10 Things New Moms Don't Know About Breastfeeding

Surprising facts for nursing newbies.

Everything in this slideshow

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Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Nursing-Related Secrets

Before you were pregnant, you probably hadn't heard that your legs would get hairier or your nipples would darken as your baby grew inside of you, but you learned these and other quirky details while venturing through the trimesters.Now you might be wondering what nursing-related secrets lie ahead. After all, you can learn the fundamentals in a Breastfeeding 101 course, but you simply can't comprehend everything you'll experience until you're actually nourishing your newborn. Read on.

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Thayer Allyson Gowdy

You'll Care What People Think

Yes, you'll probably care what a lot of people think. Not everyone, of course, but it's crucial to have the support of your partner. Research shows that women are less likely to breastfeed if their partners are unsupportive. If your partner opposes the idea, persuade him now for better success.

"Information and reassurance are most effective," says pediatrician Laura Marks, M.D., co-author of The Complete Book of Breastfeeding. "Some [partners] feel worried about being left out; reassure them that they can play a major role in their babies' care. Or, if they're worried about your interest in them, tell them it's not going to be an obstacle to your sex life."

You can also remind your partner of the many benefits of breastfeeding. "It decreases asthma and allergies in babies, decreases the breast cancer risk in mom and there's even an economic benefit because breastfeeding is less expensive than formula-feeding."

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You Probably Won't Get Your Period

Many moms enjoy an unexpected perk while exclusively breastfeeding: They don't menstruate.

"Prolactin, which is stimulated by suckling, can inhibit your cycle," says pediatrician Jack Newman, M.D., author of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers (Three Rivers Press). "If mothers breastfeed exclusively for more than one year, they often won't get their periods for an average of 14 months."

Here's the rub: You can get pregnant again without having your period, so ask your doctor for an effective birth-control method that won't decrease your milk supply, such as condoms or the copper IUD. (Nursing moms should avoid estrogen-containing birth control.)

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Nursing Can Make You Bolder

Breastfeeding moms are more likely to stand up for their babies' rights, according to a recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the experience doesn't leave them feeling rattled. For example, defending your baby from a rude stranger could be considered stressful, but breastfeeding moms had significantly lower blood pressure readings than moms who bottle-fed their babies.

"Breastfeeding increases the body's threshold for stress, likely through oxytocin and prolactin levels, making moms more stress-resistant," says Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, Ph.D., one of the study's authors.

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Kathryn Gamble Lozier

Breasts Can Do Funny Things

At first, your breasts will become engorged, making you one to two (!) sizes bigger than usual. Then, when your baby eats from one side, that breast will look smaller and the other will still look gigantic. And between feeds, your breasts may even leak milk if you hear another baby's cry.

"The first few weeks are awkward and clumsy," says Laurie Beck, R.N., I.B.C.L.C., president of the Morrisville, N.C.-based U.S. Lactation Consultant Association. "You are learning. Your baby is learning. See some humor in it—it's messy, it's leaky, but it gets the job done."

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Nursing Induces Sleep

You've probably heard that babies fall asleep while feeding, but did you know that sleep-deprived moms nod off, too?

"When the body releases the hormone oxytocin, it has a calming effect that allows nursing moms to relax," says Amy Spangler, R.N., I.B.C.L.C., president of babygooroo.com and author of Breastfeeding: A Parent's Guide. "That's your body taking care of itself: Knowing the importance of sleep, the oxytocin effect is one more example of how breastfeeding protects the body."

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Perry Hagopian

Say Nope to Soap

Don't get too clean in the shower: Lathering breasts with soap can dry out your skin, which could lead to uncomfortable cracking of the nipples. "Just wash with warm water," says Marks.

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You May Drink (with Precaution)

A little bit of drinking can be okay. But time your cocktail consumption carefully because your milk-alcohol level equals your blood-alcohol level, according to Philadelphia-based Monell Chemical Senses Center researcher Julie Mennella, Ph.D., who studies alcohol's effects on lactation.

"If you have a buzz, it's still in your milk," says Mennella, who recommends waiting at least three hours after your last sip of alcohol to breastfeed. If your baby needs a feeding within that three-hour time frame, use stored breast milk or formula. And to ensure your milk supply doesn't diminish, pump and dump: Pump at the scheduled feeding time and dump the alcohol-tainted milk down the drain.

You'll want to avoid alcohol if you're having problems building a milk supply, even though traditional wisdom suggests that beer helps produce breast milk. "Contrary to folklore, it disrupts the hormones of lactation," Mennella says. "Women who drink produce less milk."

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There's No Need to Fear Teeth

Some nursing moms are afraid of being bitten, so they call it quits once baby's first tooth arrives. But babies can't bite when suckling. A curious baby may nip you after she's done eating, but if you pay attention to her cues, you can avoid being nibbled.

"If your baby does it once, take her off [the breast], and that negative reinforcement usually takes care of the problem," Beck says.

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You Can Still Eat for Two (Kind Of)

Don't feel guilty for taking an extra helping at dinnertime; you need an additional 500 calories per day to help produce breast milk. For your baby's sake, make those calories count.

"Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables as well as foods containing calcium," Beck says. Breast milk is rich in calcium, and if your diet is lacking in this important nutrient, your body will use your own calcium stores, which could leave you deficient.

"If you're not a milk drinker, get calcium in other foods, such as cheese, yogurt, spinach and other dark leafy greens as well as fortified cereal and orange juice," she says.

Here are a few nutrient rich, nursing-friendly recipes to make sure you and your baby are getting exactly what you need. Read more >>

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Your Baby Runs the Show

Your milk supply increases and decreases based on your baby's demand for nourishment, so frequent breastfeeding sessions help bolster a strong supply. This nifty feature of nursing also ensures that your baby will have enough to eat as her appetite increases.

Your baby can also jumpstart your milk let-down reflex; when your body recognizes cues, such as hearing your baby cry, it lets the milk flow. In fact, some working moms record their babies' I'm-getting-hungry cries to help them pump more efficiently at the office.

"The sound relaxes moms," Beck says. "Even seeing pictures of your baby helps moms unwind, and that milk will start flowing."

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