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What To Expect When You're Breastfeeding and Riding Bikes

breastfeeding pregnancy stories Sep 02, 2020

Your body is an amazing gift. Truly, it is.

It is capable of taking you anywhere you want to go, fighting off infections, and taking in the world around you through a myriad of intricate and complex processes that we don't even think about day to day.

And, if you have the equipment and the inclination, it is even capable of creating human life itself. 

If you ride bikes and you've become a mum (or the other way round!), you probably have loads of questions about how, when, what, where and why. Of course, your doctor should be able to help you with any concerns you have, but if you just want to hear some good old fashioned advice, from one mum to another, about breastfeeding and riding bikes - you've come to the right place.

Hi - I'm Jayne Rutter. I am a mum of 3 kids and I love to ride and race bikes! During 2009 - 2010 when I was pregnant with my first baby (pictured below), I couldn't do all the mountain biking that I was used to. I stopped any DH and dirt jumps at about 13 weeks, but I continued with XC riding and road riding right up till about 33 weeks (when I needed to conserve all my energy for doing everyday activities!)

womens cycling while pregnant

If you've chosen to breastfeed, your body is are able to solely provide the food a baby needs for at least the first six months of its life. How amazing is that?! And what a special bond you're able to create between mother and baby.

(Side Note: If you've chosen not to breastfeed your baby (or for whatever reason are unable to), you have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. You are a warrior woman, your body is amazing and your bond with your baby is the strongest known link in the universe)

Here are a few things I very quickly found out that you'll want to know if breastfeeding and riding bikes is on your radar:

  1. It’s a supply and demand system. You need to keep up the breastfeeds in order to make more milk. It’s not a good idea to miss feeds!
  2. Timing & length of feeds. In the early days, you may not have much time in between feeds to actually do anything. Babies feed a lot - and it take ages... like, way longer than you imagine before you have kids.
  3. You need to time it right. If you go ‘overdue’ for a feed you may get milk leakage. Also, wearing breast pads while riding is not cool.
  4. Be kind to yourself. No matter what age they are, they often just want mummy. Sometimes you have to abandon a ride and just be a mummy.
  5. Cultivate a support system. Supportive partners and other baby sitters are critical to ensure you keep the relationship with your bike alive.

So how can you still continue to breastfeed and get out for a ride?

Supply and demand

If you haven’t had a baby before you may not know the basics of breastfeeding. It’s a supply and demand system. You need to breastfeed the baby in order for you to make more milk. The baby drinks the milk, and your body gets the message to produce that volume again for the next feed.

(Yep, that’s how cows continue to lactate and provide milk for a long time after the birth of a calf (even when the calf is taken away). They are milked and that signals the body to make more milk.)

So it’s important to continue breastfeeding regularly to keep up supply. If you miss a breastfeed then supply for the next day goes down and you have a cranky hungry baby.

Yes, of course, you can supplement with formula, but for it not to affect your supply, you will need to express the missed feed. Expressing is not a fun experience (don’t believe those photos of ladies smiling while attached to a breast pump). 

Timing and length of feeds

Here is an idea of how often a baby needs feeding and how long it takes:

  • Early days – 6 months. By six weeks your milk supply has established and you should have more of an idea of what you are doing. During the early days babies can take ages to feed. They might take 30-45 mins each time! Then they get sleepy again because it’s taken them so long. My babies continued to breastfeed every 2-3 hours up until about 6 months old (yes, that includes throughout the night). This leaves 1-1.5 hours of ride time, if you're lucky (and conscious). At this age I’d usually plan to ride as soon as I finished a feed. I’d have peace of mind that my baby was not going to starve while I was riding.
  • 6 months – 12 months. Baby will feed every 4-5 hours. But if you are extra lucky like me, they will want to feed every 2-3 hours overnight. Thankfully by this stage they are faster at breastfeeding, and they also eat real food. But lookout, they are more aware of you now and probably get cranky when you gear up for a ride. You might have to settle them to sleep and then sneak out to prevent the tears.
  • 1 year +. Baby is probably feeding morning, midday and evening. Then again during the night if they wake up. So by the time bubs is 1 year old you have a fair bit of flexibility to fit in rides.

Time It Right

Honestly, it's a bit to juggle... but if you're really motivated to ride, I'm living proof that it is completely possible. And, though it's tough, I always feel so much better after going for a ride!

Just remember to eat and drink before, during and after riding to replenish your body and keep up your milk supply.

There are also breastfeeding sports bras available. I like to have a quick shower after a ride, so I never felt the need to wear a specific ‘feeding sports bra’. However there have been occasions where this would be handy (e.g. post race, see the cover image!).

Be Kind to Yourself

Having a baby is in no way an easy and predictable ride (excuse the pun). You go through all of the feelings - and some days are just crap. You can try and plan your life and schedule and routine all you want, and hopefully it will work out more times than not, but sometimes - no matter what age they are - kids just want mummy.

It's important to be kind to yourself and realise that, just like before baby, sometimes you have to abandon a ride and do what you need to do. It's ok. You're doing everything you can, and you're doing an amazing job.

womens cycling breastfeeding

Cultivate a support system

Supportive partners and any other baby sitters you can wrangle in are critical to ensure you keep the relationship with your bike alive. If youve managed to navigate the labyrinth of the early days, and you are lucky enough to feel good enough to ride, make sure you lean on the support system around you.

You're not being selfish for wanting some time for yourself - on the contrary! Getting some fresh air, exercise and a bit of fun will ultimately benefit the whole family.

It doesn't matter if it's 5 minutes, an hour, or more! Tell your partner, friends, parents or other support people in your life about your goals, and let them help you. 

You CAN do this. I hope to see you out on the trails ladies!

womens cycling breastfeeding

 ~ Jayne Rutter, Guest Blogger