What does breastfeeding do to your body?

If you’ve been considering not breastfeeding your new baby, you’re probably inundated with information. It’s a personal decision only you can make, but the benefits are seemingly endless.

Before you decide (or if you just need reassurance that breast milk is the right choice for you), let’s go through all the benefits to both you and baby.

Breast milk provides optimal nutrition for babies. It has the right amount of nutrients, is easily digested, and is readily available.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continuing even after solid foods are introduced, until at least age one year or until both mom and baby agree to call it quits.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until two years old or longer trusted Source because the benefits continue that long. These agencies recommend starting as early as one hour after birth for the biggest benefits.

Deciding to breastfeed is a personal matter. It’s also one that’s likely to draw strong opinions from friends and family.

Many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for six months and breastfeeding for a year at least with other foods which should be started at six months of age, such as vegetables, grains, fruits, proteins.

But you and your baby are unique, and the decision is up to you. This overview of breastfeeding can help you decide.

Whether you loved or hated breastfeeding your baby, there is no denying the many benefits it provides both mother and baby with. No, it is not for everyone, and we are in support of fed babies no matter how their tummies are filled. However, if you’re on the fence about whether or not you want to breastfeed, it’s important that you consider all aspects of it.

For starters, you’ve got to think about your lifestyle: will you be working or staying at home? Are you going to nurse exclusively or pump too? These things may not seem like a big deal at first, but if you’re going to commit 100 per cent to breastfeed your baby, you need to consider them. You will figure out soon enough that it might be more difficult than you previously thought. Is breastfeeding is feasible for you? For many moms, it is! Breastfeeding is one of those things that is simultaneously the most convenient and least convenient thing in the world, and the exact combination of ease-making and frustrating aspects varies wildly from woman to woman, and baby to baby.

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Side Effects of Breastfeeding

There are numerous benefits to breastfeeding both for your baby and for you. Studies have shown that mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. But there are some side effects to breastfeeding that you may not know about. If you’re experiencing one of these symptoms, you’re not alone. Many women who breastfeed experience side effects.


Back Pain

Think about it—you’re hunched over your baby, in an awkward position. Your head alone weighs about 10 pounds. Put it in the wrong position, and the weight can strain your entire back. While it can be tempting to watch your baby feed, the best thing you can do for yourself is to sit in an upright position while breastfeeding. Find a way to elevate your child to you, for instance, use extra pillows on your lap. This will reduce the weight you have to hold and prevent you from bending over to reach your newborn.


Yep, your little tike can cause some big bruises on your breasts. Bruising is fairly common, especially as you both figure out how to breastfeed. If your little one is squeezing or pinching your breast during the nursing time, consider covering his or her hands with mittens or socks.

If the bruises don’t resolve with time, the culprit could be your child’s tip position. Make sure your baby’s lips are out and puckered. If your little one’s bottom lip is turned inwards, the result can be sore nipples.

Carpal Tunnel 

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a problem for pregnant women, but it can also be a problem post-birth. The carpal tunnel is a passageway in the wrist made of ligaments and bones. It protects tendons as well as the median nerve. Pressure on this nerve can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Lactating mothers may experience more severe symptoms of the carpal tunnel than nonlactating mothers.

If you think you are experiencing carpal tunnel, reach out to your doctor with your concerns.

Splinting is a non-invasive option your doctor may suggest as a treatment. NSAIDs are commonly used in non-breastfeeding carpal tunnel situations. They may be recommended for you, but it is important to speak to your doctor before starting a long-term regimen. Corticosteroids are another option for treating carpal tunnel in nonlactating women, but in breastfeeding women, the steroids may transfer from the breast milk to the child and cause side effects. If you see a physician about carpal tunnel, make sure to disclose that you are breastfeeding.


When you’re breastfeeding, your body produces hormones. One of these hormones, oxytocin, is also responsible for helping your uterus shrink down to its pre-pregnancy size. As it shrinks, it may cramp. Cramping during breastfeeding is normal, and a sign that your body is doing what it is supposed to be doing.


During breastfeeding, you may lose a small percentage of your bone mass. Keep your bones strong by exercising and eating foods high in calcium like vegetables and milk. You can also talk to your doctor about finding a supplement. Most women will regain their bone mass overtime after their child has stopped breastfeeding.

Your nipples will toughen up

The first time your baby latches, it’s surprising just how strong their little mouths are. “Nipples are full of nerve endings and have sensitive skin that has not often been exposed prior to breastfeeding, says Rubin. She says back in the day, and expectant moms were advised to scrub their nips with a Brillo pad to prepare. (Um, ouch.) Luckily, your body is gearing up for this moment on its own. “Pregnancy itself helps make the nipples more stretchy and stronger,” she says. After a week or two, any discomfort should start to go away. If it doesn’t, there may be an issue with the latch or an infant tongue-tie—see a lactation consultant for an evaluation.

Your breasts may tingle

Don’t be surprised if your breasts feel all pins-and-needles before the milk starts flowing. It’s called a “letdown” reflex, which is a “neurological phenomenon when the baby suckles at the breast,” says Rubin. She explains that a rise in the hormone oxytocin opens the milk ducts, starting the flow. The feeling may tingle, be enjoyable, or relax you, she says. The thing is, oxytocin can rise when you simply think about your little one or hear them cry, which means the floodgates can open at inopportune times. On the other hand, stress, anxiety, and caffeine can all interfere with this reflex, so it’s important to remember that you need to take care of yourself—especially when this whole mommyhood thing is so new.

You may lose weight or you may not

Some women say they just couldn’t keep weight on when breastfeeding—and then some say they couldn’t lose a pound until they stopped nursing. “Breastfeeding does burn about an additional 300 to 500 calories per day, and studies have shown that it helps lose the weight that came with pregnancy, but it’s not necessarily a magic fix for everyone,” says Rubin. There’s also #breastfeeding hunger, which leaves many moms even more hungry than they were when pregnant. Rubin notes that there’s no data to show why some moms shed the weight quickly and others hold onto it until after weaning. No matter what camp you fall into, keep healthy snacks like nuts, fruit, and water nearby (like at your nursing station) to stay well-nourished and hydrated, she recommends.

Your breast milk changes

Considering some women breastfeed well into the second year, and beyond, it shouldn’t be a surprise that breastmilk changes nutritional value depending on the age or health status of your baby. “The characteristics in breastmilk if you have a day-old newborn versus a one-month-old infant or toddler are completely different,” says Rubin. For instance, as a baby gets older, certain immune factors in the milk will change (to combat all the crazy things they put in their mouths, natch). If your babe (or you) is sick, antibodies in the milk adjust to fighting infection, she explains.

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Your skin might crawl

For as many times as you do it during the day, there may come a time when you physically feel like you can’t sit there and breastfeed anymore. You’re agitated or angry. You want to run away. To your surprise, you may even feel suddenly disgusted by it. Research shows that breastfeeding triggers a range of intense emotions, including negative ones like breastfeeding aversion.

While many women tend to feel guilty when this happens, it’s important to note it’s normal and there’s nothing wrong with you. Some moms report that normal baby behaviours, like when an infant tweaks the nipple on the other side while feeding, often set off these feelings. (On the bright side, while that handsy infant may be irritating, moving the nipple helps to increase flow that naturally slows down over time.)

Other triggers for these negative feelings include not eating or sleeping well, in addition to pain during nursing. For those reasons, it’s important to take care of yourself and address any latch issues, so you can feel more like yourself, breastfeeding or not. Pro tip: Rubin suggests wearing a nursing necklace can also keep wandering hands occupied.

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Baby?

Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.

Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It’s been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well, but more research is needed.

Are There Breastfeeding Benefits for the Mother?

Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.

Since you don’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, it saves you time and money. It also gives you regular time to relax quietly with your newborn as you bond.

Once Your Baby Latches, You Will Feel What Is Known As “Let-Down”

Once your baby latches properly, it signals your brain to “let down” the milk into your breasts. It can take a few minutes and will probably feel sort of like a tingling sensation as the milk fills your breasts. First comes the “foremilk” that quenches your baby’s thirst. It is typically thinner and a bit more watery. Second, comes the “hindmilk.” The hindmilk is thicker and creamier and is filled with the nutrition and calories that your baby needs.

Your Body Makes Healthy Milk, So You Don’t Have To Be On A Strict Diet

The nutrients that your body stores go first to your baby and then to you. Eating healthy is always recommended (duh), but when you’re breastfeeding, a healthy diet is a key to maintaining your health and energy, rather than a higher quality of breast milk. So go ahead and eat a doughnut or a taco — your baby is getting all the nutrition he or she needs because our bodies are built to put them first. Kind of awesome, right?

Breastfeeding Helps Shrink Your Uterus Back Down To Its Normal Size

Oxytocin is released once your baby begins to feed. Once your brain is signalled to create the oxytocin, you will sometimes feel mild cramping in your lower abdomen, sort of like menstrual cramps. Though they can be uncomfortable, they are a sign that your uterus is shrinking and your body is healing.

Breastfeeding Might Help You Fall In Love

There’s a reason that so many women talk about bonding with their baby while breastfeeding. Again, blame it on the hormones. Oxytocin has many tricks up its sleeve, one of which is the feeling of falling in love. Oxytocin is the same chemical that is released into the brain when people fall in love or are deeply relaxed, so there’s a reason that you may feel extra tired (other than the basic exhaustion of parenthood) and extra mushy. Go ahead, take a nap. You deserve it.

Your Body Burns More Calories

Our bodies naturally burn calories to make extra milk while we nurse. The more you nurse, the more calories you burn. That’s why it’s important to keep yourself fed too. Losing weight is one possible side effect of nursing, but if it’s not done carefully, your health will suffer. And if your health suffers, your breast milk supply could too. So keep your tummy full, guilt-free (not that you should ever feel guilty about keeping your tummy full) knowing that your body is working extra hard to take care of both you and your baby.

Your Body Is Fine Tuned To Meet The Needs Of Your Baby

There’s a reason for the breast pads in the baby section at Target. During those first few months of breastfeeding, your breasts may occasionally leak. Once again, oxytocin triggers your brain to produce milk when given certain cues, or after a certain amount of time.

Let’s say you feed your baby every three hours. Your brain adapts to this schedule, so it’s preparing to feed your baby even before you are. If you don’t hit that three-hour deadline, your breasts may leak due to the potential overflow of milk. Also, if you hear your baby (sometimes any baby) crying that same signal is sent to your brain telling it that it’s time to feed.

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Breast Milk Might Help Your Baby Sleep Better

Breast milk changes throughout the day. Evening breast milk is rich in sleep-inducing substances, such as melatonin, tryptophan, and amino acids that promote serotonin synthesis. Serotonin helps to keep us in a good mood in addition to aiding in sleep-wake cycles. No wonder babies look like they’ve passed out from drinking too much sometimes.

The benefits of breastfeeding are so numerous that most health agencies recommend it for everyone for as long as possible, barring medical problems that prevent it.

Breast milk contains antibodies and other elements that protect your baby from illness and chronic disease. It’s the best start you can give if you’re able.

Plus, we can’t discount the big benefits to you, for health reasons and convenience.

No matter what choice you make, your healthcare team can guide you to the right methods and choices. You’ve got this.

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