High intensity exercise in breast-feeding women good for babies too

2 minute read

New research suggests a hormone, which metabolises glucose and fat, peaks an hour after a high-intensity workout.

“Breast (milk one hour after high-intensity interval training) is best (for increased adiponectin levels)” 

High-intensity interval training in breast-feeding women not only helps the mother’s fitness levels, but it’s also likely to improve their baby’s long-term health, research suggests.  

A new randomised cross-over study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, found high-intensity exercise significantly increased the concentration of the hormone, adiponectin in breast milk, with researchers saying it could potentially minimise the child’s future risk of obesity. 

To date, it has been known that decreases in serum adiponectin levels have been associated with obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The adiponectin found in breast milk is known to cross the infant’s intestinal barrier where it may modify metabolism, potentially limiting the development of overweight and obesity in children.  

In addition, research has shown aerobic exercise increases serum adiponectin, but whether exercise also increases adiponectin concentrations in breast milk had not yet been determined.  

In this small study, Norwegian researchers recruited 20 mothers who were six- to 12-weeks postpartum and were exclusively breastfeeding their child. The women had their breast milk assessed at various time points after undergoing various exercise sessions, one involving rest, one moderate intensity continuous training and a final high intensity interval training session 

Breast milk adiponectin levels increased after both moderate and high intensity exercise sessions, with the biggest – and only significant increase coming one hour after completing the high intensity session.  

“These findings suggest that it may take some time before an exercise-induced increase in breast milk adiponectin concentration is evident, and that [high intensity interval training] is a more potent stimulus for such [an] increase than [moderate intensity continuous training],” the study authors wrote. 

“The period from conception to two years of age is considered the most critical period for possible development of obesity later in life,” researchers said. 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend new mothers wait four- to six-weeks after giving birth before they start exercising. The RACGP recommend a graded return to exercise after giving birth, leaving running or other high-intensity exercise until at least the 12-week mark.  

Frontiers in Nutrition 2023, online 18 December 

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