Breastfeeding takes a lot out of mothers. Breastfeeding burns energy equivalent to 45 minutes of running at a six mile-per-hour pace. While your brain only uses about 20 percent of your body’s energy on a daily basis, producing breast milk takes up to 25 percent of the body’s energy. No wonder postpartum moms are so tired, hungry, and thirsty at the end of the day. 

For Black women specifically, there have historically been barriers to breastfeeding such as stigma, limited education, a lack of family and community support, and healthcare inequities. These barriers, in addition to the physical and emotional toll it takes, can make breastfeeding feel like a lonely, uphill climb.

Lactation consultant, T’Errah Jessup, is the CEO of Wildflower Lactation & Postpartum Care LLC. She works to create support systems that allow breastfeeding Black women to feel heard, seen, and supported. Jessup encourages Black mothers to breastfeed in order to reap its many benefits. 

“Should Black mothers do it? Absolutely!” Jessup said. “Breastfeeding allows for an increase in bonding, less costs for parents, and decreases risks for certain illnesses and infections for both baby and parent.”

Physical Fatigue

Breast milk itself is ever-changing. Jessup explained that the milk first expressed during breastfeeding is referred to as colostrum, which is high in immunoglobulins and other bioactive components, and is nutritious for a newborn. 

“As the body produces and meets the demands of the baby [for nourishment and growth], breastfeeding can provoke feelings of fatigue and sluggishness,” Jessup said. 

Postpartum fatigue generally reaches its peak six weeks to six months after childbirth.

Increased Hunger

Breastfeeding affects the body as moms expend more calories to meet the nutritional needs of the infant, which creates hunger.

“To tackle hunger, consume an additional 500 calories per day, which is like snacking in between meals,” Jessup said. 

It is important for moms to ensure that they are taking in adequate protein and carbohydrates to boost energy. Suggested foods to eat postpartum include lean meats, milk, nuts, cheese, seeds, fish, legumes, whole-wheat bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, and brown rice.

Increased Thirst

Moms experience an increase in thirst due to the hormone oxytocin. As oxytocin releases it helps to relax mom and baby during breastfeeding (or pumping). Moms should drink water to stay hydrated and energized during breastfeeding. It is suggested to drink as much as 12 to 13 cups of water each day postpartum.

“As you are breastfeeding (or pumping), it is recommended to keep some water nearby as you will experience an increase in thirst during the feeding or pumping session,” Jessup said. 

If you don’t enjoy drinking water, opt instead for coconut water, unsweetened lemon water, or infused water.

Stomach Cramps and Contractions

If a mom is within six weeks postpartum, she may experience cramping or contractions during breastfeeding. This happens as the baby’s suckling helps to shrink the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy state, Jessup said. This is normal for postpartum healing.

Emotional and Mental Exhaustion

Breastfeeding does not just have a physical affect on the body. The demands of a newborn’s feeding patterns can also take a toll on you mentally, Jessup explained.

“It impacts you mentally and emotionally as you work so hard to provide nutrients to your little one,” she said. “But with dedication and support, moms can achieve breastfeeding success.”

Moms should be open to ask for help, such as letting someone change their baby’s diaper, letting someone provide food or water, or letting someone watch the baby to step away for a moment. There are Black IBCLCs and other lactation professionals to help in the process.

“With a solid support system, whether in-person or virtually, you can do this,” she added. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”