I ran the Boston Marathon eight months postpartum. There was a lactation tent, which I appreciated.
But many runners didn't know it existed, and I found out about it through a Facebook group.
The Boston Marathon and other races are working to improve conditions for new parents.
My prerace rituals are drastically different now that I'm a new mom. I ran the Boston Marathon in April, eight months after giving birth to my first child.
All the worries played in my head leading up to the race: Had I trained enough? Would the weather be too hot? Would I eat enough breakfast that morning? Could I physically pull off another 26.2-mile race — an endurance battle that would certainly push my body to the max?
But as a new mom, I felt anxious about something else entirely: Would this race cost me in a deeper way? Would running for hours affect my ability to feed my baby, who was back home waiting for me in Florida?
Lactation tents are available at some races, but many runners don't know about them
As other runners headed to the starting line, I peeled off into a nondescript tent off to the side. This tent was an amenity not found at many other races — a lactation tent, an area marked for breastfeeding parents like myself.
The space wasn't glamorous or fancy, just some folding chairs around tables and plenty of electrical outlets, but for a new parent like myself, it was a lifeline.
I didn't even know this tent existed until another mother runner mentioned it in a Facebook page for people training for Boston. It felt like the best-kept secret.
The race itself hadn't communicated resources available for breastfeeding parents, but I confirmed it by email with race organizers ahead of time. As instructed, I picked up a specially marked clear bag at the expo — where I also received my run bib — to carry my medical device into the athletes village on race day.
I could pump before the race, and then the race staff would transport my pump back to the finish line to pick up.
Roughly about 30 people, including myself, took advantage of the lactation tent in April. The tent was functional and got the job done, giving me a private place to pump, but race organizers told Insider they wanted to evolve it by making it more comfortable and doing a better job of informing runners ahead of time about the accommodations available. They are in the planning phase.
"We are always looking to be more accommodating to our athletes. We're trying to give everyone the best experience possible," Lauren Proshan, the director of operations for the Boston Athletic Association — which puts on the marathon — said. "Where we are now is really looking at evolving this space beyond the very basic and rudimentary needs."
Boston's lactation tent might seem unique, but it's certainly not the only one. The 2022 New York City Marathon offered five private lactation tents at the starting line, the finish line, and on miles 8, 16, and 22. The race, just like Boston, offered to transport the pumps from the starting area to the finish but took the extra step of making individually wrapped, sanitized breast pumps available.
It's not just the world's biggest and best races providing lactation tents, either. I was surprised to see one at my hometown's half-marathon and 5K in downtown Orlando in December.
Even so, there are plenty of frustrated parents trying to navigate race-day logistics and frustrated about the lack of accommodations. And if races don't proactively communicate information, how will parents know what exists?
Before hearing others talk about parent-friendly accommodations, "I just didn't even know it was something I could ask for," Cate Barrett, an Austin, Texas, amateur runner who was fast enough to qualify for the US Olympic Team Marathon Trials in 2020, said. "There's so much of a shift in thinking about what people deserve and what ways they can and should be supported."
Runners often sign up many months before a race — and a lot can change in that time. Barrett found herself wondering why races couldn't automatically let pregnant or new parents defer to the next year or provide childcare at events, for example.
Barrett, who gave birth to her second child in October, hasn't signed up for any races in 2023 as she recovers postpartum and returns to her old running form. If she does race this year, lactation tents matter most for big-city races where runners line up in corrals to start, she said, which will likely lead her to research accommodations.
'I don't care if I have to crawl this'
Among mother runners, there are stories of desperation, ingenuity, and doing whatever it takes when you need to pump every two or three hours to keep your milk supply going.
"I told my husband, 'I don't care if I have to crawl this,'" Bryna Edwards, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2021 about six weeks after she gave birth, said. "Having a new baby wouldn't stop a new dad from running, so there's a way you can get a new mom through it."
Three times on the course, Edwards discreetly pulled her wireless breast pump from her fanny pack. She pumped on a walk break, dumped the milk, and sped up again. When people thought she was struggling because she had slowed down, she proudly explained what she was doing and showed off a picture of her baby. The Missouri bank attorney crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 41 minutes, still carrying some of the milk she saved at mile 23 to feed her son.
"I looked over and I saw my husband and I saw my baby, and I just started sobbing," Edwards said, saying she was proudest of that race out of all her marathons.
There are strength and resilience in women, said Aliphine Tuliamuk, the professional runner who gave birth in January 2021 and then competed in the women's Olympic marathon seven months later.
"When we decide to do something, I think we are very powerful," Tuliamuk told Insider.
The 2020 Olympics were postponed to 2021, which gave Tuliamuk the unexpected window to start her family. Tuliamuk got back to training eight weeks postpartum and remembers dealing with uncomfortable nursing breasts that got heavy after a one-hour training run. She was exhausted, juggling breastfeeding, weight lifting, and running sessions. What helped were flexible coaches and a supportive husband, she said.
Then something happened that surprised even Tuliamuk. She was running fast, like her old self again.
"I felt like I was just dropping the hammer every time, like I was just kicking butt. I was training at such a high level that I was like, 'How am I able to train this high when I am breastfeeding?'" Tuliamuk said. "'I'm just a new mom.'"
Tuliamuk also advocated for herself, like other moms pushing for work accommodations. She fought to bring her daughter to Tokyo to keep breastfeeding. (Athletes' families were otherwise barred from The Games because of pandemic restrictions.)
But when Tuliamuk lined up at the Olympics on a training run, she suffered the worst injury of her career, which she blamed on running high mileage on her unstable joints. (Postpartum, women have lingering hormones that have loosened their joints for childbirth.) She dropped out of the marathon.
But that wasn't the end of Tuliamuk's running story. Once she healed, she began winning again.
In November, Tuliamuk was the fastest American woman in the New York City Marathon, finishing in seventh place. She posed with her almost 2-year-old daughter, who was enchanted by her medal.
"My heart is filled with love and gratitude, as I get older I am learning that every healthy start/finish line is a win," Tuliamuk wrote on Instagram.
Read the original article on Insider