After achieving four London 2012 Olympic gold medals – and a world record – Sarah Storey, British para-cyclist, embarked on her biggest adventure yet – motherhood. Sarah, who was born without a left hand, has kindly shared her breastfeeding journey with us, and boy is it epic! From travelling to the Palace whilst heavily pregnant to slotting gruelling training commitments into mammoth breastfeeding sessions, the surreal backdrop to Sarah’s story does not immune her from the common challenges we all share as nursing mothers.
“I myself was breastfed for six months (in 1977 babies were allowed to drink cow’s milk at 6 months) and all my friends and family have breastfed. I don’t personally see breastfeeding as a choice and everyone I know who was forced to stop has been devastated. I think we need to spread our maternity care more wisely and support mothers to breastfeed more practically because the health implications are far superior for babies who are breastfed the studies clearly show this. At the present time it seems quite a taboo subject to discuss breastfeeding and I really don’t see why, no amount of nutritional technology can change what nature intended.
Training through pregnancy
Pregnancy, for me, was not a Get Out Of Jail Card to stop training. Instead, I made some slight adjustments to my regime: I cycled on flatter, quieter roads and didn’t ride if it was raining; I reduced the intensity of my training to fall inside the guidelines of not risking the oxygen supply to the baby and of not overheating; I was also careful about hydration and made sure I was correctly fuelled at all times so the baby could grow and there would be no issues there. As an athlete, my diet was super healthy anyway, but there were a few tweaks I found difficult: I couldn’t use any sports supplements for instance, because there’s a lot of Vitamin A in those and that’s not good for the baby. I also missed caffeine, which most cyclists take for a boost before a race.
Until 7.5 months I did normal training hours. By that point, I had to move my handlebars up to accommodate my bump! Although people didn’t disapprove of my cycling whilst pregnant, I did receive some comments from people who didn’t fully appreciate the lengths I was going to in order to stay safe on my bike. Unfortunately people think cycling is more dangerous than it is. In reality, it’s perfectly safe to cycle while pregnant and can be good for the baby. Cycling is a very easy way to exercise. It’s brilliant because it’s low impact and can be built into your daily routine. Having a baby is very traumatic and I do think that the fitter you are the better you cope.
I found it very interesting training through pregnancy. I had no real performance expectations either way, so it was all a bit of a voyage of discovery. I kept a meticulous training log and up until seven months I had clocked just 15 hours less than the corresponding period when I was training to try and get in the Olympic Team Pursuit squad and then training for my four Paralympic events. That’s only about two hours less a month! However, a word of advice for anyone wishing to cycle whilst pregnant – there’s no such thing as cycling maternity wear! Simply stretch your existing shorts or buy a bigger size and steal a man’s jersey as you will need the extra length to cover your bump!
Kate, Wills and Charles
I was eight months pregnant when I was given my title ‘Dame’ Sarah Storey. At the Ceremony at the Palace, I even wore high heels as I didn’t think that flat pumps would match my rather large hat, and I was trying very hard not to fall over. Prince Charles was so sweet, as Kate was pregnant too and he was about to become a grandfather, and he was visibly excited and asked me so many questions about my pregnancy. We had a lovely party with the Royal Family and the other guests afterwards at the Goring Hotel, which is where Kate spent the night before her wedding to Prince William. It was a really lovely day.
Disappointing labour and birth
I was out on the roads training literally right up until the moment my contractions began. Then, during labour, all the signs were there that baby Louisa was stuck and no amount of hormone drip was going to force her out. Louisa’s heart rate was decelerating
and so waiting was dangerous. I made the decision to head for an emergency c-section and the medics took another two hours to reach the same conclusion. The doctors and head midwife I dealt with weren’t great and I have subsequently made a formal complaint.
Obviously having a c-section was not my plan prior to going into labour but the circumstances meant it couldn’t be avoided in the end. I always knew that a c-section was a longer rehab, so as soon as the decision was made for the operation, I knew that I would be putting cycling to one side while I recovered. Fortunately, Louisa knew what to do from the second she was born and spent 20 minutes rooting whilst I was stitched up!
We had a fantastic babymoon and just fed and snoozed together for the best part of 4 weeks which I think was crucial to our success. Every day is like winning a gold medal; with a baby in the house, it is fantastic. I think every mother should be encouraged and supported to solely concentrating on herself and the baby for as long as possible so as to give them the best chance to get it established. In between getting to grips with being a mother I hardly missed a minute of the Tour de France or England winning the Ashes. It was sporting heaven for a while.
I was back in the saddle exactly six weeks after giving birth. It would have been even sooner had it not been for the c-section. My body had been dramatically changed and stretched during pregnancy but I felt well and didn’t find it too difficult to begin cycling again afterwards. It helped that I’m very fit. However I think it’s a good idea for all new mums to get back to exercise quite soon after giving birth. It helps with recovery and mood after the stress of pregnancy.
Losing the baby-weight
I gained four stone (24kg) while I was pregnant and bizarrely some of this was extra muscle built from climbing hills carrying my bump. I found the first 10kg disappeared very quickly as it was mainly baby, water and other fluid, but after this, I have only lost a kilo or so every couple of weeks. Much of the fat you store is to fuel breastfeeding hence the gradual weight loss, so it’s even more important not to rush to lose weight as you affect your milk supply too. To begin with, I started light training for about 30 minutes in between breastfeeds building it up to an hour at the end of the first week. I just trained whenever Louisa let me.
In the second week I went up to two hours a day and that is pretty much where I left it, not for physical reasons but because of Louisa’s feeding schedule. I must admit I didn’t quite realise how much breastfeeding determines your day. I never wanted Louisa to get hungry, so I trained when she was having a longer sleep at some point in the afternoon.
I feed Louisa on demand whenever she wants to. There’s no routine. I am a fan of letting the baby lead the way
and doing everything on their schedule. So far we have adapted our lives to Louisa and I only train when her schedule allows me to.
It’s harder to do the extra training and those digs that take you to the next level because the fatigue hits you quicker when breastfeeding, I suppose because you are giving up so many of nutrients and fluids! The growth spurts are also a challenge but the rewards from seeing a baby grow entirely from your milk are just amazing!
Breastfeeding is teamwork
My husband Barney (also a gold medallist) and I share looking after Louisa while the other one is training. I always leave pumped milk in the fridge so I often get back to find Barney feeding her the bottle. Then, after lunch, she’ll sleep for hours with Barney in her favourite cosy baby sling while I go out training again. I also keep a stock of my pumped milk in the freezer so I am not under pressure to express every day. As Louisa got older I was able to leave her for longer with Barney as she became more settled with accepting the bottle.
My disability has interfered with my ability to multitask whilst breastfeeding. If Louisa is latched on the right then I can’t do as much because I have no left hand! This isn’t a problem unless it’s dinner time – inevitably babies always want to eat when you do (!) – so I have lost count of the number of times that Barney has had to feed me!!
I think our calm, logical approach to sport has helped with parenthood and working out what needs to be done if Louisa is unsettled. You can’t get upset when a baby is crying; you have to work out what is upsetting them and sort it out. Ultimately, despite what some experts say, babies cry for a reason – it is their way to communicate.
Breastfeeding in public
Breastfeeding in public isn’t an issue for me. I have accidentally flashed or been exposed by Louisa refusing to let me cover up with a muslin! Although I always try and do it discreetly, I find it’s actually easier if I am walking around because people assume Louisa is asleep and Louisa prefers to be on the move too! I have been breastfeeding whilst walking round shops, on a hike in the local countryside and on the walk from our house to the station, basically whenever Louisa asks to be fed!
The effects of exercise on breastmilk
There is a myth that mothers should not undertake strenuous exercise whilst breastfeeding because of lactic acid getting into the breast milk. As with any “advice” or attempted scaremongering it is always best to properly research these things. There have been scientific studies done to prove that breastmilk is safe
after exercise. The only thing that’s important to remember is that breastfeeding is more tiring than you expect, so you may feel more fatigued doing the same workload or less than before you got pregnant. I have certainly found I am more fatigued so have adjusted my training. This time is more important to Louisa and I will up the hours as the milk feeds reduce.
Your body is an amazing thing – it’s unbelievable. Apart from producing a baby, the fact that I can still train and breastfeed is amazing. The two parts of your life can exist alongside each other; they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To enable my body to fulfil this dual-function I eat a diet high in protein (for muscle building) and carbohydrates (for energy) and eat about 15 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Porridge, blueberries, meat, fish, pasta, rice and protein bars are all part of the regime.
I am very much focussed on my dream of qualifying for Rio 2016 and becoming the first Briton to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. I think it will be a fantastic education for Louisa to travel the world as she grows up!
As for how long I plan to breastfeed for, I think Louisa will decide when she has had enough!”