How Breastfeeding Saved My Life

I’m excited to bring you another guest post, submitted by Star a WIC breastfeeding peer supporter and gentle breastfeeding advocate.  Star shares her story of the unexpected impact breastfeeding had on her own health and indeed her life.  I am honored to be bringing you this guest post and appreciate Star sharing her story.
I’ve addressed before how I’m sort of the reluctant lactivist who originally thought she wouldn’t breastfeed.  I talked a lot about how and why I changed my mind, and the struggles I faced to nurse my first.
But there was one crazily unexpected benefit that I didn’t discuss.
Rewind a few years to when I was 25, and pregnant with my first daughter.  I had a very high risk pregnancy.  Part of this was because I was classified morbidly obese.
If you just met me today, you probably wouldn’t think such a thing.  In fact, at 6 months postpartum with baby 2, and still carrying around an extra 10-15 pounds, I’m still within a very healthy weight range for my body frame/height.  In fact, people have been known to call me slim. 
But this was me then:
I was, at the end of my pregnancy with baby #1, slightly over 300 pounds.  Granted, I’m tallish for a woman – but not tallish enough that that much extra weight was even close to ok.  I’m also asthmatic, severely – so carrying that weight was a huge burden on my health in many ways.  I didn’t worry about it until I got pregnant.  And then one day, while looking at my chart, I saw the words “morbidly obese” notated there.
Those are NOT fun words to see on a chart describing yourself.  Like, at all.  Especially when you think of yourself as more like “attractively plump” or “large, but well-proportioned.”  But those two words are pretty effective at drying up denial quickly.
So I had my daughter – by c-section – something that I’ve always wondered if my weight had an impact on.  And then I thought about how I didn’t want to be the fat mom who couldn’t run around with her kids, or was the butt of their friend’s jokes, or anything like that.  And I certainly didn’t want to die young – which was a very real possibility with some family history and my obesity.  But I had literally no clue how to change things.  And I was having those aforementioned issues with breastfeeding and my daughter, which, quite frankly, made life too stressful to even attempt a lifestyle change.  So I put it off.
Then something pretty awesome started to happen.
Little by little, my jeans were looser.  My face was thinner.  I could button jeans that I’d only dreamed of buttoning in the past. 
“Well,” I thought, “I probably just lost a little more after the pregnancy.  No big deal.  It won’t continue.”
But it did.  And I bought new clothes and weaned off one of my asthma meds.  And I hadn’t done anything differently. 
It was 60 pounds later when I stopped just losing weight by existing.  Let me repeat that – SIXTY pounds.  Sixty.  Six Oh.
At a routine checkup, my doctor said, “So, what are you doing differently?”
“Nothing,” I told her.  “I think I have a tapeworm or something.  Can you check for tapeworms?”
She laughed at me and flipped through my chart.  “You’re breastfeeding?”
“Yeah.  Is that ok?  Because, seriously, I’m not completely joking about the tapeworm thing.  Can tapeworms go through breastmilk?”
She shook her head at me.  “Your weight loss is likely caused by breastfeeding.  I highly doubt that you have a tapeworm or anything else wrong with you.  I can run a blood count if you’re really concerned that you have something wrong with you, but I see this a lot with breastfeeding women.  The weight just kind of melts off.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make changes to become healthier overall.  But this is a good start.”
I took that to heart.  And, yes, I did eventually have to work out and eat better foods and all that jazz to get to a good place, weight wise.  But breastfeeding kick started it.  And that kick start gave me the confidence to continue it.
Star after breastfeeding her first baby
I’m sure some of you will scoff at the notion that breastfeeding saved my life.  However, I don’t think any doctor would argue that being morbidly obese sets you up for a whole slew of life-threatening ailments.  And when you add in all the *other* health benefits of breastfeeding too, well, it no longer seems like a stretch. Not to mention the 60 pounds it helped me to lose, it’s really probably not that far off from the truth.  Breastfeeding saved my life.
The author today, healthier, happier and breastfeeding her second baby.
A Note from Jessica

I love Star’s story, it is beautiful, inspiring and full of hope and I am so honored to share it here.  Breastfeeding educators have long shared how breastfeeding can help a woman lose weight and recently the New York WIC caused a stir with their breastfeeding campaign that focused on weight loss as one benefit of breastfeeding.  This isn’t a reason to breastfeed in and of itself but it is a potential positive benefit from breastfeeding and a dang good one at that.  At the same time it is important to note that not every woman will lose weight while breastfeeding and some, like myself, may even hold on to some extra padding until they wean.  Even if that is the case, breastfeeding still has so many other wonderful effects on mom and baby that it is worth continuing.  Be encouraged that either way you breastfeeding is wonderful for both you and your nursling!  To your health!