I am sitting in the back seat of my car. It is 11 pm. I am 58 miles into the Rim to River 100, and the rain has slowed. My crew hustles around me to refill my bladder, change my headlamp batteries, and grab me food from the aid station. My stomach has started to turn. I throw on my nursing cover, and for the fourth time that day, struggle to get my arms out of my sweaty sports bra so I can attach my breast pump. Rather than cow bells and cheers, I hear the wherrrr—psh, wherrrr-psh, wherrrr-psh of my Spectra breast pump. At each crewed aid station, I’ve hopped into the car and pumped. I have a four month old baby at home, and I want to prevent my milk supply from diminishing during the race. But I’m getting nervous because at each stop, the amount of milk I produce is less and less, and I’m spending more and more time at each aid station trying to get more milk. After more than 15 hours of running and 20 minutes on the breast pump, I’m not even producing 2 ounces at this stop.
There is so much people don’t tell you when you’re expecting. As an ultrarunner, one of the biggest adjustments was the need to factor in nursing and pumping into my training. Need to get in my long run? When I had my first child, I naively assumed I just needed to coordinate with my husband to watch the baby. But if the baby needs to eat every three hours, as a nursing mom, I also need to breastfeed or pump every three hours to keep up my milk supply. This concept never dawned on me until I had kids.
Fast forward half a year. I arrive at mile 88 tired, quads shot, and in good spirits. My 10-month-old is at home with my parents, but my husband and three-year-old meet me at the MMT aid station.
“Do you want to pump?” asks my husband.
“No.” I reply. “I’m too tired, and I don’t want to use up that much time.”
My husband is a bit relieved. A highway lies between the aid station and the car. Crossing that road with our toddler and me in my exhausted state another two times is not appealing. And I am very uninterested in wrestling with my sweaty sports bra.
I have not pumped in over 28 hours.
Unlike Rim to River just four months postpartum, my body is much more adjusted to nursing and training. The exertion that caused my milk supply to drop also meant I could run much longer without the discomfort from milk building up. And I was more confident that my milk supply would quickly rebound after I stopped running and ate a hearty meal. Ultimately, I went more than 34 hours without pumping. After the race and some food, I hobbled over to the car, put on my nursing cover, and put out a good seven ounces of milk. Paltry for not having expressed for a day and a half but decent enough for a single pumping session. And the next day, everything was normal again, and I had no issues feeding my baby.
The human body is amazing.
What once was a big stress, eliciting feelings of guilt that my selfish pursuit of ultrarunning was harming my baby’s food supply turned into a non-issue.
Just as my body gradually adjusted to being a mom, growing in sync with my ever developing son, it also adjusted to my ultrarunning. As I got more into a breastfeeding rhythm and nursing sessions got a little farther apart, I gradually would skip a session or two during a long run. Then I ran a 50k, going 7 hours without expressing. Then a 10 hour run. Then a 12 hour 50 miler. Finally, MMT with 34 hours.
Fast forward another two months. It is now July and we just celebrated my son’s first birthday. After a year of balancing pumping, training, and running 8 ultras over the course of that time, I’m amazed at all the things I was so worried about that I didn’t need to be or didn’t know.
Everyone has their own journey postpartum, and everybody is different. Some find the training load impacts their milk supply to such a degree that they add in additional pumping sessions or decide to stop breastfeeding altogether. Others choose to wait until the baby is older before putting in those longer miles.
My baby’s first birthday marked another milestone. With another ultramarathon approaching at the end of July, this one a 200 miler, I decided to stop breastfeeding. This decision produced another round of emotions–sadness and guilt. I knew I would miss that bonding time with my son, calmly lying in my arms. And I have found nursing to be the easiest way to sooth a crying baby. Yet, I also felt real relief. After a year, I would experience freedom from the breast pump.
This stage of parenting has ended for me. Like so much of parenting, there were times when it felt long and tedious in the moment but so short in retrospect. I look forward to the next stages of childrearing, of my son learning to walk and talk and maybe eventually even crew a race. In turn, I am so excited for the privilege to crew and pace my children in their own ultramarathons of life.