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Breastfeeding and the Athlete

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: June 06, 2021

Reviewed: July 09, 2021

Baby breastfeeding

If you're an athlete, you can still provide your baby with the benefits of breastfeeding. With a doctor's guidance, most women can engage in sports or some form of regular physical activity when they're breastfeeding. An active lifestyle does not affect the quality or amount of breast milk or your baby's growth. However, consuming enough calories from nutritious foods and beverages will help meet the demands of both breastfeeding and athletic training.

Even without exercise, mothers who breastfeed need extra calories. Calorie needs depend on a variety of factors, including your baby’s age and how much you breastfeed. The amount needed for milk production can range from an additional 400 to 500 calories each day when compared to calorie needs prior to pregnancy. Additional calories to provide energy for physical activity also are needed and vary based on the duration and intensity of your workout.

When you meet increased calorie needs with a variety of nutritious foods, instead of foods and drinks high in added sugars and saturated fat, you get the additional nutrients needed for breastfeeding and for athletic performance. For example, breastfeeding mothers need more protein and carbohydrate each day. Athletes also need additional protein and carbohydrate beyond basic needs to fuel, build and maintain muscles.

Fluid needs increase during breastfeeding, too. Without exercise, breastfeeding moms need about 16 cups per day of total water from food, beverages and drinking water. When working out, you may need to drink even more, especially in hot weather.

For healthy eating tips, MyPlate offers resources dedicated to those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, and these can help with determining calorie needs and meeting food group targets. For additional guidance, consult your health care provider and a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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