What Breastfeeding Has Taught Me About My Body

by Jessica Martin-Weber
This post made possible by the generous support of Natracare.

 

Breastfeeding and my body has been a bit of a getting to know you experience. What I thought I knew about my body changed and what I never considered emerged as all consuming. One surprise after another and even after 7 kids I’m still learning about my body thanks to breastfeeding. Turns out, breastfeeding has shown me that my body is a veritable fun-house full of tricks and surprises.

Thanks to breastfeeding, I’ve learned that:

My body is smart. It knows all kinds of things, like when I’m growing a baby in my body, when I’m growing a baby outside of my body, when my baby is getting hungry even when she’s still asleep and I LEAK. It even knows when my baby’s temperature isn’t quite right and my breasts will adjust their temp to help cool my baby or warm her up.

My odor can change– thank you hormones! Hot flashes aren’t just for menopause, nope. The first few months of breastfeeding brings all the hot flashes and I had to up my deodorant game. Even after things settle a bit my, uh, scent, is totally different and a lot stronger while I’m breastfeeding. I’ve heard rumors that’s to help baby find me and while that may be true, she’s not the only one!

That there is a wide range of normal. For me, 7 babies has been 7 different experiences, all within that wide range of normal. Nothing like thinking “I’ve got this, done it before” only to feel like it is a case of the body snatcher. Leak and feel let down every time with one baby? Doesn’t mean it will happen with the next! Hold on for the wild ride of “normal”. Some people leak and some people don’t. Breastfeeding isn’t one-size-fits-most, “normal” likes to mix things up!

My body rises to the challenge. That it will make exactly the amount of milk my baby needs and then some if I ask it too. Milk supply issues are real and frustrating to deal with but if everything is working how it is set up to work, if you ask it, milk will come.

My body is sensitive, how I treat it and what I put on/in it matters. Turns out my body doesn’t like certain things so much. It is sensitive to not drinking enough water, the kinds of foods I eat, the chemicals in my laundry detergent, what my nursing pads are made out of (these disposables are chlorine-free)… it is even picky about my deodorant! I discovered that even nursing pads could irritate my breastfeeding breasts and the food I ate could even change the color and smell of my milk!

My body is strong and can tolerate a lot. Like lack of sleep. Somehow I sleep less than a sorority girl during pledge week and my body still makes what’s basically a magic elixir that sustains an entire other human being. I’ve tolerated bloody nipples, a baby needing to feed every 2 hours, pumping around the clock, and more. All while sleep deprived. 

I can go over 2 years without a menstrual cycle… and everything is totally fine. Between pregnancy and then the delay in the return of my fertility while breastfeeding (called amenorrhea), I can go over 2 years without a period. Which is fine by me! But when it does come, it’s like my uterus goes all Carrie on me. Crime scene. CSI. One must be prepared.

My body changes and change is natural– there’s no going back, only forward. Why would I want to go back to the time before my sweet baby anyway? My body has changed with pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and sleep deprivation. The evidence of my children is etched into my body, I have changed and I will never go back.

My body can heal and sustain life at the same time. After a baby is born and begins to breastfeed, that very breastfeeding signals the uterus to contract and begin to heal the open wound left by the placenta. It’s about as pleasant as having your insides run through a garbage disposal but it can save your life, reduce your bleeding time, and help your uterus heal. ALL AT THE SAME TIME AS FEEDING YOUR BABY. No big.

My body needs a lot of water. So much water. I’m basically a fish living on land.

With breastfeeding, my body needs a lot of food too. Yes, I am hungry. Again.

My skin is stretchy. Very, very stretchy. When I’m not breastfeeding, socks with rocks. When I am breastfeeding, melons. I really never could have imagined how much stretch is possible. Also… niplash.

Everything is connected and what I do today matters tomorrow- for my body, my family, and the earth. Breastfeeding has made me more aware of how I treat all of them and how they all impact the other. I make choices now to care for and protect all of them. When I take care of my body, I’m better able to care for my family and the earth (such as with organic, chlorine-free, biodegradable and compostable products like these nursing pads, these wipes, these postpartum pads, and these menstrual products).

There’s a lot I don’t know. That should have been obvious but I had no idea how much I didn’t know. Breastfeeding has been my body school. So much has taken me by surprise since having children including just how much I don’t know about my own body and how it works. I’ve learned a lot over time because I was confused and then curious and had to learn.

Watch me go through my list and then some in this 10 minute video!

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, freelance writer, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. Jessica lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and co-parents her 7 daughters with her husband of 22 years.

 

 

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