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What does breastfeeding do to your body?

Breastfeeding can have a profound impact on your body, often in ways you’re unaware of. You may even feel that you’ve have lost ownership of your body.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Breastfeeding can change your body both inside and out. From playing havoc with your hormones to the way it affects your weight, here are some of the ways breastfeeding can impact your body.

Short term effects of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has been proven to have many long-term, positive effects on both mom and bub. However, those benefits come with some short-term costs for you. These physical effects are temporary but can be far-reaching.

Feeling of ‘let down’

Once your baby starts doing their ‘suck suck suck’ routine (also known as massage mode on breast pumps), it tells your brain to send milk into your breasts, through your nipples and into bub’s waiting mouth. This ‘let down’ gives you a sort of tingling sensation.

There is no way to describe this feeling to someone who has never breastfed. It actually feels really satisfying because you know you are giving your baby lots of milk.

Unfortunately, ‘ let down’ is not limited to nursing sessions and can be triggered by nipple stimulation, skin-to-skin contact with your baby, or even thoughts about breastfeeding.

Wear breast pads at all times if you’re prone to spontaneous ‘let downs’.

Breast engorgement

Breastfeeding increases milk supply, which can cause your breasts to become uncomfortably full and sore.

Breast engorgement is characterized by swelling and pain of the breast tissue. Your breasts will feel hard and tender to touch, with a redder color than usual.

Engorgement is a temporary condition and should not interfere with breastfeeding. In fact, getting your baby to latch on will relieve the engorgement.

Your breasts may tingle, or hurt

Breastfeeding can cause breast pain. A strong milk let-down can be painful for some mothers. The hormone prolactin, which is released while breastfeeding, contributes to breast soreness as well.

Breast pain can also happen if your baby has an improper latch, you have clogged milk ducts or mastitis.

If you’re in a lot of pain, over-the-counter pain medications like paracetamol is safe to take while breastfeeding. However, you’ll need to figure out the cause of your pain. If it’s from a strong let-down, your body often adjusts to it over time. If it’s from bub not latching properly or mastitis, seek medical help.

Cracked and sore nipples

Many moms have nipple pain while breastfeeding. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including positioning, whether baby is latching on correctly, and to some extent, your pain threshold.

If you’re a newbie mom, your virgin nipples would be totally unprepared for bub’s never-ending feeding.

Even though pregnancy prepares your nipples by making them stronger and more stretchy, your nipples are full of nerve endings that will all be triggered by your baby sucking and nibbling on it at least 12 times a day.

The quickest way to alleviate nipple pain is by ensuring that your baby latches on correctly at the beginning of each feed.

Don’t worry. Your nipples toughen up. The discomfort should go away in 1-2 weeks. If it doesn’t, see your lactation consultant. Your baby might be latching incorrectly or have other issues like tongue-tie.

Your uterus shrinks back down to its pre-pregnancy size

Oxytocin is released when you start breastfeeding. This hormone helps with uterus involution (shrinking). You might feel mild cramping in your lower abdomen. This is a sign that your uterus is shrinking, reducing your risk of post-partum hemorrhage (excessive amounts of bleeding from the uterus).

Your hormone levels are affected

With breastfeeding, there is an increase in the level of hormones prolactin and oxytocin that lead to milk production and let-down. Breastfeeding also causes a decrease in your estrogen and progesterone levels which stops you from having your period and takes away your interest in sex.

You may also find you’re acting a little differently. Oxytocin can make you feel a little ‘high’, like you’re in love. This helps you bond with your baby.

Oxytocin’s effects are manifold. It can also make you feel relaxed and drowsy. Now you know why you keep falling asleep while nursing. It’s not just sleep deprivation nudging you into a shut-eye.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), your body gets used to the effects of oxytocin and the euphoria wears off.

Baby blues

Baby blues is a term used to describe the inexplicable worry and sadness many moms experience after having a baby.

There are numerous causes of baby blues or the more serious post-partum depression. Physical complications, breastfeeding difficulties, lack of emotional support, predisposition to depression, and a whole lot of other factors come into play.

This is why breastfeeding can cause one mom to feel better and another to feel worse. No one can really predict how it will affect you.

Physical exhaustion

It’s not just chronic sleep deprivation.

It’s also breastfeeding.

New moms often find that they are not getting enough sleep as they learn how to breastfeed. Unfortunately, in the early weeks, bub feeds round the clock, even on non-cluster feeding days. The fact that you need to breastfeed to build your milk supply and that no one else can do it for you means you’re it 24/7.

It doesn’t help that oxytocin relaxes you and makes you drowsy.

The best thing you can do is to make sure you get rest when bub’s resting. You can also pump to increase your milk supply and build a milk stash that your partner can use to feed bub while you have a break.

Your period doesn’t resume

Breastfeeding stops you from ovulating. In fact, you might wonder if breastfeeding can be a form of birth control.

Unfortunately, no. Although nursing your baby will naturally stop or lighten your periods, it’s still possible for you to get pregnant.

Use birth control.

Weight loss

Breastfeeding burns an additional 300 to 500 calories a day. Some moms swear breastfeeding helped them lose their pregnancy weight in no time.

The more you breastfeed, the more calories you burn making milk.

Beware of not overdoing it by restricting your diet. Even though it might feel great to shed the baby pounds quickly, losing weight rapidly can affect your health and your breast milk supply.

You’re hungry (and thirsty) all the time

Unfortunately, due to all the extra work your body is doing, breastfeeding naturally makes you hungry and thirsty all the time.

Before you reach for one more lactation cookie, think of the consequences. It’s easy to give in to food cravings and rely on convenient snacks.

But you’ll regret it later if you put on unwanted weight.

Weight gain

One of the biggest misconceptions about breastfeeding is that it’s going to make you lose weight magically. This is so not true.

Breastfeeding moms often feel very hungry and it’s hard to fight that.

One way is to get rid of all the convenience junk food lying around. Keep nuts, fruits, and other healthy snacks handy. Eat balanced meals with nutrient-rich foods and in reasonable portions.

Adult acne

Breastfeeding triggers your adrenal glands to secrete higher levels of androgen hormones. This causes acne in some moms, especially if you’ve had issues with skin breakouts before.

You can use topical creams like Benzyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Using these creams sparingly on your face is considered safe when breastfeeding.

Avoid retinol creams if possible.

Vaginal dryness

Low estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness, making it painful to have sex. The answer to your woes lie in a tube of lube. Any lube would be fine to use while breastfeeding but some are better than others.

You can also talk to your partner. Ask him to go slow and spend more time in fore-play.

Lowers your sex drive

Breastfeeding isn’t the only cause of a low libido but studies have shown that nursing moms are more likely to experience a low sex drive compared to non-breastfeeding moms.

There is good reason for this. Breastfeeding affects your hormone levels to naturally suppress your interest in sex. Mother nature intended it this way so you don’t get pregnant too soon. It’s all about ensuring the survival of your newborn!

Read:No sex drive while breastfeeding? 7 reasons it’s happening and and how to get it back

Affects your bones

Studies show moms lose up to 5% of their bone mass during breastfeeding. This is because the calcium from your bones is drawn into your breastmilk as bub needs lots of calcium to grow.

The good news? You usually recover your bone loss within a few months after breastfeeding ends.

Lowers your blood pressure

Multiple studies have shown oxytocin (again!) reduces your blood pressure. Moms have found their blood pressure drops immediately after breastfeeding.

In fact, one study found breastfeeding for longer protects you from hypertension (high bloods pressure) in the long run.

Makes you gassy

The good news is that breastfeeding itself doesn’t give you gas. But a ‘breastfeeding diet’ can. Breastfeeding groups on Facebook are filled with moms who swear lactation cookies, carbonated drinks like Bodyarmor , garlic, fenugreek and oatmeal increase their milk supply.

What do all these foods have in common? Yup, they make you farty.

Read: Does breastfeeding make you gassy? Here’s how to avoid it

Long term effects of breastfeeding

The long term effects of breastfeeding have been studied for many years. Breastfeeding might cause some unwanted changes to your breasts. However, it can also benefit your health in the long run.

Change in breast shape and size

Breastfeeding can cause denser breast tissue which shifts when you wean. This might cause your breasts to change in shape and size. Some moms find their breasts stay large while others say their boobs shriveled up.

Sometimes, one breast can end up being slightly larger than the other. Fun.

As your breasts grow during pregnancy and breastfeeding, your skin stretches. This can lead to breast stretch marks which can be intensified with breastfeeding.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding can also increase your risk of premature breast sagging.

Read: How to avoid sagging breasts after breastfeeding?

Reduces your risk of disease later in life

Breastfeeding seems to provide you with long-term protection against cancer and several other diseases. Hurray!

Breastfeeding reduces your risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Studies also found moms who breastfeed have lower risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes.

To wrap up

Breastfeeding can change your body physically, mentally and emotionally. Most of these effects go away when you wean but some can be longer-lasting.

Your body is amazing for producing the golden liquid needed to nourish your baby. The best thing you can do is to take care of yourself by eating well, exercising and resting when you can.

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Sharon James

3 thoughts on “What does breastfeeding do to your body?”

  1. Pingback: How does breastfeeding affect your sex hormones?

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