From the minute I found out I was pregnant, I promised myself that I would try my best to breastfeed my baby. I ended breastfeeding both of my children, for two years each, and as wonderful as it was, there were a lot of things thrown at me that I wasn’t expecting. Your body goes through a ton of changes when you’re nursing, so if you are planning on it, here's a heads up on some of the side effects of breastfeeding.
It’s important to note that everyone’s breastfeeding journey will look and feel different, so the effects will range from person to person. In fact, my nursing experience with my first child was quite different than with my second, so even between babies, you might experience different things.
The best advice I could give any mom who is breastfeeding, or planning on it, is to reach out to a lactation consultant for guidance and advice. My first few days of nursing, I was ready to give up, but with some support from an expert, I was able to breastfeed for two years without a hitch. That being said, I did run into some unexpected side effects along the way — here are just a few to look out for.
When you first begin breastfeeding after delivery, you’ll notice that every time your baby latches on, your uterus contracts. It sounds weird, but it’s actually a good thing. Your uterus ballooned during pregnancy, and according to Baby Center, the oxytocin released during breastfeeding stimulates these contractions, which help bring your uterus back to its normal size. The cramps are only intense for the first few days postpartum, and should taper off within six weeks of your delivery.
2. Back Pain
Carrying around a baby after delivery can be taxing enough on your already exhausted body, and if you don’t nurse in the best positions, it could do a number on your back. According to Parents, when you lean forward or sit without proper support to nurse multiple times a day, you could end up with an aching back. To minimize back pain, use pillows to support your back (and your arms) while nursing. I had painful sciatica postpartum, so I found the side lying position to be the easiest on my back pain.
3. Vaginal Dryness
You may feel dry in a number of different places when you’re breastfeeding. IBCLC and founder of Oasis Lactation Services, Danielle Downs Spradlin tells Romper that vaginal dryness is a common symptom during breastfeeding due to your hormones and also because a substantial amount of fluid in your body is spent on breastmilk production. She says many breastfeeding parents also report dry eyes and mouth when breastfeeding. It’s important to keep yourself hydrated, so drink plenty of liquids throughout the day.
You’re burning calories when you nurse, and that can mean some extra sweat. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Angie Natero, tells Romper that some moms sweat excessively during lactation and find their previously effective deodorant isn't as effective. According to Baby Center, while the exact cause of the excess sweating hasn’t been found, experts believe that it is due to the metabolic and hormonal fluctuations you go through while nursing.
Cravings aren’t just limited to pregnancy, you can have them while nursing too. A study in the Journal of Holistic Nursing found that many mothers experience food cravings and changes in their eating habits when breastfeeding. While the study’s findings are anecdotal, Women’s Health Network explained that there is scientific data that correlates hormonal fluctuations to a women’s hunger and how full she feels. It is plausible, they noted, that the changes in hormones that trigger cravings during pregnancy, can also cause cravings when you are breastfeeding.
The biggest side effect I noticed was the immense thirst I would feel the second my baby would latch on. I actually had to buy a cooler, so I could keep cold water bottles next to my bed for night nursing. A study published in Clinical Endocrinology found that when a baby begins suckling, it could potentially be stimulating a thirst response in your body, along with the oxytocin that is released during breastfeeding. The study also noted that the thirst could also be linked to the body’s preemptive response to losing fluids via nursing. The exact cause, the is still unknown, and not every mom will go through it. If you do find yourself thirsty at every feeding, try to keep water bottles handy when you sit down to nurse, and think of how much your skin will glow from all the extra H20 you're drinking.
7. Better Orgasms
This will probably be your favorite side effect of breastfeeding, because who doesn’t want better orgasms? Spradlin tells Romper than many women have an easier time achieving orgasm during their breastfeeding journey, which, she says is likely due to the increase of oxytocin. Oxytocin, according to Breastfeeding Place, also known as the love hormone, is released when your baby suckles, and it could make you feel more calm and happy, making it easier for you to orgasm. I'd call that a win, win.
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