When I first became a mom I expected to be a breastfeeding rockstar- you know, one of those women who just latch their baby on while doing some amazingly complex yoga pose in their tiny and cute little outfit. Well, that was a bust. For one thing, I suck at yoga. For another, I gained 70 lbs with pregnancy and spent over a year working my butt off (literally) to get back to my previous weight and what sort of resembled my previous body. Cute little outfits were definitely not on my radar. Plus, every top I had was stretched out and stained. Yay, the glamourous life of a new mom. I was tired ALL the time, cranky, disinterested with life, introverted, and just overall kind of a beast. So much for the newborn bliss that the diaper commercials promised...
I knew that nursing took a lot of calories and I expected to be tired while baby was little. Once my little one started eating solids (happily and voraciously) and my supply dropped drastically, I expected to feel less tired. What I didn't expect was to feel, if anything, more tired than before. Granted, at that point I hadn't slept more than 3 hours straight in months, was running a private practice, renovating a house, and pretending to have enough energy to think romantic thoughts about my dear husband. But still... I should feel pretty good, right? Over a hurdle? Yes? Yeah...no.
I now regularly have women that I work with who think they have some horrible chronic disease because of the way they feel while nursing a toddler, only to find out in the end that it was all due to the fact that they are still breastfeeding. The symptoms of "extended" nursing (after 1 year) are rarely talked about but often have a huge impact on a mother's sense of well-being. These women truly feel that something is wrong with them and often start crying with relief when they realize it could be as simple as that. Breastfeeding.
Symptoms that can commonly be attributed to nursing, even when supply has dropped, include (but aren't limited to):
Disinterest in previous passions
Decreased appetite/ interest in food
Difficulty losing weight
Difficulty focusing ("nursing brain")
For as long as you continue to breastfeed your hormones remain at a new norm, which is much lower than previously. This does fluctuate, which is why menses resume, generally (with many exceptions) around the time that demand drops due to introduction of solid foods. Our body is amazing in it's ability to tune in to our baby's needs. When our baby begins walking our breastmilk actually changes in composition to give our little one the extra energy they need while running circles around us. There is even a communication between the baby's saliva and the immune system of the mother- when baby is sick the saliva that is sucked in to the ducts of the mother's breast while nursing allows the mother to create immune cells to fight that specific pathogen. Wow- go boobs! The gist of it is, though, that with these changes come new demands on the mom. Baby gets bigger, needs change, composition changes, and reserves get depleted.
(Fact: many prenatal vitamins, which are commonly continued while nursing for the "extra" nutrition, actually contain LESS of many key nutrients than standard multivitamins! See for yourself! This is done to help prevent overdose of fat-soluble nutrients, but can cause a deficit in the nursing mom.)
Breastfeeding is one of the most amazing gifts, although, granted, some babies make it easier on their mothers than others. If your choose to nurse beyond the first year you are continuing to give benefit to your child's immune system with other potential benefits, as well. It's about what feels right to you. If you are having any of the symptoms listed above it could be caused by your low hormone levels or low nutrient levels due to breastfeeding. Of course, it's always best to get checked out with your doctor just in case. There are also common issues that can occur in nursing moms, like thyroid issues. This often comes on between 6-12 months post-partum and can have similar symptoms to those listed.
Just know that there is hope- once your little one sets off on the next phase of life and no longer requires your shirt to be removed for food or comfort there will be a new and wonderful phase awaiting. Many women continue nursing for the bond they feel, only to find an even stronger one once nursing is over. You become a whole mom and not a pair of breasts with someone attached. If your symptoms are simply due to nursing, then within a few weeks of weaning the fog will lift, your passion for life will return, and things will settle in to the new powerful mama that you have become- and I promise, you will never look at your breasts again as anything but amazing for the job they have done.
Hi, I'm Dr Sarah Strong, ND. I live in Hilo, Hawaii and I have two beautiful daughters that I nursed for 20 mo and 17 mo. There were moments that I will cherish forever and there were many times when I absolutely despised it. There were instances when they would cuddle and drift off like little angels, then there were times when they would draw blood, gouge my eyes, and try running away with me attached. Like the info? Join my newsletter!
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