You've probably heard the benefits your baby receives from breastfeeding, and you've read article after article touting how natural it is. But the truth is, natural doesn't mean easy, and for some women, breastfeeding is hard work. It takes a toll on both your physical and mental health, but also offers your body many benefits. Being aware of how breastfeeding changes your body not only reminds you that nursing a child is a big deal, but it can also help your breastfeeding journey be more successful.
According to Parents, one big change is bone and joint pain (particularly, back, shoulder, and wrist pain if you're breastfeeding hunched over), and this is one of the more common afflictions that affect nursing mothers' bodies. Making sure your body is fully upright and supported while you breastfeed can help ease the aches and pains on your core. Strengthening your core with exercise also helps, as stabilizing your midsection can help back pain immensely.
Weight-bearing exercise also has another benefit — it helps with the bone loss that can affect your body while you're breastfeeding. As noted by Parents, when you're nursing, calcium is taken directly from your bones to ensure that your milk has enough for your baby. In fact, breastfeeding moms, on average, can lose 5 to 10 percent of their bone mass within the first six months of nursing. The good news is that you'll typically gain that mass back soon after you wean, and in the long run, your bones could end up stronger than if you hadn't breastfed.
According to Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), breastfeeding also has lasting positive impacts on your health. "The longer a person breastfeeds," she tells Romper in an email, "the lower her chances of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer." This is huge and sounds like a miracle, but it's absolutely true. Yale noted that if a mother breastfeeds for two or more years, she can lower her risk of breast cancer by 50 percent.
"It also helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and obesity, and can help postpartum weight loss. In fact, many autoimmune diseases can even go into remission during pregnancy and breastfeeding," O'Connor adds.
And if you're worried about how your breasts will look after breastfeeding, don't be. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no negative impact on the shape or size of your breasts from nursing.
Breastfeeding can have a lasting positive impact on your body, but the struggles can be physically, mentally, and emotionally impactful. It's up to you to decide what is best for you, your baby, and your family. Every parenting decision, including breastfeeding, is personal, and there shouldn't be any shame in either choice. Talk to your doctor about how breastfeeding can impact your body, and make the right choice for you.