Fun fact: breastfeeding burns calories. Another fact: burning calories is a crucial component to weight loss. A more important fact: it really doesn't matter too much, so fretting and focusing too much energy on either of those facts is wasted. There are so many things you should worry about instead of burning calories while breastfeeding.
Let's pick at this whole "breastfeeding burns calories" thing that, certainly, most of us have heard. Like I said, that's true. How many calories are we talking about? Your body is doing a tremendous amount of work to produce that liquid gold, and most experts agree that it's somewhere between 300 and 500 a day, give or take. Certainly that's nothing to sneeze at. However, why do we focus on that "body fun fact" ahead of any number of other miraculous things your body does while lactating? (Including reducing the risk of various cancers! How awesome is that?) The only reason we, as a society, know about how many calories breastfeeding burns is because we've decided that women should fixate and worry about getting or staying thin, and we know that burning calories helps you do that. Ah, the Male Gaze. Is there no escaping your creepy leer?
Look, if you want to manipulate your diet and exercise in order to achieve your goal weight or whatever, that's totally fine. It's your body and you have control over what happens to it. But do we seriously have to rotate all female activity, down to feeding out babies, around how it will benefit our perceived attractiveness? Like, I have a small child, so do I really have to worry about how thin I should think about getting while I'm trying to focus on any number of other issues, including some that will make or break a successful breastfeeding relationship? Like, if I have to worry (and obviously I do, because I'm a mom) I'd much rather worry about the following things:
Making Sure This Is Working For Baby
If you're a new mom, you're very likely already worrying about this at least a little, right? Is your baby getting enough to eat? Are they growing as they should? Do they show any signs of being allergic to something you're ingesting that's showing up in your breast milk?
Many of the issues some parents encounter when nursing their children can be fixed or ameliorated with proper guidance. Sometimes, unfortunately, all the hard work in the world isn't going to make breastfeeding anything but a frustrating hassle for everyone involved. You will know what works best for you and your child.
Making Sure This Is Working For You
Even if your little one is digging it, if you're not that's reason enough not to do it. You know what's even better for a baby than breast milk (which is, admittedly, really good for a baby)? A happy mom. Being happy is also better than burning however many calories from breastfeeding if it otherwise makes you miserable. There are lots of ways to burn calories and feed babies. You can have it all!
A clogged duct is when a milk duct (usually) in one breast becomes blocked. The result is a red, tender, sort of lumpy boob that hurts and is really annoying. Worry about that just a little so you can take steps to prevent this issue (as best you can) and avoid it all together.
Mastitis happens when clogged ducts become infected. It's, like, what a clogged duct feels like, but worse. It definitely sucks. Fortunately, it's usually treated pretty effectively with antibiotics, but still. If you're worrying (again, just a little) it will be on your radar and we can steer clear of that nonsense.
Not the movie. I mean, like, the real Babadook*. He's terrifying, you guys. One minute you're reading an adorable pop-up book and the next thing you know you've got this vaudevillian demon skulking about your house freaking out your kid and making you go crazy and it's like, "No! Get the eff out of here, Babadook. I do not have time for your blood-curdling hijinks today. Go in the basement where you belong and don't come out."
(*The Babadook is not real, but the movie is amazing and you should all watch it. Then, even though you know it's not real, you'll probably still worry about him because he will absolutely haunt your dreams. Does running from a monster that represents grief and depression in your dreams burn more calories than breastfeeding? Probably, right?)
Getting a baby to latch on to your breast properly is clutch in making this whole nursing thing work for everyone. It will ensure that baby is getting enough food, you're not being hurt, and your breast is being "emptied" as efficiently as possible. This should occupy more head-space than "how many Twinkies did I just burn? A lot?"
Getting Enough Sleep, Water, And Nutrients
I mean, this is true, just in life, but it's especially true when you're breastfeeding. In the early days, all of these factors will help you establish your milk supply. Throughout your time as a nursing parent, you're going to need to take care of yourself because your body is doing a ton of work. It needs fuel and time to manage everything it has to do, so give your body what it needs, and also maybe things it doesn't strictly speaking need every now and then (like a glass of wine or some dark chocolate).
Because you can't even see them. They just sort of sneak into your body and before you know it, BAM. You've got a worm crawling out your nose or eggs hatching in your hair or some other creepy thing I saw on a medical show and have been paranoid about ever since.
(Seriously, why did any of you let me watch a marathon of Monsters Inside Me on Animal Planet? You had to have known the negative effect it was going to have on my psyche.)
Talking To Your Representatives About Making Sure Nursing Mothers Are Considered In New Legislation And Policies
Breastfeeding mothers were afforded a number of guarantees and protections under the Affordable Care Act in 2014, particularly in the workplace. While attempts to undo the ACA have halted (most likely temporarily), the intentions of the current administration have made themselves known and these protections remain at risk. Whatever your political leanings, if this matter is important to you, call your senators and members of congress to let them know.
Finding Time For Yourself
Being tethered to either a child or a pump every few hours for any amount of time can be absolutely exhausting. For your mental and physical wellbeing, taking time to recharge is crucial and logistically difficult. But still, just because something is hard doesn't mean it isn't necessary, so take a little time to worry about how you're going to manage to find time not to have to worry about anything for an hour or two, perhaps at a coffee shop, or a gym, or at a dinner with friends.
If Stephen Colbert (not to be confused with Stephen Colbert) taught me one thing, it's that bears are godless killing machines with a thirst for human blood, and with those ice caps melting we're going to be neck-deep in polar bears by the end of the decade. Nurse your babes while you can, friends, for soon we shall all be food for bears.
You might luck out, like I did with my first child, and teething while breastfeeding won't be a big deal. Or you might be unlucky, like I was with my second child, and have a baby who relieves their aching gums by chomping the ever loving hell out of your nipple. Be warned and be wary.
Thinking About What You Would Wear If You Were Invited To The Oscars
Who would you bring? Your partner? Your mom? No. You like to keep work and home life completely separate. The most attractive celebrity you can find to keep the gossip mill churning out tabloid covers about the two of you? After all, there's no such thing as bad press. Or maybe you could bring a date to draw attention to underserved communities?
This is all too much, and that's just if you're invited! If you're nominated you also have to think about what you would say! Best practice in your shower.
Thinking Up Witty Retorts To Other People's Nonsense Opinions About The Fact That You're Breastfeeding
You may not ever need them, but it's going to be awesome if someone says something really stupid and you're already equipped with a really excellent zinger to chasten and educate them.
Thinking About What Will Happen If George R. R. Martin Never Finishes 'A Song Of Ice And Fire'
I remain convinced that he would do this just to spite us, and it is a source of near-constant anxiety for me.
Because, what's even up with you, dark matter? You're not ordinary matter but you still obey ρ ∝ a−3 (or so Neil deGrasse Tyson and Wikipedia tell me). So what's your deal? What are you doing? I'm sorry, but I just don't trust you. Are you The Upsidedown from Stranger Things? Is there a flower-head monster in you somewhere? There totally is, isn't there? Are you trying to kill us?! I'm very concerned.
Because calories come and calories go and you will be dealing with them literally for the rest of your life. However, your time with your child as a child is so brief. So don't worry about how this aspect of motherhood is going to affect your ability to burn calories and become desirable or whatever. Instead, worry about enjoying this aspect of motherhood.