Having a baby is a truly unique experience, but we don’t talk about what comes after it as much as we ought to. When we think of the word “motherhood”, there are few images that capture it as well as a nursing mother. Breastfeeding has nourished and protected newborns for thousands of years, while they’re unable to do so much as eat on their own. It’s a very caring act and one that shouldn’t be as controversial as it has become.
Every mother should make their own choice about whether they want to breastfeed or not, but breastfeeding in and of itself shouldn’t embarrass people as much as it does. Because breasts have become highly sexualized, not many know about what breastfeeding entails, including the mother’s partners in many cases! Read up on some of these things you may not have known about breastfeeding.
1) It’s Hard Work
You might think that breastfeeding is an automatic process, not requiring much effort. That’s not entirely true. While for most mammals, this is the case, human mothers need to learn how to breastfeed due to human babies having developed a unique sucking technique. That’s why moms require a bit of training before breastfeeding becomes simple and painless.
Breastfeeding is also a lot more tiring than we think. It burns around 500 calories per day! That’s the equivalent of taking 20,000 steps. So, new mothers should be encouraged to eat well and not feel guilty about asking for a second serving. They should maintain their energy levels and prioritize their health. A cookie now and then really doesn’t hurt either, as long as they have a lot of hearty meals, including healthy veggies and fresh fruit in their diet.
2) Breast Milk Adapts to the Baby’s Needs
If you don’t know much about breast milk and can only compare it to cow’s milk, then the milk having a white-ish color is mostly all they have in common. Breast milk is very different from cow’s milk, both in appearance and composition. It’s highly adaptable, matching the baby’s nutritional needs, age, overall health, etc. Breast milk changes in composition from hour to hour, and it’s not even the same for two babies of the same mother.
When the baby is dehydrated, the mom will produce more milk. When the baby is sick, they’ll produce more antibodies to help them get better as fast as possible. When the baby hits its first growth spurts, breast milk will contain more fats and proteins to help the baby grow. There’s a lot to know about breastfeeding and we’re still discovering new and amazing things about it, so read more here to kickstart your learning process. Breast milk has many amazing properties that are still being discovered to this day!
3) There is such a Thing as a Breastfeeding Contraction
Unfortunately, contractions don’t end with the baby’s delivery. When the baby is breastfeeding, this releases the hormone oxytocin. This is oftentimes called the “bonding” hormone because it’s released during labor and triggers the typical childbirth contractions. Something very similar happens sometimes during breastfeeding, though these cramps feel much more similar to menstrual cramps. During the first few days after birth, these “after pains” can be very painful, so it’s worth knowing about so that you can be prepared.
4) It May Feel Uncomfortable, but It Shouldn’t Feel Painful
For new mothers, there’s a learning curve in getting used to the sensation of nursing a baby. It can feel uncomfortable at first because you’re not used to it. However, if you’re wincing in pain constantly, that’s not normal and you may have a problem with the baby’s latch. See your OB or a lactation consultant so that you’re taught the correct way to breastfeed painlessly. After the first few weeks of breastfeeding, it should be easier for you than cleaning a bottle. If not, don’t be hesitant to check in with your doctor.
5) You Might Not Get Your Period
The hormone which stimulates milk production, prolactin, can halt your menstrual cycle for a while. A breastfeeding mother likely won’t get her period for several months after childbirth. It’s quite an unexpected perk! As you start reducing the amount of time you spend breastfeeding, your periods should gradually return to normal, although some won’t get it until they are finished breastfeeding entirely.
Knowing this, having a heavy period or even light spotting while you’re still breastfeeding might be cause for concern, so you should definitely bring this to the attention of your doctor. As soon as your period is back to normal, you could become pregnant again, even while breastfeeding. But don’t just reach for any contraceptive pill! Talk to your doctor about contraceptive methods as a nursing mother, as estrogen-based contraceptives aren’t recommended for you during this time.
6) You Might Fall Asleep While Breastfeeding
Remember oxytocin, that bonding hormone that we talked about earlier? Well, it’s not only released during childbirth and breastfeeding sessions, but it’s also the same hormone that’s released when someone falls in love. This is why mothers may feel deeply relaxed while breastfeeding which, when paired with the sleep deprivation that so many moms go through, can easily make them nod off. Mothers should be encouraged to take this opportunity to rest whenever it comes up. There’s nothing wrong with taking a short nap during these moments and replenishing some of your energy.
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Being a mother is the most fulfilling experience for any woman, and breastfeeding is a big part of life after childbirth for many mothers. Whether you decide to pump your milk, use formula milk, or breastfeed your baby naturally, it’s good to be informed about breastfeeding because you never know what the future holds for you. You may not want to breastfeed today, but later on change your mind or vice versa. Though breastfeeding is very natural, it’s not easy for everyone and there’s no way to know some of these things unless you have prior experience, or have read up on them. This is why it’s never a bad idea to educate yourself on the process of breastfeeding, whether or not you plan on doing it.