Breastfeeding is a magical and truly fascinating process that every mother should get to experience. Not only is that a special, intimate phase during which mother and baby truly bond, but it's also beneficial for both you and your baby. Even the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of six months. But just like with pregnancies, breastfeeding also causes many changes to a body, and not all of them are pleasant.
But nothing is forever. Once a mother stops breastfeeding and starts the weaning process, her body will slowly start going back to its pre-pregnancy state. However, this process is not very fast, and during it, mothers go through more physical and emotional changes.
As we can see, women go through a lot during and after pregnancies; their bodies change a lot, their hormones increase and decrease continuously, and that, of course, also affects their behaviour, moods, and emotions. New mothers go through more than just childbirth! So it's very important for future moms to know what will happen to their bodies when they start breastfeeding their baby (if they choose to), and later when they stop. Here are 10 things that happen during breastfeeding, and 10 other things that happen after they stop breastfeeding.
20 During Breastfeeding: Breastmilk Changes As Your Baby Grows
Did you know that breastmilk does not stay the same? Very Well Family notes how it actually changes as the baby grows. In the first few weeks, breasts are often full between feeds because the body has yet to adapt to baby's needs. Prolactin, the milk-making hormone, keeps the milk production going. But later, prolactin levels will decrease gradually, meaning that breasts won't be full between feeds, and the milk production will depend on how often and how much the baby is feeding. After six months, the level of prolactin hormones will go back where they were before pregnancy, the body will stop relying on your hormones, but rather, on your baby, when it comes to milk production.
19 After Breastfeeding: Leftover Milk Will Be Gone
You must have heard somewhere that milk that's left in the breasts after breastfeeding usually dries up, right? Well, that process is a bit more complex than that, but also more interesting (it really shows how fascinating our bodies are). Romper says Leigh Ann O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, explained what happens when women stop breastfeeding.
"First, the breasts fill with milk, per usual. When this happens and you choose not to pump or breastfeed, your body tells your brain that no more milk is needed and, in time, your body gets the hint to stop producing milk. The milk is then absorbed into the body," explained O'Connor.
18 During Breastfeeding: Your Milk Might Change Colors
Many people think that breast milk looks just like regular milk, but it doesn't. It also changes colors (usually it's yellow, white, clear, cream, tan, or blue-tinged).
Very Well Family notes how the first milk that the body produces is called colostrum. The body doesn't produce a lot of it, but it is very nutritious, and it's usually yellow or orange. After a few days, a woman's body will start producing transitional milk, and in this period breast milk usually changes from yellow to white. And finally, after about two weeks, women start making mature milk (in the first phase, mature milk is called foremilk and it's thinner and lower in fat; and later it gets more fat and is called hindmilk).
17 After Breastfeeding: Your Hormones 'Wake Up'
Once the weaning process starts, the female body experiences a lot of hormonal changes... again. Prolactin and oxytocin—hormones that increase during breastfeeding—decrease when breastfeeding stops. At the same time, though, other hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) increase. (And just so you know, an increase in estrogen usually means an increase in your libido as well.)
Dr. Batya Grundland, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, explains via Today's Parent, "It’s another set of hormones starting to wake up and influence your body again."
16 During Breastfeeding: There Will Be Some Changes In Your Uterus
After pregnancy and during the breastfeeding phase, women are likely to experience cramps. Baby Center notes that these cramps, also known as afterbirth pains, are caused by contractions of the uterus, as it goes back to its pre-pregnancy size. And when a woman breastfeeds her baby, these afterbirth pains can be even more intense. The reason behind this is the hormone oxytocin, which is produced during breastfeeding. But there's a good side to these cramps as well: they actually reduce chances of postpartum anemia.
15 After Breastfeeding: Mood Changes Are Very Possible
When your breastfeeding phase comes to an end, it is very possible that you'll feel upset, sad, tearful, even anxious. Usually, these feelings go away after a few weeks. It is believed that these moods swings are caused by hormonal changes (hormone prolactin assists with feeling calm and relaxed, and oxytocin is associated with love and happiness).As I said, these mood changes go away after a few weeks, but if they don't go away, or increase significantly, then you need to see a healthcare professional.
14 During Breastfeeding: Mother-Infant Bonding Thanks To Hormones
According to a study about breastfeeding conducted at the Child Study Center at Yale University, breastfeeding is the key to mother-baby bonding. The study showed that mothers who breastfeed have more oxytocin (love hormone) in their bodies. This hormone, which is the key ingredient to producing breast milk, helps nurture emotional bonds between mothers and their babies. The lead researcher, Pilyoung Kim, added to Time that psychological aspects are also at play.
“Moms who decide to breastfeed might be reflecting a general tendency of mothers to be more empathetic to their infants or perhaps they were more able to bond easily with their fetus when they were making the decision about wanting to breastfeed,” says Kim.
13 After Breastfeeding: Yay, No More Accidents!
Many new mothers (and mothers of all ages, honestly) may have experienced stress incontinence. For those who don't know, this occurs when physical movement or activity (for example sneezing, coughing, laughing) puts pressure on your bladder and causes unintentional loss of urine (in other words, when you accidentally pee a little bit). But once you start weaning, this will also stop.
"With the return of cyclical estrogen and progesterone, ligament laxity (a.k.a. being super flexible) and urinary incontinence should also return to normal," explains Dr. Jaime Knopma, fertility expert, and gynecologist, via Romper.
12 During Breastfeeding: You Might Get Spider Veins
Pregnant women will probably notice that the veins in their breasts are more visible during pregnancy. And when they start to breastfeed, some will notice new spider veins appearing. Parents explains how spider veins occur when tiny blood vessels under the skin congregate, and they can be red, blue or purple color. These veins are pretty normal during breastfeeding and shouldn't be worried about unless they're painful. Spider veins will go back to normal once the weaning process kicks in. However, if you notice new veins, or if the existing ones don't go away after some time, then you should see a doctor.
11 After Breastfeeding: Say Hello To Irregular Periods
Because breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, many women stop getting their period for some time (important note: you can still get pregnant while breastfeeding). But when you start weaning your baby off the milk, you may get a visit from Aunt Flo.
"After weaning, depending on the duration, a mother can expect her period to return more regularly. Once weaned it may take several months for a regular period to return," explains Aubrey Richardson, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) via Romper.
And once Aunt Flo decides it's time for her comeback, she may be more uncomfortable than before thanks to the increase in her estrogen levels.
10 During Breastfeeding: Your Bone Density Changes
Here's another very interesting fact according to Bones: breastfeeding a baby makes a mother's bone density change. This happens because when a woman is breastfeeding, she is sharing her own calcium with her baby. Some of the calcium relocates from your bones to your milk, and that causes moms to lose an average of five to 10 percent of their bone density during six months of breastfeeding. This is nothing you should be worried about because the moment you stop breastfeeding your baby, you'll get that calcium back, but it's important to stay healthy and to eat nutritious meals to replenish.
9 After Breastfeeding: You Might Have Some Acne Problems
If you thought acne was only going to be a problem during puberty, then I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but that's not true. Many women who had stopped breastfeeding their babies experienced unexpected breakouts, according to How to Adult. And if you're breastfeeding, you have high chances of being one of those women.
You see, breastfeeding brings numerous hormonal changes, including lowering estrogen and progesterone levels. Once a woman stops breastfeeding, those hormones will change back to their previous levels, which will cause certain bodily changes. The increase of progesterone levels can lead to increased production of oil, which can cause problems with acne and breakouts. But don't worry, your acne should go away within two to four weeks.
8 During Breastfeeding: Your Body Is In Sync With The Needs Of Your Baby
In the first several months of breastfeeding your baby, you'll notice that your breasts leak from time to time. And there's a good explanation for it. Let's say you feed your baby every four hours. Your brain will adapt to this feeding schedule and it will start preparing to feed the baby long before you do. In case you don't feed the baby after four hours, your breasts might leak due to an overflow of milk. Sometimes your breasts might start leaking when you hear your baby (or even another baby) cry. That's because your brain thinks crying is a signal that it is time to feed.
7 After Breastfeeding: Some Weird Lumps Might Appear
Very Well Family notes that during and after a pregnancy, the shape and size of women's breasts can change several times. One of the changes that occurred to many women after the pregnancy, especially after they'd stopped breastfeeding the baby, were lumps in breasts. But worry not, because in most cases these lumps are benign (however, it's still a good idea to go see a doctor, just to make sure). These lumps usually mean you have a blocked duct or the beginnings of mastitis. Massaging the lumps can actually help reduce it.
6 During Breastfeeding: You Will Burn A Lot Of Calories
Once a mother starts breastfeeding her baby, she might notice some weight loss. There's nothing to worry about, however, it's actually completely normal. Women's Health explains that's just one of the changes your body goes through during and after pregnancy.
"When you're pregnant, biology kicks in and helps you build up a reserve of weight that’s beneficial to both you and your baby. After you've given birth, it then helps you lose it by breastfeeding, which can burn 300-500 calories a day," explained Makbib Diro, M.D., associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
5 After Breastfeeding: You Might Gain Some Weight
Remember how I said some mothers will notice some weight loss during breastfeeding? Well, on the flip side, some mothers will experience weight-gain once breastfeeding comes to a halt. It makes sense that the weight loss is not permanent, because once women stop breastfeeding, they also stop burning those extra 300-500 calories.
"It's really common that women will stop breastfeeding and their weight goes up," said G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., (via Self) gynecologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
4 During Breastfeeding: Reduces Risk Of Cancer
Did you know that breastfeeding can lower the risk of developing breast cancer, especially for those women who breastfeed longer than a year? That's because producing milk limits breast cells' ability to misbehave; women have lower estrogen levels while breastfeeding, which means they also have fewer menstrual cycles. This being the case, many women eat more nutritious and healthier foods while breastfeeding.
But not only does breastfeeding reduce breast cancer, it also reduces ovarian cancer. According to scientists, breastfeeding can reduce mother’s risk of ovarian cancer by nearly two-thirds, notes The Daily Mail.
3 After Breastfeeding: Uninterrupted Sleep
Having a baby is a wonderful experience, but be warned, it comes with some sacrifices. One of the sacrifices all parents have to deal with is sleep. This here is particularly aimed at mothers, who always have to sleep with one eye open in case the baby is hungry and needs to be breastfed. Romper explains how breastfed babies usually need to eat every two-three hours, at least eight to 12 times every 24 hours. It's no wonder new moms are so tired! But once the breastfeeding phase is done, you'll get more sleep, that's for sure!
2 During Breastfeeding: It Might Hurt
Breastfeeding is not supposed to be painful, but unfortunately, sometimes it is. "Lots of moms experience some toe-curling when the baby first draws a nipple back, but if it doesn't subside in 10 to 15 seconds, something's wrong," says Kelly A. Hightower, R.N., a certified lactation counselor told Parents. What causes this pain? Well, there are several possible reasons behind it, such as improper latching, cracked nipples, thrush (fungal infection), mastitis (infection of the breast tissue), and clogged ducts. So, if your pain is constant or recurring, go see a doctor!
1 After Breastfeeding: They Can Return To Their Pre-Pregnancy Size
It's no secret that breasts change their size when a woman is pregnant and when she's breastfeeding. Usually, during pregnancy, breasts become larger as they prepare for breastfeeding. Later, once the baby is born, women usually start feeling that their breasts are becoming heavier and fuller. The reason behind that is the increase of blood flow and milk coming in. Baby Centre claims in the first two weeks after giving birth, breasts can change again, going back to the size they were during the pregnancy. Breasts stay that size for about a year, or until you stop breastfeeding.
Sources: babycenter.co.uk, parents.com, romper.com, breastcancer.org, dailymail.co.uk, womenshealthmag.com, self.com, raisingchildren.net.au, todaysparents.com, howtoadult.com, babygaga.com, bellybelly.com.au, babycenter.com, verywellfamily.com, todaysparent.com, who.int, Bones,