Breastfeeding athletes: challenges and solutions

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By Puja Gupta

New Delhi– World Breastfeeding Day is celebrated every year in the first week of August to spread the message that breastfeeding is essential for an infant. Organizers have also allowed nursing athletes to bring their children to the Olympics village in Tokyo.

Initially, the breastfeeding rule made for the athletes at the Tokyo Olympics was not very friendly. The athletes’ families will have to stay at different hotels, the athletes were not allowed to go anywhere for 20 days, and the mothers can only breastfeed their infant at the end of the Olympics village.

However, after much criticism and considering the importance of breastfeeding, the organizers have allowed nursing mothers to bring their children to the Olympics village when necessary.

“This decision had come at the right time. August 1 to August 7 is celebrated as World Breastfeeding Day. It is to promote breastfeed and caring for the health of children throughout the world. The theme of current World Breastfeeding Week is ‘Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility’,” states Karthik Nagesh, Chairman and HOD — Neonatal ICUS and Manipal Advanced Children’s Centre, Manipal Hospitals Old Airport Road


Breastfeeding offers several advantages to both mother and child. It has superior nutritional qualities. It contains easily digestible protein for optimum brain development. It also helps in improving digestion and enhances gut maturation. It has several necessary vitamins and minerals along with lysozymes and lactoferrin. It enhances the immune system and protects the infant from diarrhoea and infection.

On the other hand, women who breastfeed are at low risk of developing breast cancer at a later stage of their life. Further, it helps in reducing the weight put on during pregnancy. Breastfeeding also strengthens the bond between the mother and the child.


Athletics is very demanding, and breastfeeding mothers find it very tough to feed their infant. The athletes have to plan their feeding routine according to their workout plan. In some cases, the mothers have to use a breast pump to feed their infant. Further, as there is uncertainty regarding how hungry the infant is during the first few months, the mother has to factor in unplanned breastfeeding.

Athletes require extra calories to maintain their stamina. However, this requirement further increases during breastfeeding. There are various myths about the quality of milk produced by breastfeeding athletes. Some mothers think that the taste of milk changes after exercise. However, studies concluded that there is no change before and after exercise, even after high-intensity training sessions.


Athletes, who had recently delivered their child (within the last 6-7 months), may feel guilty when they are not available to breastfeed their child. It is, thus, necessary that they should plan their training session and breastfeeding sessions accordingly. Some of the measures that may help in managing the challenges of breastfeeding in athletes are:

* Feeding schedule: Identify the feeding schedule of your child and plan your training sessions accordingly. Once you have prepared a daily schedule, you may find it easy to manage between the training and breastfeeding.

* High-Intensity training session: The athletes should prefer high-intensity interval training over general training. It is because such training is equally effective and takes less time. However, take appropriate guidance from your doctor about which exercise is suitable.

* Breast pump: Do not skip the feeding of the child with your milk. At times, if the training does not permit you to breastfeed your infant, use the breast pump. It is useful when you are taking part in a competition and cannot breastfeed.

* Staying away from the myths: Several myths regarding breastfeeding athletes are circulating. Do not pay any heed to those myths. If you have any doubt regarding breastfeed, consult with your doctor. Exercise and training session does not affect the quality and quantity of milk.

* Monitor child’s growth: There is an increased demand for calories during breastfeeding. It is vital to monitor your child’s development. It will help in determining if there is sufficient production of milk. You can keep an eye on it through the baby’s weight gain (app. 150 gm per week) and diaper count (3-4 stools per day).


Several tips may help you in making breastfeeding successful. Some of them are:

* A flexible routine between training and breastfeeding may help you breastfeed on demand and not on the schedule.

* Educate yourself regarding breastfeeding. Read books and consult with your doctor.

* Sufficiently hydrate yourself with water or coconut water.

* Always breastfeed immediately after giving birth.

* Use high-quality breast pumps.

* Athletes have a strict nutritional plan. However, make changes in your diet according to the need of your infant, if possible. (IANS)



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