there. You’ll have plenty of time to do your thing and then wait around for your race without having to sit on the grass or wait in a line to use the bathroom forever.

Don’t be surprised by the dudes in charge of taking your pump.

It didn’t bother me, but I did think it was comical that they put a bunch of guys in charge of the lactating moms area. When you’re ready to part with your pump, make sure you dump your milk and then rinse everything out before placing it back in the clear bag. Then all you have to do is hand it off to the race volunteers and get ready to go to the start.

Know where to pick up your pump after the race.

After the race, the medical device pick-up area was right before the gear check bags. I didn’t see that, so I got all the way to the exit to meet my family and then I had to go back. But then I started to feel lightheaded, so I was taken to the med tent.

Eventually I met up with my family but I still needed to get my pump from the finish area, so my husband called the contact person on the paper I got at the expo. Thankfully, he was able to retrieve it for me.

Pack an extra nursing cover, if you use one.

I had one in the bag with my medical device and one in my gear check bag for after the race.

***

With a little extra planning and time, you can have a comfortable and fantastic Boston experience!

Do you have any tips for runners who are breastfeeding and running a marathon? 

I'm a mom and business owner from upstate NY. I love running, coffee, and adult beverages. Also chocolate. I'm currently training for shorter distances (mile-5k) but my big goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the marathon.

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11 comments

  1. Awe shucks! I skipped Boston this year precisely for this reason. What a useful article! Thanks for the info!

  2. What an excellent post!! I had no idea they had services like this at Boston for lactating mom’s! You are so right about the time flying by at Athlete’s village. I almost missed my wave in 2013. I have only ran one marathon while nursing and that was in Columbus. I was lucky enough to be minutes away from the start in the hotel we stayed in, so I pumped right before I had to leave. I do notice that the salt tablets that I take while I am racing can have an affect on the baby (since they have caffeine in them), so as soon as I could pump after the marathon, I just dumped. I am the type of runner who gets dehydrated really easy, so when I am nursing, I have to hydrate even more – so I was very aware of every water stop.

  3. I’m so glad you posted this! I’m qualified for 2018, but I should have a 6 month old then. I was wondering how I’d be able to manage this.

  4. Great post! That will definitely help nursing mothers who want to run Boston- you make it sound very manageable, if you follow all the steps. Race logistics are stressful while breastfeeding! I ran cross country in Serbia while breastfeeding my first child, and pumped and dumped throughout the trip. After that I was done racing for awhile, it was too much to worry about and coordinate on top of the actual race.

  5. I just want to add that I ran Boston this year and have an 8.5 month old. I don’t pump but my husband, baby, and I took the bus from the park and I waited outside of the Athlete’s Village with them until it was time for my corral to be called so I could nurse one last time before the start. It was the longest I’ve gone without nursing but baby was fine! It worked out better than I thought.

    1. I am planning on running Boston this year and don’t pump (very much) either. I would be very interested to know how early you and your baby got to the parking lot before your race start. Or any other words of advice!

  6. This is great information! My baby is due in August, and I’m planning for Boston round 2 in 2018 with husband managing our 8 month old. I LOVE the “VIP” experience information regarding porta potties. When I ran in 2016, we basically went to the bathroom and got back in line to wait again for another porta potty.

  7. Thank you so much! I was really stressed out about running Boston this year while breastfeeding and then I found your blog! I wish I could return the favor – you have no idea how much of a relief this was to read.