Letdown: Body Image After Nursing

Photo credit: Stephanie Rose

Letdown (noun): a physiological response of a lactating mammal to suckling and allied stimuli whereby previously secreted milk from the acini is expelled into ducts and drawn through the nipple.

Perhaps more commonly defined as a “disappointment.”

I breastfed our daughter, Lilah Grace, for 6 full wonderful months, and began weaning around month 7. She’s 8 months old now, and still leans in to suckle on occasion, and I’ll let her…followed with a full, warm, Dr. Brown’s Level 3 bottle, where she can more easily get the amount of milk she needs. I haven’t produced any milk for about a month now. When she pats on my chest or sucks on my shoulder, my heart aches. She is the sweetest little babe in all the land (says her mother) and I want to nurture her physically. But my milk production drastically declined after adding solid foods. Not to mention, the most I could produce at one pumping session was about 6 ounces, and she slams an 8 oz bottle like it’s nothing. I actually DID try fenugreek, and it WORKED! But I didn’t keep it up, as I wanted to let my body naturally do what it was going to do. I felt like even though I had my reservations about the end of the nursing chapter, it was inevitable, and it was upon us.

What nobody warned me about was a letdown after nursing. I remember my mom telling me that it’s hard to wean, emotionally, because of the bond that comes with breastfeeding. I feel that. I heard a lot about postpartum anxiety and depression, and fortunately never felt that. The only anxiety I had was my already existing anxiety that comes with attachment to my people. I’ve always had this intense fear of losing George or my mom/dad/sister. That same fear with a baby certainly existed, and still exists. I can’t even go there for a second, my heart beats too fast and I go down this rabbit hole…and have to change the subject immediately.

From her birth until recently, I felt in the flow…euphoric, blissful… like I was on a fluffy cotton candy cloud in LaLaBabyLand. It didn’t even feel real sometimes. Stress rolled off my back like water on a duck. Generally speaking, of course.

But lately, I’ve had a tough time identifying with the person I see looking back at me in the mirror. When I gained 60 pounds MAKING A HUMAN, I enjoyed the process. I thought pregnancy was magical. I was so proud of my body for inherently knowing what to do. While breastfeeding, I rarely thought about my body, and when I did, I was impressed that it knew how to make milk, and that my body was all my baby needed to survive.

Now when I see my body, it is mine again. All mine.

And it’s not at all how it used to be, when it used to be mine. It’s like this process came through, and while it was amazing, it really did a number…and now, the process is over, and I’m left with the remnants. I have an umbilical hernia and rectus diastasis. Even if I lose all the weight, my abdomen will always protrude unless I have the muscle repaired (fortunately, I work for a plastic surgeon, and when I’m done making babies, this will be happening).

Hearing compliments like “You look amazing,” or “You’re back to normal” invalidate me, because I KNOW the numbers on the scale, I KNOW the clothes don’t fit like they used to, and I SEE my reflection. When I hear compliments, they seem empty, or challenging. While I found it easy to identify with the phases known as “pregnancy,” and “breastfeeding,” I do NOT find it easy to identify with this current phase… soft, flabby, and 10-15 pounds over my normal weight.

Not to mention, the hormones that surge during breastfeeding are incredible. Prolactin and oxytocin. Oxytocin is a powerful antidepressant. It is known as the “bonding hormone” and is also released during other mammalian activities involving love and attachment… ūüėČ I¬†miss the hormones.

There are upsides to not nursing anymore, like resuming my typical caffeine intake (5 cups of coffee a day, thank you very much), hot yoga, dieting, and wine without having to think about the number of glasses I’ve had in a 2 hour period (no, I don’t have a problem).

Wait, did I just list “dieting” as an “upside”?? What the hell is wrong with me?

If I’m completely honest, vulnerable, and REAL…I can admit…The vain girl inside of me wants to be skinny no matter the expense.

The food-lovin’ girl inside of me LOVES ANY/EVERY THING THAT COMES IN A CAN. CINNAMON ROLLS, CRESCENT ROLLS, MY MOUTH WATERS THINKING OF MY FAVORITE CARBS! I also love donuts, Thai drunken noodles, cereal like Cap’n Crunch and Trix, pizza, eggrolls, chicken fried steak, and bacon. And all of the pasta in the world. I over-indulged in the pregnancy (hence, the 60 pound weight gain), and have become kind of addicted to junk food.

But the new mother in me is telling me to grow up and be healthy for my daughter.

Photo credit: Greer Inez

I’m grateful for my husband¬†and his perfect blend of adoration with concern. He can tell when things aren’t right with me, and he speaks up. He also prevents me from slipping into unhealthy behaviors, that if I get real honest, could manifest without his influence over me. The most powerful comment he shared with me, was a reminder that I am an example for our sweet baby. The last thing I want is for our gorgeous, innocent¬†daughter, to have a body image disturbance. I know as her mother, I am going to be the most influential factor in this. I want her to have a healthy relationship with food and image.

To be that good example, I need to take some time to work on myself over the next few months, and find a balance. And ultimately, if I eat right and exercise, and the numbers on the scale don’t budge and the clothes just no longer fit, I need to come to terms with being a different size than I was before. I used to identify with being skinny. I don’t mean that in a braggy way. I mean, that was part of how I defined myself, and identified myself. As a skinny person. Sure, I had areas that bothered me (what woman doesn’t?), but overall, I was just petite and small. I was never really fit, never really buff or toned, just skinny. Maybe I will learn¬†that I can be a healthy woman in a new size, with a new weight, and new health goals.

I know what will prevail, despite some off days. I know there will be days I gorge and eat like crap, and days where I punish myself by not eating at all (which I know is so messed up, but it’s how my brain works). My goal is to make each extreme less and less frequent, so I can find peace in moderation. I need to let the new mother inside of me win in this internal battle, so I can live longer, spend more time with her, and make a lasting impression on her, and teach by example what it means for a woman to love herself fully.

This wasn’t an easy one to write. But it was honest. And my hope in sharing this publicly is that if there are other women out there experiencing similar feelings, there can be camaraderie and empathy. And if there are women¬†approaching¬†this phase in life, maybe they can have a head’s up on one woman’s experience, and not feel so alone.

This post originally appeared on Musings from Mama

Jessica Shek wedding-profile


First and foremost, Lindsay is¬†a loving wife and an adoring mama.She is an RN in the cosmetic industry, and a feminist. Often progressive, and sometimes traditional. Lover of Joni Mitchell and Tupac, Jesus and Depak Chopra, Kevin Arnold and Tim Riggins. She is¬†a deep thinker who sometimes enjoys trash TV. Both a dreamer, and a do-er. She’s also¬†a Gemini. She blogs¬†at Musings from Mama.



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