Parenting

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Breastfeeding

Many of you may already know that Little Ro and I recently stopped breastfeeding.  Because I wasn’t prepared for how to end our journey, I was utterly (pun intended) terrified!  For those of you who may be in the same boat, you can read all about how to stop breastfeeding here.  The whole experience has been a rollercoaster but I think we finally have the hang of it.

Now that we are done, though, I was even more unprepared for what to expect of my own body.  This body of mine has been sustaining the life of another human being for almost two years (9 month in utero and 14 months after birth).  That’s a long time and it’s going to take a significant amount of time for my body to come back to a state of “normalcy”.

Just like I was scared to stop breastfeeding, I was scared with all of the changes, both expected and unexpected, that happened when we stopped.

1. Mood Changes

After doing some research and talking with the doctor, mood changes are completely normal after stopping breastfeeding.  The act of breastfeeding cultivates a significant physical and emotional bond between mother and baby and the physical part of that bond is no longer there.  There are also significant hormonal changes that are occurring.  These hormonal changes partnered with the decreased physical contact can cause sadness, irritability, and anxiety.

I experienced all of these.  Personally, I have a history of depression, and these emotions were intensified and lasted longer than I would have expected (approximately 10 weeks from the time we started weaning).  I highly recommend that you seek professional guidance if you begin to experience any concerning symptoms.

Mood swings are common when you stop breastfeeding.

2. Appetite Changes

If you breastfed for any period of time, you may have stumbled across this meme.

Your appetite when you’re breastfeeding is no joke.  For those of you who have never breastfed, a breastfeeding mother is always starving.

When you’re breastfeeding, your body needs an extra 500 calories on average.  The extra caloric intake is different for every woman.  When you stop breastfeeding, though, your body doesn’t need those extra calories anymore.  The hormones that alert you to your hunger decrease and, as long as you listen to your body, you will be eating less.

When we stopped, my appetite changed dramatically.  I’m talking, “granola bar for breakfast, apple for lunch, and one helping for dinner” type of changed.  I don’t ever remember being this “not hungry” in my life.  My appetite is totally gone.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset, mostly because my grocery bill went down, but I was not expecting it.

3. Weight Changes

One of the many benefits of breastfeeding is maternal weight loss.  I’m pretty sure the doctors and lactation consultants play that one up pretty well to make it look more enticing.  Your doctor may also tell you that because it took you close to a year to grow your baby, you can expect it to take about a year for your body to return to “normal”.

With both of those things being said, I breastfed for a year and around Little Ro’s first birthday, I was at my pre-pregnancy weight.  What did surprise me was that after we stopped breastfeeding, I lost a few more pounds.  I suppose it does make some sense considering the decreased caloric intake and the increased activity of chasing a toddler around.  Regardless, I was unprepared for it and now none of my jeans fit.

You can expect your weight to change after you're done breastfeeding.

4.  Menstrual Changes

First and foremost, if you are one of the lucky women whose period did not return until after you finished breastfeeding, please know that I am sooooo envious.  Mine came back three months after Little Ro was born, despite exclusively breastfeeding, and it was just as miserable as I remembered.  Secondly, if you are one of those women, your period is going to come back.  It will likely come back gradually and return to it’s regular intensity within two to three months.

If you're lucky enough have not had a period yet, your period is going to come back.

5. Supply Changes

Depending on how quickly you ceased breastfeeding, your body will need time to adjust.  Stopping suddenly will increase that amount of time while stopping gradually with decrease that amount of time.  It’s all supply and demand.  If you continue to remove milk, your body will continue to produce.  Because of that, I recommend that you only pump to relieve when absolutely necessary.  And when you do pump to relieve, pump as little as you can.  The amount of time is takes to stop producing milk is different for everyone.  Some women report that they stop producing within a week or so while others report it taking many months.

When you are done breastfeeding, your supply is going to go haywire. It's normal.

6. Boob Changes…They May Look Different

Short term:

As your milk dries up, your breasts may look a little “lumpy”.  It’s the look of engorgement and it will take some time for them to look “normal” again but they will.  You do need to watch for certain changes, though, as they can be cause for concern.  Specifically, flu like symptoms, a rash on the breast, dimpling or puckering, unusual discharge such as puss or blood, nipple retraction, or a lump in your breast.  You will need to seek medical attention for these issues as they can become serious.

Long term:

Your boobs will likely return to their pre-pregnancy size.  They may look a little different, though.  If you think about it, your breasts have been continually filled, emptied, refilled, and re-emptied numerous times and you have gotten older since the last time you saw those boobs.  They may be smaller than you remember and they may sag a little.  Age, use, and gravity can do that so don’t be alarmed.  Your nipples may also be a little different than you remember.  Your baby has been using them to access your milk so your nipples may be a little elongated or appear more erect than they did before.

You might just need to accep it. There is a very strong chance that your boobs are going to look different after you're done breastfeeding.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or clarification.

I feel like no matter how much research you do, there will be something that was completely unexpected.  Why?  Because you are unique and your experience will be different than everyone else’s.  But, I do hope that being armed with this information, you will be better prepared to face the changes your body is going to go through as a result of stopping breastfeeding.  In the meantime, never be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or your doctor for more information.