How Breastfeeding Affects the Body of a New Mother

Breastfeed or bottle?

The choice is a personal one, and no one outside of the baby’s mother and her medical providers can or should have input into the decision. Of course, if the parents have a healthy relationship, the other parent can contribute to the decision.  I say this because not all pregnancies are the result of a healthy relationship, and I honor a woman’s choice to have total control over her body.

Why would a woman choose to breastfeed her child?   Most folks talk about the benefits breast milk has on the child.  But what about the mother?

On a physical level, the act of breastfeeding does amazing things for a woman’s body. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone produced in the hypothalamus that contributes to reproductive functions, which helps the uterus return to normal size and functioning after childbirth.

When a mother breastfeeds a child, it forces her to sit and rest.  There is no handing the baby off to a loved one. This allows the mother to rest her body.  The fourth trimester, which is the first three months post birth, are crucial to the proper healing of new mother’s body.

Producing milk is hard work.  Did you know you can burn 500-1000 calories a day while breastfeeding?  It helps your body return to a weight that is closer to what it was pre-pregnancy. Of course, no one should expect you to have the same exact body they had prior to becoming pregnant.  Our bodies just went through a major process, and they’re changed for life. I encourage you to embrace the changes, they are the marks of a mother and a warrior!

Breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of breast cancer. While women who breastfeed for longer than two years are the least likely to contract the disease, any length of nursing will help.  The longer you breastfeed, the lower your chances of contracting the disease.  It also lowers your chances of contracting uterine and ovarian cancer.

Most women who breastfeed have their favorite ways to hold their babies while nursing.  Did you know that how you hold your baby not only affects the health of your breasts, it also can affect your shoulders, necks, and arms?

Babies weigh a lot.  The average baby born in the U.S. weights approximately 7-1/2 pounds.  To sit and hold that weight every three hours can do a number on your upper body. (To make it real for those without an infant around, a gallon of milk weighs 8-1/2 pounds.  Imagine holding a gallon of milk in one position for 30-45 minutes every three hours.) The weight pulls on the muscles of your shoulder, chest, neck, and arms.  This goes for those who bottle feed, as well!

Switching the position of your body, and the position of the baby, can help reduce strain from overuse.  Different nursing positions can also help prevent clogged milk ducts in nursing moms!

Whatever you choose, breastfeeding or bottle, know that you are doing the best you can for your child.  Keep up the good work.