Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

The physical effects of exercise in lactating women: A review

Katya Meyers, Mee Young Hong


This review was conducted to better understand the physical effects of exercise in lactating, postpartum women—specifically on weight loss, changes in body composition, and bone mineral density. Prior research indicates that despite high motivation, many women struggle to lose the weight gained during the gestation period. There has been limited research on physical activity in the lactating women largely due to concerns about reduced milk supply and infant health. Female competitive athletes, in particular, seek to understand postpartum physical changes and factors affecting their return to pre pregnancy fitness. A review of the literature was conducted by searching PubMed and Medline for human studies related to weight loss, body composition, and/or bone mineral density in exercising, lactating postpartum females. Of 179 studies identified, 36 full-text articles were screened, and 12 met the inclusion criteria. Exercise with caloric restriction was associated with weight loss in lactating females. Exercise was positively correlated with decelerated trabecular bone loss and improved body composition due to preservation of fat free mass. Mothers should be encouraged to exercise during the postpartum period, as benefits to both mother and child outweigh the risks. However, medical professionals should counsel on reasonable expectations, particularly regarding weight loss.


Breastfeeding; Exercise; Weight loss; Body composition; Bone mineral density


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