My first ever pregnancy was a world of experience. There were many things that I was excited about like getting to skip my period for nine whole months.
This meant no cramps, no headaches, and no crazy mood swings, for me at least. After the big day, the breastfeeding journey began and I figured that episode would last a long time.
But there were other events also happening, particularly involving my period. They told us that pregnancy changes your body but this was not something they talked much about.
I needed to understand what was going on with my period.
Can my period start and stop while breastfeeding? Surprisingly yes, it can. Nursing mothers are more likely to have periods that seem to unexpectedly start or not start at all while breastfeeding, especially in the months immediately following childbirth.
What really causes your body to make a period one month, or not make a period at all while you are breastfeeding? To sum it up, your hormones!
Your menstrual cycle is regulated by the interaction of your hormones. Normally, the female hormones estrogen and progesterone cause the lining of your uterus to build up, and it is this lining that breaks down and bleeds monthly, giving you a period.
For the first few months after childbirth, these hormones are at a very low level, and continue to be suppressed for six months or longer in breastfeeding mothers. While this is happening, your body also uses another hormone called prolactin to produce breast milk, and prolactin stops or delays ovulation which may stop you from getting a period.
On top of that, frequent breastfeeding keeps your prolactin hormones at a high level further stopping your body from making monthly periods. On the other hand changes in these hormones could cause your period to start while breastfeeding.
La Leche League reported that while breastfeeding some women have a period without ovulation before 6 months postpartum, but do not have a period again for many months after that. Other reports from HealthDirect shows that when mothers are still producing milk it is not unusual for their period to start or become irregular, skipping a month or few months after starting.
So once you do get your first period, that doesn’t mean that your period will resume its original cycle or become consistent right away.
When Should My Period Start Or Stop While Breastfeeding?
After your baby is born there is usually a bleeding that you will experience, and it is important not to confuse this with a period. This bleeding is called lochia and is vaginal discharge containing blood, mucus, and uterine tissues.
For breastfeeding mothers, when your period will actually return varies from woman to woman. This creates an enormous range for what is considered “normal”.
Some nursing mothers get their period soon after childbirth, while others may stop getting periods for months or even years later, when the baby is no longer breastfeeding. Here are some factors that may influence when your period starts or stops while breastfeeding:
1.How sensitive your body is to hormonal changes
This may be impacted by genetics, as well as other medical conditions.
2. Breastfeeding Exclusively
Most mothers who exclusively breastfeed will not have a period for 3 to 6 months or longer. Some might not even get a period until a few months after breastfeeding has completely ended.
This absence of menstruation is called lactational amenorrhea. And Breastfeeding exclusively means that your baby is completely dependent on you for all nourishment and sucking needs.
3.Your Breastfeeding pattern
- If you are supplementing your breast milk by bottle feeding your baby formula or water, your period may start sooner.
- If you have prolonged periods of time that you are not breastfeeding because your baby is sleeping right through the night, or is going for many hours without breastfeeding, this may also cause your period to return, even if you are exclusively breastfeeding.
- If you are weaning your baby this may trigger your period to start
- If you are breastfeeding less often because your baby is starting to eat solid foods, your period may return quickly
The more often you breastfeed, the more likely it is that your period will stop for a longer time, because frequent nursing stops the release of hormones that causes your body to make monthly periods.
While you are breastfeeding, it’s possible to get pregnant when your period starts or with no period at all. This is because either way, you can still ovulate, creating a chance of getting pregnant.
You are however more likely to ovulate if you are breastfeeding less often or going long periods of time without nursing. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, you may have a natural postpartum infertility if your period has not started, your baby is younger than 6 months old, and you are not supplementing your breast milk, or going long hours without breastfeeding.
This is called the Lactational Amenorrhea Method and is used by some mothers as a birth control method of preventing pregnancy due to its high percentage of effectiveness.
Getting a period while breastfeeding will not be harmful for you. Your body will go through hormonal changes, which may affect how you feel, and your willingness to breastfeed.
Some mothers may feel less comfortable while breastfeeding during their period. It might cause a drop in milk supply during certain times in your menstrual cycle, usually right before the start or a few days into it.
This may be an impact of estrogen and progesterone levels changing. Studies show that calcium levels in the blood also decreases after ovulation, which may also contribute to a decrease in milk supply.
Your milk supply should begin to increase once you do get your period. Other changes you may experience are your breast feeling fuller and tender, and nipple soreness and tenderness.
Your period is not harmful for your baby and your milk will still be healthy. However, hormonal changes may affect your baby’s nursing pattern.
A few days leading up to your period, the taste of your breast milk changes. Research shows that around the time of ovulation, breast milk becomes saltier because the levels of sodium and chloride in the milk increase, while lactose (milk sugar) and potassium decrease.
Most babies continue to breastfeed well with no issues, but some babies become fussy at the changes, need to breastfeed more often due to the drop in milk supply, choose to breastfeed less often because they don’t like the milk flavor, and others refuse to nurse at all. Too low of a drop in milk supply could be dangerous for your baby, so ensure your baby is growing and gaining weight normally, by keeping up with regular pediatrician visits, and paying attention to signs that your baby is getting enough milk.
Most changes in your baby’s behavior are temporary, and should resume back to normal breastfeeding routine after a few days.
The changes normally get better in time, but here are some things you can try to get faster relief:
1. Increasing your breast milk supply
During the days of lower milk supply, you can try to increase your breast milk by:
- Using herbal breastfeeding teas or other galactagogue (a substance that can help nursing mothers increase milk supply). Some mothers swear by oatmeal, and chickpeas
- Drinking plenty of water and other fluids. Breast milk is more than 80% water
- Eating nutritious foods especially dark leafy greens like spinach and broccoli
- Taking supplements. A daily dose of 500 to 1,000 mg of a calcium and magnesium from the middle of your cycle and during your period may help minimize any drop in supply
- Talk to your lactation consultant for helpful advice. You may get resourceful information on getting your milk supply up and help finding local support
2. Combating Sore nipple pain & breast tenderness
I’ve personally tried these techniques:
- A favorite remedy of mine is to use lanolin cream which is safe and non toxic. You do not have to remove it before breastfeeding.
- Avoid using numbing cream as they can numb your baby’s mouth and interrupt your milk let-down
- Make sure your baby is latching properly at the breast to prevent other problems like mastitis
- Nurse often whenever possible to prevent breast engorgement
- Gently pump your full breast if you can
- Ask your doctor for advice if your pain is unbearable
Getting Back To Normal
Your body goes through many changes while breastfeeding and your period starting or stopping is one of them. If you are concerned about the changes, speak with your doctor about your options. Most of the hormonal changes you may face are temporary and you may be back to your old self in no time.