Think you know everything there is to know about breastfeeding? Think again! Even if you’ve already learned a lot about lactation, you might be surprised by some of the details of just how nature’s all-Baby-can-eat-buffet works. Some facts are fun, some are downright fantastic, and some might seem a little weird. But if you’re thinking of breastfeeding once your baby arrives, you’ll want to be aware of all that could be in store.
You’ll burn calories
When you feed your baby, your body’s working overtime! Experts estimate that it takes about 25% more energy to make your breast milk for each day. That’s a serious increase — even from pregnancy — and you’ll feel the hunger and thirst. It’s important to eat well and get enough energy on board! It’s also estimated that protein requirements specifically go up by at least 15 grams. Pro tip: keep taking your prenatal vitamin and talk to your provider about other supplements you may need while breastfeeding!
Hearing a baby cry could make your breasts start to leak
When your baby latches onto your breast, her sucking triggers release of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates milk production. This release of breast milk, called the let-down reflex, usually happens after Baby has been sucking for about 1-2 minutes. Some people feel the let-down reflex as a tingling or a warmth and others don’t feel anything at all! But other stimuli can trigger the production of oxytocin too, including emotional ones like looking at a picture of Baby, thinking of her, or hearing a recording of her. Sometimes hearing any baby cry, not just your own, can trigger your let-down reflex. This can be awkward or messy, but it’s just your body’s way of knowing what to do when a baby needs milk!
You might get cramps
Not only does Baby’s sucking cause the release of oxytocin so that your milk can flow freely, but oxytocin also creates uterine contractions. Some people don’t really notice these cramps. Others might feel them kick in like clockwork while nursing in the early days after delivery. Although they can be painful, these cramps (also called afterpains) are helpful. When you’re pregnant, your uterus — a super strong muscle — has to grow much larger to make room for Baby, and the contractions that cause cramps also help to squeeze your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size.
Bigger breasts don’t mean more milk production
Though you might assume otherwise, milk glands are what matter when it comes to milk production, not breast size. The larger the breast size, the more fatty tissues that exist, but it doesn’t change the milk glands at all, so someone with an A-cup can actually make the same amount of milk as someone with a double D, they just have less fatty tissue compared to glandular (milk-making) tissue. Even if your bust is on the smaller side, you’re just as likely to be able to make plenty of milk for Baby as someone with a larger size!
Your nipples may get uncomfortable
This isn’t a fun fact, but it’s the truth. While you might hope that breastfeeding will be nothing but smooth sailing, things can be somewhat sore for the first few weeks or longer. Getting Baby to latch onto your breast at all, let alone correctly, can take time, and those initial 8-12 feeding sessions a day with a newborn can leave your nipples feeling sensitive and sore. The discomfort can range from slight tenderness to cracked and bleeding skin as you and your baby learn to latch successfully.
Fortunately, most people find that their nipples do feel comfortable in just a few weeks, and as Baby grows and her mouth gets bigger, you might find even more comfort, as she latches on more expertly. In the meantime, you can use nipple salves or balms like lanolin, nipple shields, or warm or cool compresses to provide some relief. Even if those early days are a bit tender, it’s important to get Baby to latch on correctly and have enough time feeding at your breast.
However, certain types of breast pain could be evidence of infection or other problems. And since every person’s experience with breastfeeding is different, do speak to your healthcare provider if you have any questions about what’s normal in terms of discomfort and what might help you feel better. If nipple tenderness or soreness has turned to nipple pain while feeding, that might be a sign that you could use some expert help. A board certified lactation consultant is a great place to start!
Your milk will change over time
The nutritional composition of your milk will change over time to keep up with Baby‘s nutritional needs. The first few days after she is born, instead of what you might usually think of as milk, you’ll actually produce a fluid called colostrum that is rich in protein and antibodies. It will help your baby’s new digestive system function properly, pass along immunity, and help her gain weight. In just a few days, this colostrum will transition to mature milk, first thin and watery and then thicker and creamier. As you continue to feed your baby over the coming months, the composition of this milk will continue to change, providing just the nutrients that Baby needs at that particular time.
Your milk comes from many holes, not just the obvious one
If you had to guess the spot where breast milk comes out, you might guess that it’s right in the center of the nipple. In reality, milk comes from many openings in the nipple. Called milk duct orifices, these tiny holes usually number from around four to twenty per breast. Babies who are correctly latched onto the breast will have their mouths covering the entire areola, not just the tip of the nipple, so they can drink the milk from these multiple holes without a problem and without too much mess.
You can breastfeed with body modifications
Many folks with breast implants can still breastfeed successfully. Implant incisions made through the armpit or underneath the breast tend to interfere with breastfeeding the least, whereas incisions around the areola can potentially increase problems with feeding like reduced nipple sensitivity or blocked milk ducts. And implant placement below the pectoralis muscle usually leaves the milk glands intact for future feeding.
If your body mods include nipple piercings, the hole created as a result shouldn’t interfere with feedings either. As mentioned above, breastmilk comes from many holes at once, so extra holes won’t cause a problem. Just make sure that you remove your nipple jewelry before breastfeeding. And keep in mind that newer piercings have an increased risk of infection, so they should be fully healed before you attempt breastfeeding.
Although your breasts will look and feel different as they take on the responsibility of feeding baby, the way your partner views your breasts might not change much. Chances are your breasts may still be a turn-on even though your perspective on your breasts — and sex in general — may be ice cold. For some people, breastfeeding hormones decrease libido or make it feel like your breasts shouldn’t be looked at or touched sexually. It’s important to honor your feelings and communicate with your partner about potentially new, and likely temporary, boundaries for your body.
You might get turned on
Speaking of getting turned-on, arousal during breastfeeding can be a common, if confusing, occurrence. The fact of the matter is that the nipple is an erogenous zone, and erogenous zones usually feel good when stimulated; this doesn’t stop just because you’ve had a baby. Rest assured knowing that even if it’s taboo to talk about and many people experience this physical response. Most importantly, the physical arousal you feel is totally separate from how you feel emotionally towards your baby, so there’s really no need to be weirded out.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Lisa Marasco. “Common breastfeeding myths.” llli.org. La Leche League International, November 4 2012. Retrieved July 18 2017. http://www.llli.org/nb/lvaprmay98p21nb.html.
- Jahaan Martin. “Nipple Pain: Causes, Treatments, and Remedies.” llli.org. La Leche League International, July 17 2016. Retrieved July 18 2017. http://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/lv/lvfebmar00p10.html
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding tips: What new moms need to know.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, November 23 2016. Retrieved July 18 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breast-feeding/art-20047138.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Post-partum care: What to expect after a vaginal delivery.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, March 24 2015. Retrieved July 18 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/postpartum-care/art-20047233.