When you give birth, everyone around will encourage you to start breastfeeding. But what will happen to you when you stop breastfeeding?
There is no doubt breastfeeding is a wondrous journey for many. It plays an integral role in forming the deep attachment between mother and baby. Most mothers succeed in exclusively breastfeeding and some become so successful, they breastfeed their children for extended periods beyond babyhood ─ such as until the child reaches the age of three, four, six, seven and even eight years.
For example:Ann Sinnott in the UK breastfed her daughter until she was six and a half. She also wrote a controversial book titled Breastfeeding Older Children and documented her reasons for practicing extended breastfeeding. In 2010, she was interviewed by The Guardian UK, as to her reasons for breastfeeding until such a late age. Jamie Lynn Grumet breastfed her two boys until past the age of four. Jamie is known as Time Magazine’s breastfeeding mom. She was on the cover of the magazine feeding her son Aram, who was almost four at the time. Denise Sumpter is on record as the one of the longest breastfeeding mums. The 44-year-old mother of two was still breastfeeding her daughter Belle at the age of seven.
We can’t say for sure if there are mothers who practice extended breastfeeding in Malaysia, quite possibly many do as a cultural practice and breastfeeding until the age of three is not shocking here. Most working urban mums, however, will stop when they wean their babies at six months or so.
So what are the things you should expect when you stop breastfeeding?
What Happens to You and Your Body when you Stop Breastfeeding
1. Emotional Rollercoaster Ride Ahead
Now this doesn’t apply to all women, only those who have grown used to having a baby latched to their breasts for a while. For many women, stopping breastfeeding marks the start of a certain kind of freedom or “detachment” from the need for constant intimate close body contact to provide the necessary nutrition. This severance of an invisible umbilical cord could be a relief for mothers looking forward to get on with their lives or with their career.
For others, the drop in prolactin and oxytocin levels (the feel-good hormones) can make them feel teary and emotional. For these women, post-weaning depression is very real. If mummy has developed a good breastfeeding relationship with her baby and enjoys breastfeeding and everything else that it represents, then stopping breastfeeding could bring a major upheaval to the body and mind, as well as routines she and baby might have developed over time.
One woman reported becoming weepy every time she saw her relatives or friends breastfeed their babies. “I felt that my arms were empty and there was nothing I could do to fill them again,” she lamented. For sure, there may be a sense of loss and grief, mood swings, tight-headedness and physical pain as the body adjusts to the new “system” of things.
And then there are the other mind problems too such as feeling rejected. Some women feel their milk is the last link they have to their baby and sometimes, baby is the one who makes the call for going off breastfeeding. He simply says “no” or pushes the breast away. And why not? He has found new wonder in the food he is being weaned with and this doesn’t help mummy who may feel “un-needed”.
Whatever the emotion, when it is time to stop breastfeeding, it is always better to allow for gradual weaning rather than cold turkey as this gives the body and mind the chance to adapt to the new situation.
2 The Taps are Still Leaking
But just because you stop breastfeeding doesn’t mean your breasts know your intention. They will continue producing milk for a while even after you’ve halted nursing completely. Every now and then, your breasts will leak, so don’t throw away those nursing bra pads. You don’t want to go out your front door with two wet patches on your chest.
Go for a Slow Turn Off
To prevent painful engorgement, start turning those taps off slowly by dropping one nursing or pumping session every other day. If you have stopped nursing completely, you should still express a little of your milk now and then to relieve them but be careful you do not express too much as you may start lactating again.
Massage your breasts as you need to be careful you don’t get mastitis or other infections caused by clogged milk ducts.
Another way is to drink sage tea specifically made for No More Milk. It is available in Malaysia particularly online where it is sold for about RM20 a box.
Yet one more cheaper way is to use cabbage leaves. Put cabbage leaves in your bra and on your breasts for 20 minutes a day or until they become warm. Do not reuse the leaves. Throw them away. Cabbage leaves relieve engorgement.
As a general rule ─ the longer you have nursed, the longer your breasts will take to dry up and this could take anywhere from days to weeks.
How to Dry Up Like Right Now
If you wish to turn the taps off completely and immediately, go to your doctor who can give you an injection to suppress lactation. You may feel uncomfortable after the injection as your breasts may get hot and turn as hard as rock as milk production comes to a screeching halt. Bear with it for a while, like 24 hours or so, and after that, your breasts will soften and return to normal ─ sans milk.
3. Shrinking Back to Size
For bigger-chested mummies in our sweaty Malaysian weather, stopping breastfeeding can be a great relief. It can get very uncomfortable carrying around heavy breasts that leak and sweat under the bra. Don’t forget the chaffing that goes on too. When you stop breastfeeding, your breasts will slowly shrink back to their pre-pregnancy size.
But for those wearing bra sizes of 32A or smaller in their pre-pregnancy days, full breasts with cleavage are now a thing of the past. In fact, a lot of women say their boobs end up even smaller than when they began. That could be good news or bad news depending on how you look at it.
4. Separation Anxiety
Weaning can be baby-led or Mother-led. If mother-led, some babies may not be ready for the “separation” process. You might have an extra needy baby who may want to cling on a little more often for that closeness. Introducing a bottle before you stop breastfeeding is a great way to ensure they’re not 100% dependent on you all the time, but even still, you might find they will need extra cuddles for a while. You might find you need it too! It’s a transition phase both will have to get used to.
5. No More Automatic Calorie Burning
You would have noticed that you seem to have been able to lose your pregnancy weight very fast. That’s because you were breastfeeding. Producing milk burns around 500 calories a day but then you also needed to eat good protein more to encourage milk production. So if you wean and want to stay lean, you will need to cut back on those extra meals and make sure you hit the gym. Get in extra workouts in any way you can.
6. Party Days are Back Again
By party, we don’t mean party-party and go wild, just that you can now relax a bit more about what you consume on a daily basis. It is likely you’ve had to refrain from eating or drinking certain food and drinks when you were breastfeeding. No alcohol, no herbs, not too much caffeine, no seafood because baby’s allergic, not too much ginger too, no prescription drugs and so on and so forth. And given our Asian culture, there are sure to be a lot more pantang foods you would have had to avoid because what you consumed always made its way back to the baby. Well, you can take it easier now as you are no longer sharing your body. But still watch what you eat because as point No: 5 says, you are no longer burning up those calories as when you were breastfeeding.
7. Be a Style Mum Again
Have you been eyeing that bikini or that little black number when you got pregnant and wished for the day you could slip right back into them again? Well, guess what? That day has arrived. No more will you have to wear those giant “aunty” bras or nursing pads that creep their way up and out of your bra by themselves. No more looking frumpy wearing those loose two piece outfits that can be opened in front to accommodate breastfeeding. You’re free now, lady. Congratulations!
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