Alongside pregnancy and childbirth, breast-feeding is one of the most normal, natural things your body is capable of. If you’re a new mom, you know breast-feeding is healthy for both you and your baby, but what you may not know is there are some strange— even shocking— things that can happen when you breast-feed.
1. Breasts “eat” themselves.
When you stop breast-feeding, your body will go through involution, a process by which the cells in the breasts that make milk deteriorate and self absorb because they’re no longer needed, said Diana West, an internationally board-certified lactation consultant and director of media relations for La Leche League, a non-profit focused on breast-feeding, in Chicago, Illinois.
Researchers say a protein called Rac1, which aids milk production, is also what’s necessary for removing dead cells and milk when breast-feeding ends, according to a recent study in the journal Developmental Cell.
Some of the fat in the breasts can also be reabsorbed, which is a result of metabolism and weight loss because of the excess calories that you need to feed your baby, West said.
2. Breasts can leak or spray during sex.
When oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is released from the pituitary gland, it allows for milk to “let down” from your breasts.
Letdown will happen when your baby latches on, but it can also happen when you look at his picture, hear him cry or even hear another baby cry because it’s a primal response to soothe your child, said Tipper Gallagher, an international board certified lactation consultant in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesonta and founder of theboobgeek.com.
Not only that but after you get the green light to be intimate again, your breasts might leak or spray when you have an orgasm.
“Oxytocin is released anytime you do something pleasurable,” Gallagher said.
3. You might experience a mix of emotions.
Because of the oxytocin that’s released, you’ll probably feel happy when you breast-feed. Yet some moms say they also experience intense thirst, a feeling of protectiveness and deep bonding.
Although it’s rare and not something you’re likely to talk about with your friends, there’s another feeling you could experience as a result of your hormones.
“Just like orgasm can cause milk letdown, milk letdown can give you feelings of pleasure— sexual pleasure,” Gallagher said.
Some moms may have a moment of anxiety, while for others it can last for 20 minutes. These moms have a condition known as Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-Mer), which is a physiological experience— not a psychological one— that’s related to inappropriate dopamine levels.
“A person feels overwhelming anxiety and irritability like their skin is crawling and restlessness— they just want to run away,” West said. If you think you have D-Mer, speak to your physician or a lactation consultant about treatment options.
4. The contractions aren’t over.
Within the first two weeks after you give birth, you may have period-like cramps while you breast-feed. This is your body’s way to stimulate contractions so that your uterus can return to its pre-pregnancy size.
5. Breasts can get hard like rocks.
It’s something you can’t believe until you experience it yourself but your breasts can get so big and hard, they look like balloons ready to explode.
Engorgement is normal in the first few days after you give birth, or if you haven’t completely emptied them. The good news is that once you start feeding your baby regularly and emptying your breasts, they’ll feel normal again.
6. You might be modest, embarrassed or totally comfortable.
Breast-feeding for the first time— and the lack of modesty required— can take you by surprise, especially when the nurses or lactation consultants get up close and personal to help you.
When it comes to breast-feeding in front of other people you might feel completely comfortable or more modest.
In fact, six out of 10 breast-feeding moms try to hide breast-feeding in public and a third feel embarrassed or uncomfortable doing it away from home, according to a survey out of the U.K.
7. Breast-feeding is possible after breast surgery
If you had breast augmentation surgery, the good news is that you’ll probably be able to breast-feed. In fact, a recent study presented at the International Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery conference found that 94 percent of babies born to mothers who had surgery were able to nurse.
Likewise, if you had breast reduction surgery and your nipples were completely severed, chances are you can still breast-feed because the milk ducts can either re-grow or re-connect.
“They don’t necessarily have full milk supplies because not all the ducts have re-connected, but quite a few women surprisingly are able to get some milk out,” West said. “That to me is such a testament to how resilient our bodies are.”
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.