There are few things when it comes to running that I think are mentally or physically harder than being a pregnant runner, being a nursing runner is one of them.

Recently I got asked by another mommy runner, who will also be running Boston this Monday, how I handle running and nursing, and specifically what I do when I run a marathon. What follows are my own personal experiences nursing three children.

Nursing is hard work, a labor of love. Everyone has their personal views on the topic, but for me and my children I felt it was the best start to life I could provide. I was determined to nurse them each for a year. I knew with persistence we would make it to the one year mark recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I can assure you there were times I wanted to quit. I did not nurse for a full year because it was easy for me to do or because I loved it.

With my first child I went back to work when she was 3 months old and became a pumping mommy. It was terribly restrictive for the 1st 6 months when she wasn’t eating any solids. At 6 months when she was able to start eating rice cereal and more, things got a little bit easier, but I never had more than a day’s worth of milk built up and so there was no way for me to leave her for an extended period of time. This meant it was hard to go for runs lasting for any significant time. It also meant that I was stressed every time I was away from her and someone had to give her a bottle. It just wasn’t worth it for me to leave her for long.

The first time I ran 10 miles after my first was born, was 8 months postpartum, at the Cherry Blossom 10 miler. At that point she was eating food, so I was able to leave her for a decent amount of time and not worry that she was going hungry or was unhappy. Once we made it to the year mark, I think we were both ready for it to be over, so I stopped.

A couple of weeks after I stopping nursing her I unknowingly became pregnant again. Miles was born 19 months after his sister. Another year long ‘job’ of nursing had begun. I was a stay at home mom this time around so I thought nursing would be easier. As with each new child, I was greeted with a new challenge. Miles would not drink out of a bottle or a sippy cup and would not take a pacifier. This meant when I went running he would not drink anything.

When he was just a couple of months old I started training for Marine Corps Marathon. I would start my runs from my house or drive no more than 5 minutes away to a trail, in order to cut down on the time I was away from him. I would literally feed him before walking out of the door, run as fast as I could, and then feed him right when I got back. It was emotionally and physically draining.

I tried to quit nursing when Miles was 1 year. I felt that I had fulfilled my mommy duties and that it was time to literally take my body back. He had other plans. It took 15 months to finally get him to wean.

While nursing him I ran a total of 4 marathons. For the first one Marine Corps, I fed him before I left in the morning. When I got to the race I pumped in my car beforehand, ran the race, and then pumped after I finished. Eric and I went to lunch to celebrate and we made it back to Miles around 2 pm. He had refused to drink anything while I was gone. It was stressful.

A month later I ran Richmond Marathon with a couple of girlfriends. It was my first night away from Miles and I worried how he would handle not having me around. My husband and I agreed that it would be good for him to be away from me and maybe it would force him to drink out of the bottle. We had started him on rice cereal at this point so that was a back up. Again Miles barely drank while I was gone.

I pumped right before the race[I was lucky I was with another nursing mommy who also had to pump], and then got in the car immediately after the race and pumped right away. I did not quiet have running marathons and nursing figured out at this point. I did not carry water with me during the race and it was abnormally hot. I got extremely dehydrated from not drinking enough water and ended up crossing the finish line and puking for the first time in a race ever. The world went yellow and I thought I was going to pass out. It was not a fun time. I had learned a valuable lesson and would be smarter in my next marathon.

In 2009 when I ran Boston I was still nursing Miles. I brought a hand pump to the start and did it under a blanket in Runner’s Village. No one except my mom knew what I was doing. In that moment I felt strong. There was NOTHING that was going to stop me from realizing my dream of running Boston. My husband met me at the finish line and we headed back to the hotel right away so I could feed Miles.

With baby #3 I was smarter. I started pumping only a couple of days after Colton came home from the hospital. I built up a supply in my freezer and have enough that I could [if I really needed too] leave him for a couple of days. My advice to new moms is to begin pumping right away and once your supply is built up, keep pumping once a day or a couple of times a week, and rotate out the older milk in order to make sure none of your hard work spoils.

Colton was asleep when I needed to leave for National Marathon. I didn’t want to wake him up in hopes he would sleep in a bit, so I pumped and then kissed him and Eric goodbye and left[unfortunately he woke up not long after I left].

My car conveniently has an electrical outlet so I brought my electric pump just in case. I had planned to pump right before the race but was crunched for time so I didn’t.

While running I do my best NOT to think about Colton. If you are currently nursing or have nursed a baby before, you KNOW why I try not to think about him.

I finished the race and was definitely in pain. Rather than pumping, and delaying getting home even longer, I hopped in the car and rushed home. When I got home Colton was sleeping, much to my dismay, but soon woke up. We both felt better!

This weekend for Boston Marathon, Colton is coming with me. I’m going to have to pack up a bunch of frozen milk and carry it on board my flight [breast milk is exempt from flight restrictions].

My grandmother and a friend of my moms will be watching baby C while my mother and I both run.

He will come with me in the car on the way to the bus. I’ll feed him right before I board and then bring my hand pump with me to use prior to checking my bag. My family will then meet me at the finish with Colton. If they don’t make it in time or I can not find them fast enough, my hand pump in my checked bag will be my backup. I am sure I will be in some pain, but I will use it as motivation to run fast. The faster I run, the faster I finish, the sooner I can feed my son, the less pain I’m in. If that isn’t motivation I don’t know what is.

My point in sharing my journey is to let you know you CAN be a mom and a RUNNER and you can nurse and still run races, even marathons. It takes a little planning and allot of work, but to me its worth it, so I make the effort. 

Baby C turned 5 months this past weekend. I don’t want time to fly by but I am sure I will be happy in 7 months when I can have my body back. After being pregnant for a combined total of almost 27 months and nursing for 32 and counting, I am ready for the next stage in life. I’m not complaining though – it’s a small sacrifice in my eyes for a child that I love more than life itself.

I choose to not make excuses when it comes to my running. Yes it’s hard being a nursing mommy runner, but this is my life and so I make the best of it and try to enjoy the journey I’m on! I know on Monday the logistics will be more complicated for me than most, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love baby C. I love marathons and I love running.

Have any insight to share on this topic? Questions?


Happy and looking ‘normal’ at the start of the Richmond Marathon

 

Dehydrated and in pain at the finish





Comments

  1. Stefanie D. says:

    Wow! You are so amazing! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Wonderful post! Your story brought back so many memories for me — I b/f my twins for only 3 months (I had no support system and no idea what I was doing), but I successfully (and enjoyably) b/f my daughter for 13 months. I knew that if I didn't wean her then, it would only get more difficult. All through those 13 months I ran and worked full time. Lots of pumping was involved, and I loudly second starting to pump as soon as you can and freeze the milk!

  3. Rachel McPhillips says:

    This really is a great post! I am a HUGE nursing advocator, and have nursed two babies before getting serious with running and something that holds me back from having more is having to give up this stage in my life. It's nice to know that it can be done! I guess if my husband and I can go and tailgate for Alabama football games and I find places to pump there, then it can be done anywhere!

  4. Shellyrm ~ just a country runner says:

    I am a long term nursing mommy. My daughter nursed for knocking 3 years and my 2 1/2 yr old is still nursing. I just ran a 50 miler. Controlling your thoughts helps deminish the discomfort but planning for the time apart is a most! Nursing can be a challenge but given my lifestyle it goes without saying that I believe that most things of value are not easily gotten.

  5. You are AHMAZING Dorothy!

  6. Amazing story to share. I wont be having kids for a while but I worry that I wont want to make the sacrifice for my kids and I hope that my thoughts and feelings will change once I have kids.

  7. Thanks for this post. I have been wanting start running "seriously" and I have wondered about nursing and running so many miles. My baby girl is 2.5 months old and I worry about losing my milk supply when I start doing long runs and obviously burning more calories. How do you balance that? You also look absolutely fabulous so how were you able to lose the baby weight and not your milk supply? If this is too person, no worries for not answering :) I love your blog and gave you a little shout out on mine the other day as we happen to share birthdays:) Thanks for writing such a fun and informative blog that inspires me to become a faster and stronger runner.

  8. mickiruns says:

    You're amazing!!

    Luckily, my daughter took right to the bottle. I will keep this info in mind for future children who might not be as easygoing.

  9. The Samson Family says:

    Great post! It is a sacrifice but totally worth it. I suggest when the baby gets a little older to find a time to pump so you can add milk to your supply every day. (what you were saying just more detail – some moms that nurse exclusively dont know when to pump). For instance, I pump every night at 9:30 so my body is trained to give me milk then even though my daughter's not nursing then!

  10. "The faster I run, the faster I finish, the sooner I can feed my son, the less pain I'm in. If that isn't motivation I don't know what is."

    this is powerful. I was not a runner when my kids were babies but I can appreciate what it takes to nurse and race. you are a great mom Dorothy. All the best to you for Monday.

    (I included you in my Boston post today, I hope this is ok)

  11. Melissa Cunningham says:

    thank you for sharing! i also nursed and raced with all 3 of my children! and i can relate so well! i had to wean baby M just a few months ago,and although it was sooner than planned,i am very thankful we had a few good months of mommys milk!
    anyways,keep doing wht your doing and good luck at your upcoming race!

  12. racingtales says:

    Great post. I struggled with nursing and running both times. Getting up early to pump, not thinking/talking about the baby because that was sure to spring a leak, wearing 2 sports bras, and dealing with the pain. You seem to have it under control, though…as much as you can control nature! Have a GREAT Boston. :)

  13. The Happy Runner says:

    Great post. It's so true that you can nurse and race. No need to stop doing one in order to do the other. I ran a half marathon 2 weeks ago, so my son was 5.5 months old. I nursed him right before the start. Yes, I had to do it in public among the runners but I covered up so all was good.

    Couldn't agree more with this:
    "The faster I run, the faster I finish, the sooner I can feed my son, the less pain I'm in"

  14. Anonymous says:

    You are relentless and this encourages me to just figure it out. I'm in a similar situation, my 2nd REFUSES a bottle. She is 3mo. and I haven't yet figured out how to do a "long" run b/c of this…stop and nurse her at mile 10 or leave her at home knowing she is crying.

  15. So glad you posted this! So many moms think you can't do both but like you said it CAN be done with proper planning and determination. I was glad to see an article about this in a recent issue of "Women's Running." Good luck Monday!!

  16. wonderwoman says:

    Thank you SO much for posting & your openness and honesty, so appreciated! Good luck Monday and I love your blog, thank you for all you give to us runner moms.

  17. Karen the "Hungry Mom" says:

    Pumping 100% from the start made this a nonissue with number 3. But I'll never forget Kevin handing Zach over to me literally at the finish line of army 10 and feeling a mix of relief and pride at all women can do!

  18. This is such a wonderful post! I nursed my three kids for over a year, but I wasn't a runner at the time. I love that you have found a way to do this…I'm impressed and love your determination. You made a choice and you just do what you have to.

    Now, congrats on Monday…I'm sure you'll do great. Is that a picture of you and your mother I see on the sidebar…did she run Boston 2009 with you? If so, that is so cool!

  19. I meant "Good Luck" on Monday :)

  20. Rebecca Samson says:

    Great post! This was something I struggled with while Charlie was nursing but am being better about giving Marley a weekly bottle so I can run with friends. I think the best tip is to try to find what works for you and go with it. Nursing and running can be done :)

  21. I am so glad you posted this. I had actually started on an email to you about this specifically. Good luck at Boston! I know you will do fabulous!

  22. Thank you so much for this post. I am a nursing/pumping/running mommy and I have always wondered how you handle this. I can totally relate to the stress of wondering if my baby is going to have enough to eat while I am gone. I am adding this post to my list of resources that I send to all the new mommas that I know!

  23. First of all, I saw on twitter you kicked *ss today so congratulations! :)
    Second, does that mean if you don't pump/nurse within a certain period of time that your boobs hurt? I haven't had kids yet and am completely clueless.

  24. RhodeyGirl says:

    I am SO impressed and really appreciate the detailed explanation of how it works!

  25. Totally, utterly awesome!

  26. Stephanie says:

    I also nursed all three of my children. I wasn't a runner then but I am now. And if/when I get pregnant again I will do the same. You are truly an inspiration. I love the honest perspective that you won't always love doing it…but you will always know what a great start to life you gave your child! I'm so glad to have found your blog!

  27. Anonymous says:

    I would like to know if u ran while pregnant? We have two kids, 3 n 1 n r expecting our 3rd next year. I just started training for my first half n find it very difficult to recover from long runs n still be present n productive for my family. half way thru my training I'm wondering if ill have to bag it…..any advice?

  28. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    Anon – I ran through all three pregnancies. I would NOT run your first half marathon while pregnant. If you had been in 1/2 marathon shape before being pregnant and had run a couple then I would say it would be fun to run it (slow) but you should never attempt something NEW in running when you are pregnant. In my opinion you should bag it. Plenty more years to do a 1/2 :)

  29. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    Liz – yes if you do not pump or nurse during a certain period of time the milk just keeps building up and building up :) Eventually it can get VERY painful.

  30. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    Anon – my 2nd did the same thing. Never really took a bottle and did not like a pacifier. It was very stressful. I think the mistake I made with him was not introducing the bottle every once in awhile soon enough. I waited till he was 3 months before I even tried it and at that point I think it was too late for him to adjust well.

  31. This is fantastic… I will have to keep all this in mind and re-read over and over when baby three comes along.

  32. Janice- The Fitness Cheerleader says:

    Ok – i'm totally feeling better about only finding the time to do 1/2 marathons while nursing – none of my babies took cups, bottles, soothe 's or had an interest in food. Perhaps I should write about my nursing & racing experiences too. I'd love to say yes! It is possible!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Would you suggest just pumping once a day (like every evening) and having my husband feed the baby my breastmilk from a bottle? This way I could get some shut eye in before I'm on night duty. I have 2 little ones already and would like to try nursing longer this time around. Any suggestions on how to wean properly too?

  34. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    Anne – yes my mom ran Boston 2009 with me! She qualified long before I ever did!

  35. Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal says:

    I'm all for pumping and letting your husband help out! I think I said this in the post but the sooner you start pumping the better. Build in pumping every day at the same time as if it is a feeding time even if your hubby doesn't help you. It is so nice and freeing to have a freezer full of milk so you don't worry.

    On the weaning issue I'm not sure there is any proper way to wean. I think each baby is different. My first completely lost interest multiple times – when it happened around the year mark I decided it was fine to give up on it. I tried to wean my son at a year and he would not have it….this time I weaned a little earlier with my 3rd – he seemed sad for a couple of days but quickly got over it and has been fine ever since. There were a couple of days of soreness on my part but pumping helped when I couldn't take it any longer….Hope that helps. Feel free to email me!

  36. I just had a baby three weeks ago and while I haven’t started running again yet, the nursing while training/racing question had me baffled until I came across this! I was hoping to run my “comeback ” full marathon in about 6 months and this will be so helpful! Thank you! I guess for the next million dollar question – where did you find the time to train??

  37. I love this post namely because you prove you can do both. I waited until my son was 8 months before I really started exercising and picked up running shortly after that. Now I know what to do with my second. I also plan on running throughout that pregnancy – whenever that happens! Nursing is important to me as well and it’s great to know you can be active and nurse!
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