You might have heard that while breastfeeding, your periods get delayed for months, even up to a year. And while this is true for some mums, it is quite normal for other breastfeeding mothers to resume their menstrual cycle several weeks or even months post-delivery. Breastfeeding while on your period should not be an issue at all, but you might have some questions.
What should you do if your period returns earlier than you imagined it would, while you are nursing your baby? Will it affect your supply? Will baby reject your breasts? These are just a few of the questions nursing mums might have in relation to breastfeeding and periods.
We provide the answers to all your "breastfeeding period" questions.
Breastfeeding while on your period: Everything you need to know
Why does breastfeeding interfere with menstruation?
When your baby is born, you are naturally equipped to breastfeed him, thanks to your hormones. And just as they support your pregnancy phase, they also assist your body in producing enough milk during your breastfeeding period.
Prolactin is the primary hormone that does this job.
Incidentally, it also plays a crucial role in preventing and delaying menstruation. Continuous breastfeeding keeps this hormone on a high level, preventing periods.
Therefore, the longer you nurse, the longer it will take for your body to menstruate.
Why do some mums get their period earlier than others post-birth?
Usually, early onset of your menstrual cycle after giving birth can be due to weaning, your baby starting solids or sleeping through the night.
Late menses can be attributed to extended breastfeeding, late weaning, sleeping with the baby or sometimes even carrying the baby in a sling.
Your first post-birth period
Usually, before your first period (post-delivery) you may experience cramping or classic PMS-style symptoms. It is also common to feel them weeks or even months before the actual period starts.
If that happens, know that your body is preparing for the onset of a menstrual cycle.
As for the bleeding, you may notice a dark red colour and heavy flow as compared to periods before pregnancy. Ideally, you should change your napkin (avoid tampons as they may cause infection) every four to five hours.
But if you think your flow is really heavy, or you are experiencing an unusual amount of pain, you may need to speak with your gynaecologist.
After your first period post delivery you may not notice any significant change in your breastfeeding pattern. Breastfeeding while on your period should not be an issue.
Will my periods affect breastfeeding?
When you get your first period you may not notice any significant change in your breastfeeding pattern. However, some new mums do experience the following changes:
- Nipple tenderness during breastfeeding period as well as during ovulation
- A drop in milk supply that you will notice a few days before or during your periods
- Your baby may demand more milk because of the sudden drop in milk supply
- Slight changes in the taste of breastmilk may discourage your baby from latching on frequently
If you notice any of these changes, do not worry. They are common and often occur due to fluctuating hormone levels.
Since your body has undergone so much change from pregnancy to delivery, you need to continue being patient. Practice regular breastfeeding and give yourself some time before normal milk supply comes back.
Also, do not be discouraged or take the slight change in taste of your milk as a sign to wean your baby off your breasts.
Should I wean my baby after I get my periods?
When new mums start their first menstrual cycle during the breastfeeding period, they also often get confused about weaning. Most believe that they should stop breastfeeding.
However, that shouldn't be the case, especially if your baby is younger than six months.
Remember, nursing while menstruating will not affect your milk or your health and that of your baby's. And, while the quality of the breastmilk will remain the same, the quantity may go down for a while.
The only issue will be to manage a shortage of breastmilk supply during your periods.
You may notice a shortage in your milk supply during your first few periods post-delivery, but breastfeeding while on your period, in general, should not be an issue.
Will my milk supply dip after periods?
As mentioned earlier, you will notice a shortage in your milk supply during your first few periods post-delivery. But it is manageable with natural supplements. Try to include a diet rich in carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.
It is alright to eat a little bit more than you usually do to incorporate an extra 500 calories daily. You could also include galactagogues (breastmilk boosters) in your diet.
These include the following:
- Fenugreek seeds (methi), available as tea are commonly used by Indian mums to increase breastmilk supply
- Tumeric powder and turi leaves (both can be bought at Tekka market)
- Chinese herbs including Dang Gui and dates also improve your milk supply
- Filipina mums swear by malunggay. You can find it in speciality Filipino stores in Singapore.
- Include green papaya and fish head soup as well as fish maw soup in your diet. You can also have pig trotter soup
- Also include nuts like almonds, walnuts and dried figs as well as lactation cookies (consisting of one of these ingredients: rolled oats, brewers yeast, flaxseeds or fenugreek)
- Drink plenty of water and fluids all day
Apart from these dietary measures, make sure to get a regular checkup and weigh your baby to determine proper nourishment.
Preparing for a dip in breastfeeding while on your period
Bottles and frozen breast milk storage bags for new baby on wooden table
Some mums might experience a mild to drastic dip in their breastmilk supply while on their period. In preparation for this, pump and store breast milk in advance.
There are two ways to go about collecting breast milk: through the use of a breast pump and through hand expression. Once you have pumped the breast milk, it should be refrigerated or chilled right after it is expressed, unless you are going to feed it to your baby immediately.
Alternatively, if you are unable to freeze freshly expressed milk immediately, ensure it is kept in a cool place. Remember that freshly expressed milk can be kept at room temperature for around four to six hours.
Now, the next query is obvious.
The reason that most new mums are usually concerned about the breastfeeding period is because of the possibility of another pregnancy.
Will I get pregnant while breastfeeding?
While a common myth court breastfeeding as an effective birth control method, experts suggest otherwise.
Dr Priyanka Mehta, senior gynecologist at ePsyClinic, New Delhi, spoke exclusively to theAsianparent and explained, "Nursing may postpone ovulation, but it’s no guarantee that you are risk-free in the breastfeeding period. Oral pills or Copper-t (intrauterine device) can be safely used after advice from your gynecologist."
She added that while exclusive breastfeeding is not a risk-free method of birth control, it is effective if it meets the following criteria:
- Your baby is less than six months of age
- Periods haven't started as yet
- Baby is exclusively on the breast (day and night) and has very little solids
How can I prevent pregnancy during breastfeeding?
So how do you prolong the return of your menses in order to prevent a possible pregnancy? The best way to do this is by practising ecological breastfeeding.
- Keep your baby close at all times
- Breastfeed your baby on cue
- Not weaning your baby
- Nursing your baby while lying down
- Keeping your baby away from pacifiers
Practising ecological nursing will not only bring your chances of pregnancy down considerably, but it will also push menses back to 14 months.
Source: Natural Child Spacing and Breastfeeding by Jen O’Quinn
The other benefit is that mums will start ovulating as soon as they get their first period. But those who do not will experience infertility for the first few months of their periods.
When will my fertility return?
Now that your periods have begun, you must also be aware that they are an indication that your fertility is back.
Speak to your gynaecologist about contraception around six weeks of delivery to prevent chances of unwanted pregnancy during the breastfeeding period.
If you were using birth control pills or any other form of contraception, share this information with your healthcare provider so it doesn't interfere in the breastfeeding process.
The most important thing to remember is that each new mum is different from the other. So listen to your body, keep an eye on your physical and psychological changes and speak to your health care provide accordingly.
Sources: Kellymom.com, nfpandmore.org, motherandchildhealth.com
Also read: 3 Common breastfeeding problems and how to solve them
(All images courtesy: Pixabay)