Balancing Breastfeeding and Exercise: Katya’s Story

By Katya P.

Editor’s note: As the 2024 Summer Olympics approach, we’re sharing a personal story of experiences with fitness, sports, and exercise while breastfeeding. We hope you’ll enjoy this story about how Katya found a balance meeting her nursling’s needs while training as an athlete.

Mom with toddler, bike and carrier in front of Chicago skyline on a sunny dayStriking a Balance Between Parenthood and Athleticism

I’m a non-competitive distance cyclist and weightlifter. And I am a mom. As someone who was never even remotely athletic or competitive, I found a lot of inspiration and personal improvement in solo, endurance-based activities.

I started working out to lose some post-wedding bliss pounds, and it just became part of my routine. While there are a few physical considerations to be mindful of (and always checking with your physician first), I continued to do what I was doing pre-pregnancy, only with slight modifications. And while you wouldn’t want to start an extreme routine during pregnancy, I think that staying fit and active led to easier births and recoveries for me.

Of course, taking care of my family’s needs came first, but my workouts came second – above anything else. I was fortunate that my support people were on board with this. However, I have to acknowledge that there were some emotional hurdles of my own to overcome. I found it hard as a working mom, because I felt that I should be spending any non-work time with my kiddos. This made exercise time challenging. As an endurance athlete, I sometimes just needed long stretches of time away!

I shifted my workouts to being at home, using a relatively basic set of equipment to meet my needs. This eliminated travel time to a gym. A home gym was essential because everything was available to use whenever I was able to train some. Having to maintain a training schedule, I wasn’t always guaranteed an extra set of hands so I could workout. In those days, I set myself up for success by doing my warm-up activities around the house just before naps. Then, I would nurse my baby to sleep in a front-closing sports bra. I would focus on the most essential components of my workout first, in case naptime was cut short. I would split workouts up into sections, so I could do some in the morning and some later.

Bring the Children Along

There were times that I planned my long-distance routes around whoever was watching the baby, so I could stop for a bit and nurse. As my children grew into toddlers, I noticed I had actually improved considerably in my cycling performance. When my son was two, I’d pull him in a bike trailer for hours, and then, when I rode solo, it was so much easier without the extra weight of my child. Beyond the baby years, I would set my kids up with a little list of things to do, culminating with an award, to buy me some time. And once they were older, they knew that I was working out for a set period of time and if they wanted to interrupt they could simply join me, grabbing an object and following along with their own body.

I wish I could say that my kids are endurance athletes and are intrinsically motivated to exercise. Not yet! However, as they’ve reached an age where they are able to work out alongside me, they do notice their own performance improvement when they compete in sports, and if we do challenging hikes, they’re not physically taxed. I think that because I’ve worked out in front of them, they’ve seen the emotional side of my exercise journey. My children have seen real life challenges, injuries, low-motivation days, and the reality that not everything always goes to plan; sometimes things are hard!

Pushing Through Challenging Days

I remember one day starting my exercise only to have to nurse my baby to sleep again and again. I just had to abandon that exercise session completely. I was so frustrated! But patience and acceptance of this moment helped. I told myself to try and focus on the long term and to remember that this was just one day. I’d shift and focus on what I could do the next day for my exercise. It wasn’t always easy.

Encouraging Other Athletic Parents

Keeping my “why” at the forefront of my mind has been important. If you are doing it for someone else, an event, or physical aesthetics, those things can fade. I want to be strong as I move throughout my daily life, to prevent injuries and be able to take on physical challenges. It’s not always easy. If you do the hardest part of setting aside the time and arranging childcare or nap schedules, you can then follow through with what you gave yourself time for and get your work-out in.

Like with breastfeeding, take things day by day and do what you can each day. Think of the long-term goals to shape your best life. Do what works for you and your family, not some influencer or author. And ask for help — whether that’s lining up child-swapping so you and a friend can work out, having a sit-down discussion with your partner about priorities, or getting tailored advice from a trainer or class environment. Especially for people who spent a lot of time and effort on fitness before having kids, you can get back to where you were before children. It will just take creative planning and effort.

Send your stories about breastfeeding, parenting, and more to Kylie at [email protected]

Further reading:

Supporting Breastfeeding Families–Today, Tomorrow, Always

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