Updated: 3 days ago
Like most first time moms, breastfeeding was completely new to me. It would be my first time attempting such an unknown art and I had a ton of unanswered questions. I feared everything about breastfeeding because I could not even begin to imagine what it would feel like to actually use my breasts for what they were made to do. I had lived my whole life thinking breasts served to enhance a woman’s appearance and attract men. After the birth of my baby, those thoughts disappeared and never came back. My baby was the only thing on my mind, and breastfeeding felt so natural.
Thankfully I was able to attend a breastfeeding support group hosted by a certified lactation consultant and registered nurse at my local hospital. This provided me with so much useful information and motivation to keep me going through the tough times in the early days of motherhood. The other mothers in the group were equally helpful and inspirational as well. They reminded me how necessary it was to make time to develop relationships with other new mothers in order to learn, share and grow. This was my weekly ritual for a whole year and I will miss it dearly.
The entire experience of birthing and motherhood truly amazes me and even after a year, I am still discovering fascinating facts about breastfeeding. When I look back and reflect on the last 14 months, there are 5 "top surprises" that really stand out to me when I think about all I have learned during my own personal breastfeeding experience.
First of all, I can not believe how much I fell in love with breastfeeding. In my early days, it was such a chore and was so painful because I was terribly exhausted from surgery and was pumping around the clock. Breastfeeding is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I used to think I would always be counting down the days until the end, just like I had done at work. But sooner than later I realized breastfeeding wasn’t a job at all. Now I look forward to to nursing my baby each and every day.
“When a baby breast-feeds, it triggers a flood of the hormone oxytocin that releases milk from the mammary gland and a feeling of love and trust in the mother that ensures the baby's needs are met.” (1)
In fact, I fell in love with mothering through breastfeeding so deeply that my plan and timeline went out the window, just like my birth plan did. I told myself I would originally try to breastfeed for 1 year, then 18 months, and now I don’t even want to think about ending my journey any time soon. Breastfeeding is such an important part of my life right now and I am happy to continue as long as my child and I are both willing and able.
Prior to conducting my own research, I had no idea how much I would benefit from breastfeeding. Most people are aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding for children. I personally was delighted to discover that due to breastfeeding, my child would have a lower risk of illnesses and diseases such as ear infections, allergies, asthma and obesity. Additionally, I learned that breast milk would promote better vision, higher IQ and improve dental health for my child. Those factors were certainly helpful in getting me through the difficult days.
But what about the mothers? For myself, the best part of breastfeeding is by far how it makes me feel. There is no better feeling in the world than watching my baby nurse to sleep; it totally relaxes me and helps me feel calm, no matter what is happening around me. When I’m breastfeeding my baby, nothing else matters. As far as my physical health, I could feel my uterus contracting every time I pumped or nursed my baby, and my belly shrunk back to normal in no time. Furthermore, I’ve come to find out that my risk for certain illnesses and diseases have also been decreased. Not only does it improve my heart health, but studies show that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, postpartum depression, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. I knew such a natural process would work to my advantage, but would have never thought breastfeeding would have such a strong influence on the rest of my mind, body and soul.
The thing that still shocks me the most is how much and how often I have to eat! I have read that a breastfeeding mother burns an average of 400-500 additional calories a day, but I am almost certain I may be burning well above the average based on my daily eating habits. Even after 14 months, my appetite is unbelievable! I still need to eat every hour or 2 otherwise I feel dizzy and lightheaded. Skipping meals is definitely not an option for me because I would not be able to function and take care of my baby.
Ironically, all of that eating seemed to have served my body as exercise; I could not believe how quickly I lost my pregnancy weight. Because I was so preoccupied with caring for my newborn, I didn’t even realize the weight melting off of me during the first few months. It was almost like I forgot I was ever pregnant because the weight came off before I could even think about doing something about it. I didn’t have to consider dieting because my body went to work on its own, thanks to breastfeeding. However, this may not always be the case for everyone as each experience is unique.
Finally, I was very surprised to learn how many mothers wished they had breastfed for longer. Many friends and relatives have shared with me that they regretfully ended their breastfeeding journeys sooner than they would have liked to. They told me they didn’t have the support and knowledge that is available today. Older generations were told they only had to breastfeed until an infant was 4 months old, which was often the end of a journey for many. This is the exact reason why we need more women empowering each other and spreading accurate information regarding breastfeeding. We need more lactation professionals to educate and help new mothers.
Unfortunately, we can not go back in time, but we can do the work to help future mammas get proper and individualized support they need in order to reach their breastfeeding goals. After noting how many free samples of formula were shipped to my home, it’s no wonder why we constantly question ourselves and think that we will need to supplement before we even get started on our journeys. We need to remain optimistic during such a special transformation.
Mothering through breastfeeding has taught me how crucial it is to trust the strength of my own body. All of my fears and doubts vanished into thin air because I realized all of the incredible things my body was able to do, and that is pure magic.
“Breast-Feeding Triggers Pulses of Feel-Good Hormone.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 18 July 2008, www.reuters.com/article/us-breastfeeding-trust-idUSN1746293720080718.
Dieterich, Christine M, et al. “Breastfeeding and Health Outcomes for the Mother-Infant Dyad.” Pediatric Clinics of North America, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3508512/.
Pittman, Natasha, et al. “Surprising Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby and Mama.” Mama Natural, 7 Dec. 2019, mamanatural.com/benefits-of-breastfeeding/.