Breastfeeding and exercise: Here’s everything a nursing mother should know

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It is a known fact that breastfeeding provides complete nutrition to infants up to 6 months of age, which is why the WHO and other medical bodies recommend exclusive breastfeeding during this period, and continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years of age.

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As a nursing and first-time mother, you need to know of certain health benefits of breastfeeding. According to Dr Sreenath Manikanti, senior consultant neonatologist, Kauvery Hospital, Electronic City, Bangalore, breastfeeding can reduce vaginal bleeding and speed up the contraction of the uterus to pre-pregnancy size.

“The energy used to produce breast milk expedites weight loss and a return to pre-pregnancy weight. Natural fertility is reduced, temporarily reducing (but not eliminating) the likelihood of another pregnancy. Breastfeeding also creates a strong mother-baby bond,” he says.

The doctor adds that breastfeeding also benefits the baby. “Nutritional quantity and quality are assured, because all nutrients are present in the most suitable and easy-to-digest form,” he says, adding that the temperature of breast milk suits the baby and there is little-to-no risk of bacterial contamination.

“Breastfed babies have a decreased risk of infections like gastroenteritis, ear infections, pneumonia. The infant controls the intake by responsive feeding and it decreases risk of allergy and eczema.”

But, what role does exercising play when it comes to breastfeeding?

Explaining the benefits of exercising while breastfeeding, Dr Manikanti says the mother has more energy. “Being a new mom can be exhausting, and moderate exercise helps build energy stores when you’re up breastfeeding into the wee hours of the night.”

The next thing to know is that exercise “improves a mother’s health and has a positive effect on her emotional well-being”. According to the doctor, it may help prevent postpartum depression, which impacts 1 out of 9 mothers, according to the CDC.

Exercise can also increase the production of ‘prolactin’, the hormone responsible for breast milk production. “Studies have shown exercise with caloric restriction was associated with weight loss and fat loss in lactating females. It helps mothers with a quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight. It also improves bone health by decreasing bone loss.”

Staying hydrated is also important for nursing mothers. They need to make sure they drink enough water before and after working out, the doctor concludes.

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