Both of my children have been avid breastfeeders, despite the fact that we had some challenging starts to our breastfeeding journeys. My daughter, after a rough beginning go at it, ended up breastfeeding for 23 months, and my son is currently going strong at 18 months. It’s given me a lot of time to reflect on the benefits of breastfeeding, and beyond just the tangible benefits for your baby, things like what you can learn about yourself while breastfeeding. And also it's given me a lot of time to catch up on Instagram. (How the hell did people get through a nursing or pumping sesh without smartphones?)
But really, just like pregnancy teaches you things about your body, breastfeeding can do the same as well. There are so many life lessons we can take from the experience of breastfeeding that can be applied to other parts of our lives, for the rest of our lives. Personally, the most important thing that breastfeeding has taught me is that I should never be ashamed of showing parts of my breasts, especially when I’m using them to feed my child. When I started breastfeeding my first baby, I had a nursing cover, and would hide in the car or in the back room wherever possible, for fear of offending someone. I’ve come a long way since then. Now, I don’t stop to think about how others are feeling, because guess what? My baby is who is important to me, not some stranger.
Which leads me to the first thing breastfeeding teaches you about your body (something I hope we can all agree on)...
Your Breasts Don't Exist To Be Judged By Other People — They Are For You, And Whomever You Choose To Share Them With (Including, Perhaps, Your Baby)
OK, sometimes it’s nice to be ogled at by your partner, but guess what? That’s not the primary function of your breasts. And even still, in that case, you're consenting to be drooled over. Sure, boobs can be a great part of being a sexually active person, but sometimes when you breastfeed, all you can see them as is a food source. This has certainly been the case with me. And that’s OK, because in those moments, that’s what they are. Nothing makes you remember that your body is not for viewing pleasure only (or even ever, in some cases) like using it for something awesomely functional.
You Will Rarely Go Wrong By Paying Attention To What Your Body Is Telling You
I feel like I was hyper-attuned to my body in the beginning when I was pregnant that extended into breastfeeding. I noticed so many more things going on than I did pre-baby: the tingling feeling of letdown; the full, heavy feeling of engorgement. Translate that to listening to when your body says it’s exhausted, so you sleep when the baby sleeps, instead of cleaning, OK? Trust me on that one. Your body knows what's up. Few things will elevate your ability to actually hear what your body needs like breastfeeding.
When You Feel Pain, You Should Pay Attention
If you’ve ever spoken to a lactation consultant (and I have spoken to many), then you’ve heard that if breastfeeding hurts, something isn’t right. While I would partially ignore that statement for the first week or two (and this is me fully admitting that I’m just a mom, not an expert), as your nipples adjust to the friction of constant sucking, beyond that, you shouldn’t be suffering. When your body sends pain signals, listen to them and get it sorted out with a professional.
You Smell, And Not Necessarily In A Bad Way
Here's a weird thing: To your baby, you smell like milk. It astounds me every time how quickly my toddler can tell that I’m back in the house or, when he was an infant, that I had entered the room.
You Should Never Be Ashamed Of Your Body (Look At All It Can Do!)
I have had trouble with body image my entire life, but when I breastfeed, I feel like a superhero, truth be told. I am comfortable feeding my child wherever he needs to be fed, and if someone starts tut-tutting me, they will either get stink eye or my middle finger.
Having A Soft Body Can Be A Good Thing
We live in a society that praises ripped abs and hard bodies. But you know what? My son loves patting the little excess paunch I have while he breastfeeds. It’s a part of myself that I’ve been hating since I gave birth, but his giggles and smiles when he touches it make me want to love that part of my body again. After all, he loves it, so why can't I.
Taking Care Of Yourself Helps You Take Better Care Of Your Baby
Let's face it: It's easy to put yourself last on the list of priorities when there are a million things to do during the day. But when you breastfeed, you learn quickly that sacrificing your own well being can have an impact on those you take care of. The days when I don't take the time to drink enough water are the days when my body doesn't produce enough milk for my son. It's a pretty painfully clear message, guys.
The Size Of Your Breasts Really Doesn't Matter
Big or small, size does not determine how much milk you are able to create. I have no idea what does determine it, but I promise to let you know if I ever find out.