I became a mother at the ripe old age of 38. For me, it was a hard-fought battle – married previously to a man that always said he wanted kids, but finally confessed to me one day after ten years of marriage that he simply did not want to have children…with me, at least…then being told after extensive testing that my “time was up” and that having children was probably impossible, since I had waited too long and my egg supply was exhausted, to finally getting pregnant but suffering through nine months of sickness, massive water gain, and “advanced age maternity” issues, to being in labor for 10 hours with no epidural, and then having to go through with a C-section anyway. Just writing about it is exhausting.
Anyway. I had a baby. A beautiful, healthy boy. And needless to say, for me, all of the previous heartache and struggle became worth it.
As someone that had such a hard-fought pregnancy and birth, I knew well in advance of having my son that I was going to breastfeed. Period. To me, it was simply not optional, given all the health benefits to my infant.
I often tell expectant mothers that this is the attitude they need to take if they want to have it be successful. Why? Strangely (at least to me) breastfeeding isn’t simple, or easy, or even “natural.” The baby doesn’t really know what to do, and neither do you. Your body isn’t used to it. It hurts – a lot – at first. So it takes a bit of stubbornness to get through that initial learning curve.
But it is worth it, and I wish more mothers had the experience. Because in my experience, the benefits far outweigh any of the struggles, especially when it comes to your own mental and emotional health.
You may already know, but one of the amazing things that happens when you breastfeed your infant is that your body releases two amazing hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. Both hormones contribute to a variety of positive feelings in lactating and breastfeeding mothers, and their increased presence created an incredibly good mental health experience for me, personally.
Take prolactin, for instance. From a mental health perspective, this hormone is definitely your friend. Studies show that increased prolactin levels, like those shown after childbirth, contribute to a variety of positive mental health outcomes. Particularly, an increased ability to cope with stress, including increased anti-anxiety and anti-depression outcomes, are part of the benefits of this hormone. And you get even more of it as you continue to breastfeed.
I certainly experienced the benefits of these hormones flowing through my body. I am, by personality and nature, a hard-charging person. I have a tendency to be a workaholic and am never satisfied with my own successes. Restless. Prone to anxiety and sleeplessness.
Breastfeeding changed all that.
When I was breastfeeding my son, I had a remarkable ability to stop. Be in the moment. Relax, fully.
For someone that self-describes as above, this is nothing short of a miracle. As an avid yoga practitioner, I’ve experienced moments close to this when deep in yoga practice, but never to the level and consistency as I did when breastfeeding.
This taught me, as nothing did in the 38 years prior to having my son, that it was truly possible to be fully at peace, even if briefly. No anti-anxiety or anti-depression, no alcohol or any other drug, can match it, if you ask me.
And I would give anything to have that feeling back.