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Breastfeeding is Like Training for a Marathon

Elena Petzold

Posted on February 20 2015

A long time ago I said, “the first two weeks of breastfeeding are so awful and challenging that if you survive, I think your doctor should send you a medal.” (That’s not even a joke, I think a medal would be cool and trust me, you would totally deserve it!) And I still believe it. If you even attempt breastfeeding, you should get a medal. It is hard work. And after reaching and surpassing my one year breastfeeding goal, I’m here to tell you something I else I learned over the past year: breastfeeding is exactly like training for a marathon.

Now I’m really hoping that last statement sends everyone up in arms because I just want to confirm for you, before you think I’m crazy, that I have run a marathon and I did breastfeed a baby for a year (you can even read all about my marathon training here [where I raised over $5k for St. Jude’s thankyouverymuch]) and let me assure you, seriously, they are the same:

When I was training for the marathon, I had to get up many times at some ridiculous hours, just to get in my training runs. In fact, I remember getting up at 4 or 5am frequently and guess what? I did the same exact thing for my breastfed baby (even more actually).

When I was training for the marathon, there were many times where I thought, “Why the heck am I doing this?” And over the past year, let me assure you, I had many days where I thought the same thing of breastfeeding my baby.

When I was training for the marathon, I had many days where I felt good and thought, “I love this whole exercising like a crazy person thing!” Similarly – you can probably guess it – I had many great nursing days where I thought, “This is so easy and I didn’t have to clean any bottles today!”

Do you see the similarities? There are more…

Marathon training comes with war wounds. So does breastfeeding. I never got a black toe but I did have a lot of chaffing and I got tendinitis in the end. (The kind of tendinitis that was so bad that I had to be wheeled to the gate at the airport). You know what kind of war wound I got while breastfeeding? My baby bit me. The kind of bite that caused my nipple to bleed, left a scar that looked like a botched nipple piercing and caused a breast infection which required antibiotics for 10 days.

You know what else is similar between both? Dietary choices. I drank zero hard liquor, way less beer than I normally would and ate very healthy while breastfeeding. My dietary life was similar while training for the marathon because who wants to drink bourbon, sleep poorly and then wake up to run 7 miles? [Not me]

With my dietary restrictions choices, I also had a certain lifestyle … when I was training for the marathon, eating out, staying out late and going to late night parties wasn’t appealing to me. I mean, having fun was on my list, but I wanted to be successful in my training (and feel good) and all of the above was not conducive to that. Coincidentally, it was the exact same way for me with breastfeeding (or having a new baby, arguably). Any choice for something social required an adjustment in both my training and breastfeeding efforts (re-scheduling my running time, having to potentially pump for supply purposes, etc.)

Was my breastfeeding life devoid of complete fun? No. My husband and I took an anniversary trip where I was away from the baby for 2 nights – and I had a great time! But my breastfeeding goal was still a goal to achieve so I had to pump and take supplements. Was that easy? No. It was hard. It was similar to carrying my travel foam roller and having to figure out how to navigate a city I didn’t know for 5 miles without getting lost just so I could maintain my training while traveling. I had quite a lot of stress leading up to both adjustments/plans.

I can’t even count how many times I pumped in a car (including said anniversary trip) but reaching my breastfeeding goal was important to me. In the same way I wanted to run a marathon, I wanted to breastfeed my baby – so long as I could find a will and a way, it was something I wanted to do.

So I reached my one year breastfeeding goal and once I realized that breastfeeding and training for a marathon are kind of the same, I started to think about ways they might be different. And I only had one conclusion: as a public collective, we celebrate one and not the other.

When I ran the marathon, I got a medal. And I was pretty damn proud of that medal. I wore it all day. I wore it to work the following day. And I wrote on Facebook, “I ran a marathon!” In response, almost all my friends commented, “Congratulations!”

I ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2013 and was pretty proud of that medal too:

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But I didn’t make any such announcements when I achieved my breastfeeding goal. I’m sorry – I’m not trying to confuse you – I would have and I know it would have been met with a “Congratulations!” by many friends – but I didn’t because, let’s be real, it wouldn’t be received the same. (Maybe most of my awesome friends would say, “Congratulations!” but I know even some of them would be thinking, “That’s a little weird.”)

But I don’t think it should be like that! I think if you set a breastfeeding goal for yourself and you reach it, you should be excited, you should be able to share your success and you should get a medal! 

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You’re dang right … I wanted a medal and I got it! And I made a bunch for my clients and any other person who wants to be proud of the hard work they put in too.

xo,

Elena

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