Background: The potential risks and benefits of regular exercise during lactation have not been adequately evaluated. We investigated whether regular aerobic exercise had any effects on the volume or composition of breast milk.
Methods: Six to eight weeks post partum, 33 sedentary women whose infants were being exclusively breast-fed were randomly assigned to an exercise group (18 women) or a control group (15 women). The exercise program consisted of supervised aerobic exercise (at a level of 60 to 70 percent of the heart-rate reserve) for 45 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for 12 weeks. Energy expenditure, dietary intake, body composition, and the volume and composition of breast milk were assessed at 6 to 8, 12 to 14, and 18 to 20 weeks post partum. Maximal oxygen uptake and the plasma prolactin response to nursing were assessed at 6 to 8 and 18 to 20 weeks.
Results: The women in the exercise group expended about 400 kcal per day during the exercise sessions but compensated for this energy expenditure with a higher energy intake than that recorded by the control women (mean [+/- SD], intake, 2497 +/- 436 vs. 2168 +/- 328 kcal per day at 18 to 20 weeks; P < 0.05). Maximal oxygen uptake increased by 25 percent in the exercising women but by only 5 percent in the control women (P < 0.001). There were no significant differences between the two groups in maternal body weight or fat loss, the volume or composition of the breast milk, the infant weight gain, or maternal prolactin levels during the 12-week study.
Conclusions: In this study, aerobic exercise performed four or five times per week beginning six to eight weeks post partum had no adverse effect on lactation and significantly improved the cardiovascular fitness of the mothers.