Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Unbearable Heaviness of Boobs

Why do I get this agitated antsy feeling when my boobs are getting full of milk? I can't concentrate. I stop anything touching my breasts so as not to bruise them in their firm ripeness. My mind keeps wandering back to milky thoughts. I wonder when my baby is going to wake up. Basically, I can't think about anything except breastfeeding. This is not an ideal situation since full boobs combined with milky thoughts tend to produce an embarrassing shirt wetting letdown.

I certainly don't physically feel any different when my breasts are full. They are not tender or sore. I only know they are full by touching them and feeling the hard bumpy texture, the rocks-in-the-bra effect.

I wonder if my full boob anxiety is purely psychological, a syndrome that I have developed because I know that I put myself in danger of suffering blocked ducts and the like if I allow my breasts to become engorged. Or, I wonder, does it have a physiological root? There are mechanisms that regulate milk production in the human breast, slowing the production down as the breast fills up. One protein that we produce is called FIL (feedback inhibitor of lactation). FIL works by the process of negative feedback: it is produced at the same time as milk, so the longer you go without removing the milk from the breast, the more the FIL builds up. The more FIL is present, the slower the production of milk. When you breastfeed, the FIL is removed from the breast along with the milk. Perhaps the presence of the FIL in my body has some small effect that tells my brain that I need to empty my breasts.

Or maybe I want to breastfeed because my body is accustomed to its regular fix of oxytonin and prolactin, the two hormones that are stimulated by suckling. Perhaps I am addicted to the hormones of lactation.

Or is it possible that I have a psychological addiction to the regular comforting ritual of breastfeeding?

It really wouldn't surprise me if the human body, in all its wonderful interconnected cleverness, had figured out a way to make a lactating woman feel an urge to breastfeed when her breasts became overfull. Just as prolactin promotes a feeling of calmness and well-being during and after a breastfeed, it would make sense that a chemical of lactation regulation might promote the urge to nurse.

Does anybody else experience the same mildly anxious feelings when a feed is overdue?

13 comments:

Earthenwitch said...

Yes, definitely, although less these days (the witchling is thirteen months today) as she has tapered off a bit on feeding (though I'm happy to report we're still going strong, and she shows no signs of weaning yet). I did find I got increasingly agitated, though; it's only really been in the last couple of months that I've been able to be a bit more laid-back about it. It seems to take me a very long time to develop confidence in things; I should have more faith, really, but I remember when the witchling had a feeding strike at about ten months, to start with, I really thought That Was It, and that made me incredibly sad. Fortunately, it was only a strike, and a few days later, we were sorted and back on track.

allgrownup said...

Weirdly, I was thinking about this last night! I couldn't sleep after baby woke and needed settling. He's 18m and no longer breastfeeds,and I'm expecting number 2. All I could think about while lying awake was: ooooh, I can't wait to get breastfeeding again, all those sleep hormones it produces, I'll have no problems falling asleep after being up with the baby!!!

Liz said...

I don't think I have ever had a feed 'overdue' with either of mine as they both fed practically non-stop for about 14 months at least and then only gradually tapered off. But I have been feeling a bit weird since my son has been cutting out his morning feed (he is almost 4.5 years now!) and feeling a bit 'full' by evening.

cartside said...

Oh yes, I know the feeling. For the first 3 months I had to set the alarm at night to pump (until then, daughter slept well at night while I couldn't go 5 hours without feeding. Later she fed nonstop though and hardly ever got the full feeling.

Laura Mcintyre said...

Definetly , i love every second of every feed and when im not doing it i want to be doing it . Being full just makes me think my poor baby might be hungry and sad and that makes me sad.

ModernMom said...

It's been 6 years since I've had that anxious feeling but I remember it well! If only blogging had been in fashion way back then. Perhaps I wouldn't have felt so alone:)

Darcel said...

I remember that feeling. I always had an over supply with both of my girls.
I kinda miss the feeling of letdown since mine isn't so little anymore.

docwitch said...

Although I had problems with not producing enough milk, I do remember that during the first 6 months of my girl's life I would feel anxiety as I reached the 2-3 hours between feeds mark. If she was away from me on the rare occasion, I would feel out-and-out panic, and it would always be around the 3 hour make when my breasts would start to feel full. The rush of hormones was powerful.

I do remember enjoying the breastfeeding, and wishing that I could do that exclusively instead of stuffing about with bottles of formula.

Amanda said...

Yep...anxious feelings here, too. I was caught off guard when I went away for two days to Chicago a couple of weeks ago. Rowan's 2-1/2 now and only gets "ba-bas" as naptime and early in the mornings. Yet, when nap-time approached, there I was standing at a conference booth with a flip in my stomach and a tingle in my breasts. I also made the mistake of thinking I wasn't producing much milk anymore. 48 hours without nursing my not-so-little one and boy was I feeling it!

Cave Mother said...

So I am not alone. I wonder why they don't tell you about this feeling in the nursing books?

Joe said...

I certainly felt that feeling too. I have to admit that the possibility of blocked ducts, and even mastitis (!), did cross my mind. I like your analogies with the cleverness of the human body - isn't it wonderful? :)

Anonymous said...

I used to get a prickly feeling. I breastfed my child for almost 6 years but the last few years didn't get quite the same amount of milky feelings going on. My most weird moment was when we went to an animal rescue and they had baby racoons (not sure why since they are not native to the UK!). A woman passed them to me to hold and they were making really cute squeaking noises. My milk reflex went into overdrive and I really had to control myself not to feed them (not to mention I was leaking all over my top) - maternal instinct. I passed them back to the woman really quickly and felt so sad that I couldn't nurse them too (on reflection glad I didn't).

clareybabble said...

Yes I get that feeling too, more so when my daughter was younger and fed more often. She is 11 months now and only feeds a few times a day but when I'm away from her just the thought of her makes my breasts leak! There is a big supply of breast pads in my wardrobe!