Is Breastfeeding Making You Ill
Breastfeeding is no easy task. It seems the most difficult in the first few months following childbirth. A newborn feeds very often, sometimes as much as every two hours.
This can be very overwhelming especially for new mothers, when your breast milk is the primary food source for your baby. With my first born, I was not sure what to expect but I was super excited to start this new journey.
It started off great with medical support from the labor and delivery team, but when we went home, I noticed things started to change. During the first few months I was breastfeeding, I got sick multiple times with cold and other simple viruses.
I felt as if my immune system was constantly being attacked. There were numerous dreary days when I felt I could not hold up any longer, and I just wanted to tuck myself away in bed and not breastfeed my baby.
As I dug around for answers, I soon realized that many nursing mothers were facing the same issues too. They reported a feeling of weakness and believed they got ill more often during this breastfeeding period.
This was very important because for many of us, this could be the deciding factor for whether or not we choose to breastfeed our newborns. In the midst of the commotion, I knew we needed to find the answer for our sake as mothers.
Breastfeeding Impact On Your Immune System
Can breastfeeding weaken a mother’s immune system? There is tons of information on the recommended reasons why mothers should breastfeed, but how does this actually impact our bodies and more specifically our immune system?
Rest assured, these concerns have led to many studies and to date there is no research that proves that breastfeeding has any direct impact on the immune system of the mother; but most importantly it does not indirectly have any negative effects on our immune system. So simply put, breastfeeding is not making us ill and it does not weaken a mother’s immune system.
In fact, a study reported by Bass Medical group has shown that mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Others show that breastfeeding burns about 500 extra calories per day promoting faster weight loss after childbirth, less postpartum bleeding, lessens the risks of UTI and anemia, and stimulates our uterus to contract and return to its normal size.
In addition, there are emotional benefits for mom too. It increases confidence and self esteem, and thanks to its production of oxytocin and prolactin (the natural feel good hormones), breastfeeding also reduces stress and anxiety, and increases positive feelings in nursing mothers.
Now that’s something to feel good about.
Breastfeeding Indirect Effects On The Immune System
With all the overwhelming great benefits that breastfeeding provides for our health, we can almost link it to some benefits for the immune system, although there is no exact research to directly connect the two. The national Center for Biotechnology Information notes that breastfeeding mothers are at a reduced risk of developing postpartum depression.
This is super important because Depression and anxiety may weaken your immune system and cause you to get sick more easily as also noted by Dispatch Health. We can cross correlate these findings to show that breastfeeding improves your health, and improving your health leads to a stronger immune system.
Since there is no research that shows adversely, what else could be going on with your body and why are you experiencing these negative changes? By no means should you sweep these concerns beneath the rug if you feel your immune system is being compromised.
But instead, we can start looking at the key areas that might be causing or contributing to the issue at hand, and harming your body’s defense system.
Changes In Your Immune System
We should never ignore the signs our bodies give us. When it comes to our health and our little ones well-being, those refined details make a difference in getting and keeping us on the right track.
To better understand what might be going on, let’s take a quick look back before we got here. First let’s understand that our immune system is our body’s natural defense against harmful invaders such as infections and viruses.
During pregnancy, your immune system changes. Some parts are suppressed to stop your body from attacking the baby as a ‘foreign’ substance.
Those changes also make pregnant women more susceptible to certain viruses and infections. On the other hand, parts of the immune system along with other areas of the body are enhanced during pregnancy which creates a balance and offers protection for you and your baby.
And very soon after childbirth, your body’s immune system returns to what it was like pre-pregnancy. When you start breastfeeding, your body goes through hormonal changes.
These changes do not hurt your immune system. But other developing habits during this phase just might.
I remember feeling like my whole world was changing and I thought my immune system was really taking a beating. But with the facts on the table, I was forced to look elsewhere if I wanted to overcome this battle.
I started a journal and made note of my daily activities and very soon, the pieces started to come together.
What May Be Weakening Your Immune System
As parents, our lives tend to be very busy and many of us don’t get enough sleep. A newborn can eat anywhere from 8-12 times a day, and you may be waking up for feeds all through the night.
Quite frankly if we do the math, that might not leave much time for nursing mothers. According to Mayo Clinic, people who do not get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus and it can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
Nursing mothers need plenty of rest while breastfeeding. Lack of sleep can weaken your immune system and could be the issue you are facing.
‘Healthline’ notes that not enough protein in your diet weakens your immune system and your body makes protein while you sleep that helps your body to fight off infections. Another culprit that could cause a weakened immune system are certain medicines.
It is important to check with your doctor even for over the counter drugs. Other factors worth mentioning are poor nutrition, smoking, and stress.
Tips To Boost Your Immune System
Now that we’ve identified lack of sleep as the enemy of nursing mothers, let’s explore some cool ideas to help you get some extra ‘shut eye’. My favorite of all is asking family members and friends for help, when possible.
Whether it’s to make a meal, run a quick errand or do some chores around the house, if they are able to provide assistance, take it. Another great tip my lactation consultant recommended that practically saved my life is to sleep when the baby is sleeping.
It might not seem like it now, but those hours add up pretty quickly and you might find yourself getting plenty of sleep and then some. If you’re up to it, Kelly Mom suggests that nursing mothers who co-sleep get more sleep.
Co-sleeping has its dos and don’ts, so be sure to do your research when deciding.
You may also help your body become stronger by making some lifestyle changes that can boost your body’s defense. Harvard Medical School recommends a list of activities that includes: getting more sleep, exercising regularly (you may need to speak to a doctor before getting started), maintaining a healthy weight, minimizing stress, washing your hands frequently to avoid infections, and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
Your body needs to replenish itself while you are breastfeeding, so make every bite count. A nutritionist can point you in the right direction if this is an area of struggle for you.
What about reducing stress? Research shows that talking to someone, avoiding caffeine and getting more sleep minimizes stress levels.
You can also try relaxation techniques. Use a journal to track feelings and activities.
If you get frequent infections try speaking to your doctor to rule out any underlying condition.
Happy Mama, Happy Baby
The better you take care of yourself, the more suited you’ll be to take care of your little one. Remember to seek medical advice from licensed professionals when needed.
No question is ever too small when it comes to our health. Considering all the facts and research, it is fair to say that breastfeeding provides great benefits for nursing mothers which could easily be tied to improved health.
Having the facts and resources will make you better equipped for any challenges you may face. Healthier lifestyle choices can help to give your immune system a boost to make you feel more energized while enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby.