The World Health Organization advises expectant mothers to provide exclusive lactation for the first 6 months of their babies’ lives. After that, it recommends introducing new foods but continuing to lactate children for at least 2 years.
Mother’s milk is the best way to feed your children since it has all the necessary nutrients to grow strong and healthy. But, not only this, lactation creates an extraordinary bond between mother and baby. This act provides a unique emotional experience for both of you.
Lactating your baby after delivery is one of the most anticipated times for many pregnant women. But, simultaneously, questions also arise, such as what does it feel like to lactate? What is normal and what is not normal? In the following lines, we will answer these questions.
When you start to lactate or breastfeed your baby, your body and emotions undergo several changes that appear immediately after giving birth. Here we tell you which are the most important.
Surprising Changes in the Body
Reduction in the size of the uterus
When you lactate, your body begins to secrete oxytocin, a hormone that contributes to the uterus’ contraction after delivery. When this happens, you may feel cramping in your lower abdomen, like menstrual cramps.
The uterus will shrink to its standard size during this time, and your body will recover from tissue damage during delivery.
It is estimated that during lactation, you burn between 300 and 500 calories a day. This is equivalent to running for 30 minutes. So lactation is an excellent way to lose the extra pounds that were left after pregnancy.
As a consequence of this caloric expenditure, you may notice an increase in appetite.
During lactation, the levels of oxytocin and prolactin increase, two hormones essential for breast milk production. However, these hormonal changes have two significant side effects: low sex drive and amenorrhea (lack of menstruation).
Also, you can feel mood swings since oxytocin is the hormone that is also released when we fall in love. Another hormonal effect that manifests itself during lactation is drowsiness, especially during the first days after delivery.
During the first days postpartum, breast milk leaks at any time. It is natural and can even “activate” when the baby cries or thinking about him.
It is as if your breasts are alert to the slightest emotional change. This is not magic: milk loss occurs when oxytocin is secreted in the face of your mood swings while watching for the baby.
Changes in the composition of breast milk
At first glance, breast milk seems to always be the same. Many mothers think that their composition is continuously the same. However, this is not so. Breast milk is a food substance that changes continue to meet the baby’s needs.
On the nutritional side, milk adapts to the child’s requirements. The first milk a baby takes when lactate is very watery and serves to quench his thirst. Then comes the thicker milk, with high-fat content to feed him.
On the immune side, milk also changes. When the baby is sick, the milk gives him antibodies to fight the diseases that can affect him. It can even change its composition in a few hours, presenting color differences that are very noticeable to the naked eye.
Lower bone density
The baby’s calcium requirements generate a decrease of this mineral in the reserves of the maternal organism. For this reason, women can lose between 3 and 5% of bone mass during lactation.
The decrease in calcium levels is also related to the decline in estrogen levels. However, six months after weaning, the body will return to average values.
To avoid a significant loss of this mineral, you need complete feeding during the lactation period and in the later stage of six months.
Specific Changes in Your Breasts
The process of changes at the level of the breasts and milk production begins during pregnancy, but of course, everything will depend on each organism.
For some pregnant women, the changes are very marked from the beginning. Despite, for others, they will be less evident, to the point of generating some concern, since they come to think that they will not be able to produce milk for their children
Most remarkable changes
The physiological changes that may occur range from more marked sensitivity, especially to the rubbing of the breasts, edema or swelling of the same, and darkening of the areola and nipples.
There are also bumps at the level of the areolas that secrete a substance that allows lubrication of the nipple and the entire area and gives a characteristic smell to the breast (the scent of amniotic fluid) that helps the baby to quickly grasp the breast to start lactation.
It all depends on the organism.
All of this intensifies as the pregnancy progresses: however, as we said before, they are not constant changes; they are variable according to each organism. There will be women who feel them from the beginning, others as the pregnancy passes, and another percentage already at the end of it.
What Sensations Does the Woman Experience When Lactating
Near birth, the pregnancy hormones (estrogens and progesterone) begin to decline, keeping milk production low. At the baby’s birth and subsequent exit from the placenta, the hormone prolactin begins to rise, responsible for producing milk.
Oxytocin also rises to allow the milk to escape from the lactiferous sinuses into your baby’s mouth. It also produces contraction at the uterine muscles level to gradually return to its regular size.
Restlessness about the first feedings
The colostrum output will be in small drops, which will be enough to feed your baby (approximately 2 to 20 milliliters per feeding) the first hours/days. This situation can generate anguish and stress since you think that this amount will be minimal to feed the baby, together with the feeling of empty breasts and without significant changes in sensitivity.
Breast enlargement due to the milk letdown
But from the fourth or fifth day after birth, the prolactin peak rises much more. The so-called milk letdown occurs, physically manifested by an increase in the breasts’ size and different sensations ranging from tingling, currents, jabs, and even pain.
The breasts are very turgent and hard. At the same time, milk production increases as your baby suck the breast on demand (the higher the suction, the higher the production).
More Sensations You Can Experience When Lactate
If you notice any of these signs, the main thing is to think that you have nature in your favor. Your body is specially designed to make it easy for you.
You are thirsty
Being thirsty while lactate is normal. If you are dehydrated, drink water because it responds to the body’s response to the mechanism that has been activated so that the milk can reach the baby.
Your hormones help you
The hormones released during lactation influence much of your body; for example, oxytocin relieves the sensation of pain and relaxes you, making lactation a pleasure.
But this hormone also makes you more thirsty. If you look closely, you will notice it just when the milk comes out because that is the moment when the levels of oxytocin increase in your body.
Your breasts rule
That the breasts are at times soft and at times very swollen is also natural, although it is usual not to have them very tense. If the baby is expressing milk, there is no reason for the breast to be hard.
And they rule again
Although once accustomed to having a softer breast, your baby may have a growth crisis, which implies a greater demand for milk. As a consequence, this produces an increase in milk production and the turgor of your breasts.
In any case, the big concern is always whether the baby eats enough, and for this, you just have to pay attention to the fact that he pees several times a day and that his poop is soft. If in five minutes he has already suckled from one breast and has enough, don’t worry!
The Discomfort that Can Occur When Lactating the Baby
Between the second and sixth day after delivery, the milk comes in. During those days, the breasts will be warm and heavy. This is due to the increased amount of blood and fluids accumulated in the supporting tissue and the beginning of milk production.
This situation can cause discomfort, but it should not be a cause for concern. It is temporary and disappears in a day or two.
How to solve those annoyances?
- Start to lactate as soon as possible after delivery.
- Try to lactate frequently.
- Stimulate, before lactation, the milk letdown reflex. This is achieved by placing warm compresses on the breasts or warm shower, gently massaging the nipple with both hands.
- Soften the areola before lactate (for example, with warm water and massage).
- Achieve a state of relaxation.
Much More than Nutrition
Lactating involves much more than nurturing your child to allow them to grow up healthy. It is also about creating a bond and fostering an “awakening.”
With this act full of love and affection, you promote an exchange of smells, caresses, looks, and feelings that offer the baby another type of food: the affective one.
It is a process where the feeling of pleasure and well-being is fundamental. Your baby feels pleased and relaxed, and therefore, is more receptive to learning to connect with his environment.
That physical and emotional sensation enhances the maturation of many neural structures so that one good day, do the following: to look at your face with his curious eyes.
In conclusion, the sensations that a woman may have during her pregnancy or after her baby’s birth regarding what does it feel like to lactate? It will depend on each organism. Nothing is fixed. Everything is relative, but the important thing is to inform and advise yourself on what is normal and what can happen during lactation to feel safe and calm during this stage.