10 Things That Freak People Out About Breastfeeding (But Are Actually Totally Normal)
When it comes to the nutrition for your baby, breastfeeding is kinda unbeatable (although obviously formula is perfectly fine and nutritious too, but it doesn't come out of a boob, so we have to take off a least a few ~Cool Points~ because...boobs.) but that doesn't mean that it comes without its quirks. The benefits for both you and your baby are incredible, but the ways in which your body might behave during your child's stay amid your bosom might be a little, well, strange.
Our bodies do amazing things when we breastfeed. Hormones might be the culprits in some pretty irrational outbursts, but they're also behind the many necessary changes our bodies go through during pregnancy, and they continue to work their magic throughout the time in which we breastfeed. But don't get too cozy in your assumption that breastfeeding is nothing but beautiful bonding and rainbows though: With all that physiologic awesomeness comes some unusual and occasionally unwelcome symptoms.
Of course, if you're ever worried that maybe something is a little too weird, it's always best to consult with a physician or lactation consultant, but there's a good chance that whatever has sparked your concern is most likely something totally normal. It turns out, breastfeeding is as odd and surprising as it is amazingly cool. Consider the following 10 things that happen when you breastfeed, all of which are completely normal.
Your Nipples Change
Our breasts change a lot during and after pregnancy. For many women, hormones cause their nipples to become slightly darker and larger while pregnant and breastfeeding. Blame it on the hormones. They stimulate pigment-producing cells that cause the nipples to darken. Don't panic though: Typically they return back to their normal color once you've stopped breastfeeding. And really, who cares?
If you're unable to nurse your baby when you usually do, your breasts will still fill up with breast milk. If that milk isn't pumped or extracted somehow, it's possible that you may become engorged.
Engorgement is when your breasts become so full of milk that they become abnormally large, heavy, swollen, and usually very hard. It can be painful and is sometimes accompanied by a low-grade fever. Though the best remedy for engorgement is breastfeeding your baby or pumping, a hot shower and warm compresses can help ease the pain too.
Typically, engorgement is perfectly normal and easily treated, but if not taken care of it can pose other more serious health risks.
Sometimes Your Breasts Leak
One way that the body helps to prevent engorgement is through another somewhat embarrassing phenomenon: leaking breasts. Your breasts may leak if you miss a feeding, or even if you just see or hear your (or any) baby crying, as that triggers the hormone oxytocin that tells your brain it's time for your baby to feed. Let's just say boobs are not sealed as tightly as one might hope, and breast pads are your friends.
You Get Strange Abdominal Cramps
During the first few postpartum weeks, you may feel some cramping in your lower abdomen. That discomfort most likely accompanies feedings due to, you guessed it, hormones. The hormones released while breastfeeding cause uterine contractions that help to shrink your uterus back to its original size. The good news about this is that it will help you look like you're not still pregnant, thus avoiding those offensive, unsolicited, "Oh, when are you due?" queries when you're five months postpartum.
You Want To Take A Nap Afterwards
Oxytocin is also to blame for the sudden urge to take a nap after breastfeeding. Oxytocin is causes us and our babies to feel tired (and in love), so if your baby looks like he or she just passed out after a long night of partying, that's why.
Your Breast Milk Is A Weird Color
If you've pumped or noticed your baby has oddly colored spit up (is that blue?!), don't panic. Certain foods and herbs can change the color of your breast milk. Many of varying colors can be blamed on something you ate.
Do you eat a lot of green foods? Spinach, kale, green beans, etc.? Well, those foods can give your breast milk a greenish tint. What about pink and orange foods? Something as simple as an orange soda can change the color of your breast milk.
If you're seeing all colors of the rainbow, it's most likely not something to worry about. But of course, consult with a lactation consultant or your physician if you're concerned.
You See Blood In Your Breast Milk
Seeing blood in breast milk is something that freaks a lot of women out, but is it something that you should lose sleep over? In most cases, no.
It can be a little frightening if you discovered the blood after your baby's spit up was tinted red and he or she resembled a tiny vampire, but it's not all that uncommon. Women, especially woman breastfeeding their first baby, will sometimes experience cracked nipples that will occasionally bleed. There's not as much blood as you may think — it only takes a drop or two to change the color of milk, spit up, or even your baby's bowel movements.
Another cause is what some people refer to as "rusty pipe syndrome" or vascular engorgement. It happens due to the increased blood flow to breasts coupled with the rapid development of milk-producing tissue. It isn't something to worry about and it usually clears up on its own within about a week.
There are other less common reasons for blood in breast milk that a quick trip to your doctor can rule out, but most of the time, the blood clears on its own.
You Don't Have A Period (Yay!).
There is one side effect of breastfeeding that is typically warmly welcomed by many mothers: the absence of her period. This often happens because the same hormones that make milk suppress the release of reproductive hormones. Most mothers who breastfeed full-time do not ovulate, therefor their periods are obsolete, at least for a little while. Clearly, this is not universal, as nothing on this list is. The timeline of Aunt Flow's return is different for everyone. For some breastfeeding mothers, it can be as soon at 12 weeks, for others it might take as long as 24 months if they're still breastfeeding. Either way, momentarily not having a period is OK with us.
Sex Sort Of Hurts Sometimes
If you delivered your baby vaginally, it's likely that you're somewhat timid about allowing anything near you lady bits for a few months, but if you're breastfeeding also, you may be experiencing more pain during intercourse due to vaginal dryness. Vaginal dryness (aka, ouch) is common among breastfeeding mothers and it can unfortunately make sex somewhat painful, not to mention an awkward experience. Nursing causes a drop in estrogen levels, which in turn can cause vaginal wall dryness, thinning, and discomfort due to the lower levels of lubrication. Within a few months, or upon the return of your period, your estrogen levels should return to normal and the dryness should subside. In the mean time, lubricant (aka, coconut oil; thank me later) is your friend.