Written by Sarah Strong
So you’re a new mom and you want to get back into your normal powerlifting routine. Is it safe? Will the baby be affected? Can you be as strong as you were pre-pregnancy?
As a powerlifter and certified personal trainer who specializes in pre & post natal fitness, I want to address some common concerns with nursing and lifting and also provide my personal testimony on the subject. I am currently nine months postpartum with my second child and he is exclusively breastfed. I powerlifted throughout my entire pregnancy and took a six-week break after the birth.
Once I got back to lifting heavy after that break, it took me a bit longer than normal to rebuild strength. I felt weaker than I was when I was lifting at nine months pregnant. But still, I persisted and kept training. I didn’t rush my body into lifts that I wasn’t ready for. I focused on form and consistency. At 5 months postpartum, I competed in a USPA meet and took first place with a total of 687lb in the 148lb weight class. For that meet, I didn’t cut weight. I had gotten back down to my pre-pregnancy weight of 141lb, and I felt comfy there.
In the four months since that meet, I have added more pounds to the bar while shedding pounds off my body. I competed again at nine months postpartum weighing in at 128lb and increasing meet bests for squat and deadlift. I wasn’t able to bring my son with me to the meet, so I pumped between lifts so I wouldn’t get engorged. And, while shedding over ten pounds off my body, I have still maintained my milk supply and my son is growing healthy and strong.
I get asked a lot about lifting heavy while breastfeeding. I hope the following can help some mamas out there:
Does powerlifting (or any vigorous exercise) affect your supply? No, powerlifting or any exercise should not affect supply. The big factor here is to make sure you are properly hydrated and eating enough. When you are exercising, you are burning calories and increasing your basal metabolic rate. Breastfeeding has the same effect (especially in the first 6 months when baby nurses more frequently). If you notice your supply starts to tank, start tracking your water and caloric intake. Chances are, you need some adjustments there, not in your exercise routine. I don’t count calories or macros personally. I eat intuitively and aim for a lot of protein and healthy fats in my diet. If I notice my supply dwindling, I increase my water and make sure I’m not skipping meals—something that happens from time to time as a busy single mom.
Does breastfeeding make bench weird? I had to laugh at this one. Because until I had been asked, I never considered it. Short answer: yes, it can. Sometimes my breasts are super full. Sometimes they’re deflated. Sometimes one is full and the other is flat. It’s a lot of fun looking like a Picasso masterpiece. If you’re not competing, this probably won’t affect your bench much. But when you are training for a competition bench press, it can be a little difficult because your range of motion can change day-to-day. That being said, my bench has been strong postpartum. As time goes on, you become accustomed to the fluctuations.
Can I cut weight for a meet if I am nursing? It depends. This question is really dependent on the individual. As I mentioned earlier, I did not cut for the meet I did at 5 months pp. However, I did cut for my second postpartum meet while still nursing. I know a lot of people in the powerlifting community attempt to drop a good 10lb on the week of the meet. I would not suggest this for anyone personally, but especially not for a nursing mother. If you are going to cut, do it in a healthy way that can be maintained long term. I lost those ten pounds gradually over five months, not right before the meet.
Does breastfeeding negatively impact your strength? For me, this is a no. Again, I think this comes down to nutrition. If you are intaking enough calories and water, you should still see strength gains while nursing. My pre-pregnancy 1RMs were 245/135/303. At 6 weeks postpartum my 1RMs were 185/105/265. Now, at 9 months pp, they are 250/150/320. I am stronger now while breastfeeding at least 6 times a day than I was pre-pregnancy. The female body is AMAZING.
I hope this post helps to address any concerns with breastfeeding and powerlifting. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.