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What are the Side Effects of Breastfeeding?

Autumn Rivers
By
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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There are various side effects of breastfeeding, both good and bad. Though the negative side effects are often able to be treated, they may make it difficult for some women to continue nursing for long. One of the most common complaints is increased hunger, as the body needs more calories during breastfeeding. Dry, cracked nipples can also be an issue. Of course, there are some positive effects of breastfeeding, mostly involving the reduced levels of estrogen in the body, which can lead to delayed menstruation and reduced risk of certain cancers.

One of the most commonly mentioned side effects of breastfeeding is seemingly constant hunger. This is because the body burns 500 to 800 calories per day just through nursing the baby, requiring breastfeeding mothers to eat at least 500 more calories each day than they ate while pregnant. Those who neglect to do so may find themselves to be particularly hungry, and their milk supply will likely start dropping, as well. Of course, getting rid of this side effect is typically easy since it just requires adding at least one small meal to the diet. Adding a few healthy snacks instead of an extra meal can do the job, as well.

Many nursing mothers experience dry, cracked nipples, especially during the first few weeks. This can make nursing a painful experience, even causing some mothers to stop altogether. Women with this issue are usually advised to use breastfeeding cream that can be applied at any time, even just before nursing, as it is considered safe for the baby, too. If one nipple is worse than the other, it may be a good idea to nurse more on the other side when possible so that the nipple gets a chance to heal. While this is one of the most painful side effects of breastfeeding, it is also considered among the most treatable.

Some side effects of breastfeeding are actually positive, encouraging women to nurse for as long as possible. For example, estrogen is typically greatly reduced during this time, which usually results in delayed menstruation. Of course, this does not happen for every woman, nor does it always mean that ovulation has stopped, so birth control is often advised even in the absence of menstruation. A related benefit is the reduction of the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, which is caused by the reduced estrogen level. Therefore, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk is for these types of cancer.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGeek, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By fBoyle — On Jun 11, 2013

@ankara-- Breastfeeding was painful with my son because my nipples were extremely dry and cracked. Are you using nipple cream?

Some of the more expensive nipple creams help, but I like nipple shields the best. You place this over the nipple and it protects the nipple during breastfeeding. You could also use a pump. I think pumps can be more gentle than babies sometimes.

If you just gave birth and if this is your first child, the chances of painful breastfeeding is higher. Give your body time to adjust. It will get better with time.

You might want to ask your mother or mother-in-law for some breastfeeding tips. The older generation sometimes have crazy sounding remedies and tips that actually work.

By burcidi — On Jun 10, 2013

Breastfeeding was a fabulous time for me. I lost all the weight I gained during the pregnancy despite constantly eating. I also didn't get my period much after I stopped feeding completely.

I had an unbelievable appetite when I was breastfeeding. I ate much more than I did when I was pregnant and I didn't gain any weight. In fact, I lost the extra seven pounds I gained from pregnancy. It was like a dream come true.

By bluedolphin — On Jun 09, 2013

I don't mind the hunger and the need to moisturize my nipples. The issue I'm having is pain during breastfeeding that's getting more and more difficult to bear. Has any one else experienced this?

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGeek, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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