A reader Laura made a comment about glad to hear of another nursing athletic mama out there and I'd been thinking of writing a post about this, so here it is.
I have run (and biked and swam) after all of my kids and breastfed them all as well. I don't know the difference, breastfeeding minus the training, but I've made it work. I do think it is possible to be a competitive endurance athlete and be your child's sole source of nutrition. I've birthed big babies and grown big babies out of the womb. I know every woman and every baby is different and this IS NOT a post to belittle or condemn or anything like that moms who use formula, this is just my experience with breastfeeding. I'm no lactation expert, but here we go, here's what I know
Losing the baby weight too quickly after baby can affect your milk supply. My midwives have said you shouldn't lose more than 2lbs/week after baby is born. The body needs that fat supply to produce a good supply to get your nursing relationship going.
That said, I've kind of always just had the baby weight come off really quickly (don't hate me, I still have to work out to be strong and athletic and competitive) and I've managed to nurse my kids all for a year on average. I think the point is not to try to work the pounds off in those first 2 months.
Getting enough calories and hydration is key, super important. You can't try to restrict calories in those first 2-3 months after birth. The body is recovering from carrying and bearing a child and now needs to produce enough milk to sustain a baby. Breastfeeding itself will burn 300-500 calories/day, so let that be your diet if you're concerned. Eat enough, eat quality, and eat often
Hydration. Probably the most important thing to breastfeeding (along with a proper latch from baby - google it, check out the Kellymom website, or LaLeche League site). When I asked my midwife about the supplements you can take to increase your milk supply she said they were fine, but that getting enough water was first and foremost and would do more good than the supplements would. 64oz at absolute minimum is essential for everyone, more like 96oz is optimal for nursing moms, and especially for those of us who want to work out too. Now I'm not the best at it, but I try. I'm actually going to try filling up as many water bottles as I'll need to get that 64-96oz in the morning and putting them in the fridge. Should be a good way to track how much I'm drinking and remind myself when I open the fridge constantly that I still have more to drink.
Proper support is important. Obviously while working out you need a great sports bra like the Moving Comfort Juno I wrote about in the post below. There is so much force the girls have to deal with while we run. Protect them the best you can. Invest in a great sports bra. Worth the money.
Invest in a great bra during the day too. The breasts can be so heavy post baby and add some milk to that and that's a fair amount of weight to support. I used to try to get by with whatever bra was cheapest, but I splurged with our 3rd baby and bought a $45 Anita nursing bra and man it's great! Great support, great function, looks best under clothes. Worth it. Another bra I've found to be great while nursing for day to day (not for high impact workout out), is the Handful bra. I've had a Handful for a couple years now and reviewed it here, but I ran into one of the head ladies with that great company at Outdoor Retailer this January and she gave me a white one, will go better under clothes than my pink :) and wanted me to try it out while nursing. I was skeptical because I didn't want to bend or mis-shape the great pads in there, but it hasn't. I lift it up to nurse and it's soft elastic band makes that comfortable and the pad just seems to stay out of the way but without getting all bent out of shape. Great thing about that bra too is it hides nursing pads (I love reusable breathable nursing pads made from a combo of organic cotton/hemp/bamboo velour, check Etsy, these are some pretty great ones when I don't want to leak through, I use thinner ones when I'm not going out of the house). I think the Handful hides nursing pads better than any of my other bras so when I want a smooth look because I'm going to actually throw something on for the day besides a tech shirt, that's my go to.
I think breastfeeding is great. I'm really a fan. Aside from the huge nutritional benefits, the enormous savings not buying formula, and the wonderful close skin cuddle time it is for baby and I (not that bottle feeding isn't, and this post is not to bash formula feeders AT ALL, it' simply a post on breastfeeding to help those interested in it), I love breastfeeding for it's convenience as well. Nothing like going out on errands or out on a run and knowing I don't need to worry about where I'm going to make a bottle or run out of formula.
Breastfeeding can be hard work those first 6-8 weeks though. You may deal with engorgement or worry you're not feeding baby enough, your supply isn't big enough. If baby is happy and having wet and messy diapers and gaining weight you're good! Something I had to learn the hard way (meaning I stopped nursing our first baby at 5 months old because I thought I had dried up) is that you don't have to feel huge and engorged to have milk. The body produces it when the baby feeds. Just because your breasts don't feel full doesn't mean baby isn't getting full from you. Nursing can hurt. Even on my fourth baby, there were still a couple weeks of grin and bear it and breathe through those first 15 seconds of baby latching on. Learn a proper latch, use a nursing balm on your nipples after every feeding (I like a balm like Motherlove more than just plain lanolin like I've used before), use breathable nursing pads or at least expose the skin to air as much as you can, and give it a good 6 weeks. The pain goes away and it gets better and you can have this great nursing relationship while burning calories with your sweet baby. If you end up using formula it's not the end of the world and you're not a bad mom, I'm just saying to give it time, drink your water, and enjoy that special bonding skin to skin time with your baby if you have any desire to breastfeed. I think it's pretty great!