Long-distance Running While Nursing

long-distance running while nursingThere are many who think long distance running and breastfeeding are incompatible. However I wanted to share my experience with the two because it actually CAN be done. This isn’t to say everyone CAN or SHOULD, but there’s so little encouraging and/or positive messages around ultrarunning and breastfeeding that I feel compelled to share my story. I am a mother of four boys (ages 9 to 2) all of whom extended breastfed without any supplementation. I have participated in ultrarunning for the past five years and running for the past 8. I recently weaned my 2 year old, but prior to weaning, I breastfeed him without any supplementation while maintaining very high weekly mileage from early on postpartum.

The term Ultrarunning basically refers to any distance beyond a marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles (or 42.2 kilometers) in length. Therefore an Ultramarathon can range from 31miles/50kilometers events all the way up to 100miler/160 kilometers and beyond. Now I realize it is a small percentage of runners that participate in ultramarathons. And generally the male field is larger than the female field. Throw breastfeeding into the mix and we’re talking about a really, really tiny population BUT we exist! And there’s very little information available to women who fall into this category which is why I wanted to share a few tips on what made it work for me.

First and foremost ensure the following:

  1. You have a solid baseline level of fitness and distance running pre pregnancy/birth (and have maintained an active/fit pregnancy)
  2. Your milk supply is well established
  3. Breastfeeding is well established.
  4. You have clearance from your health care provider to exercise/run.
  5. You are in overall good health and injury free

Over the years of breastfeeding an ultrarunning I have experienced various distances and types of runs/events; including road, trail, set distances, timed events, point to point, short loops, long loops, out and backs, and whatever else imaginable is out there. The longest distance I have run (consecutively) while breastfeeding is 105miles. Each event and age of your baby has dictated how I managed breastfeeding both while training and on course. Finding a groove that works for YOUR body and baby might take a little experimenting, but here are some general tips to maintain successful breastfeeding as an ultrarunner:

long-distance running while nursingInvest in HIGH QUALITY sports bras!

You want one that is going to be supportive but not restrictive. You don’t want breasts to be compressed for long periods of time because that can easily lead to clogged ducts and mastitis. If you are going to be nursing or pumping on course/mid run having a bra that front zips can be handy as it provides quick access/efficiency. My experience is that “nursing sports bras” are generally not the best option. Although they designed for active breastfeeding moms, they didn’t provide the comfort or support needed for long durations (keep in mind an ultramarathon is hours and hours and hours of activity). Lululemon and Victoria Secret are my top favorite brands for sports bras. Both are pricey but last a long time. My Lululemons have a TON of mileage on them and are still going strong.


I easily ate 3,000+ calories a day while training and breastfeeding. However I focused on eating super clean and nourishing foods, especially high fat foods. No, I don’t mean donuts and cookies, although those are a fun treat from time to time. I mean healthy fats! Foods high in essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6. I consume generous amounts of seeds, nuts, oils, coconut, and avocado. I am a vegetarian so I don’t eat fish, but you could throw that into the mix as well. Focus on nourishing yourself well and replenishing lost calories. You don’t want to be operating on a calorie deficit. Fuel yourself properly so you have the energy to sustain your high activity level while producing milk.


As runners we already know the importance of proper hydration. It can make or break a run for us. But if you are nursing a baby and running long distances hydration becomes even more essential. It can be hard to drink a lot during a long run, thus I found that drinking a ton of water the days leading up to a long training run/race were the best way for me to stay hydrated. Having the right gear to haul liquids during a run is important. Each runner has their own system that is generally refined over time. I found a pack with a bladder filled with water and then a bottle(s) (either handheld or tucked into a pocket on my pack) filled with electrolytes to be the most effective/efficient option for me. Post run I drink a ton of water and coconut water to replenish.


In order to produce adequate milk to nourish your little one, you need optimal rest/sleep. Now I fully realize how challenging it is to get adequate rest. Every day demands and responsibilities seem to add up fast and we are continuously buried under a mounting “to-do” list. But if at all possible find a way to make rest and sleep a priority. I am of the mindset that sleep trumps a workout or a training run. If I am feeling tired (or let’s face it, exhausted is a better description) I will choose rest/sleep over a run/workout 100% of the time. A workout or run performed by an overworked, depleted body holds very little benefit and actually can be detrimental. Respect and honor your body. If it’s tired, give it the break it needs.

Managing Breastfeeding

This is a highly individualized process so it’s a bit difficult to give specific tips as each scenario differs greatly. However being resourceful and creative in HOW you manage breastfeeding both in training and during races is a key factor. Having a positive and flexible system of support in this process is essential. For me this person was my husband. I can’t even begin to explain how incredibly supportive he was (and is) of my running. He has brought baby to me in the most random of places and times of day/night so I could breastfeed in the middle of a run or deliver pumped milk to him. Being comfortable nursing and pumping in public are pretty much a standard requirement if you are going to participate in ultras. I have pumped and nursed at aid stations and on course many, many times. This can be tricky when you are up against time cut offs. Pumping and/or nursing definitely eats up time on course so factoring in adequate time to manage breastfeeding is very important when developing race strategy/pacing. Knowing how long your body can comfortably go without needing to express is helpful. And knowing how to hand express is ESSENTIAL! Being able to relieve yourself at any given time during a long run provides peace of mind in case your time predications/pacing is off (which we know happens often in ultrarunning).

Lastly keep in mind that unless you are a professional athlete, for most of us ultrarunning is a recreational hobby Therefore you want it to remain an enjoyable part of your life. If the pressure to train and race while breastfeeding overwhelms you at any time, give yourself permission to take a breather. It can be difficult to do when “ultrarunner” is part of our identity and our social circle, but know life exists in seasons. Off seasons can help shape us in new ways and we can return to our beloved sport stronger than ever when we honor body first and foremost.

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