After a challenging start post emergency c-section, breastfeeding felt so incredibly wonderful and right to me. I was also excited about the prospect of potentially having no period for months or even years to come! You can imagine my dismay when it returned at just three months postpartum. Although, to my surprise, it was lighter than it had been pre-pregnancy and less painful, too.
Whilst breastfeeding is a natural and beautiful way to nourish your baby, it can also bring about unexpected changes to your menstrual cycle. While the timing of the return of Aunt Flo was a surprise to me, this blog post will help you to feel prepared for the possible return of your period whilst breastfeeding.
What's the Connection?
During breastfeeding, your body produces high levels of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production. This increase in prolactin can suppress ovulation and menstruation, leading to a condition called lactational amenorrhea. This means you may not have a period for several months or even years while you're exclusively breastfeeding your baby. This also means that some mothers (not all) will not be able to conceive for as long as they are breastfeeding. You can read more about breastfeeding through pregnancy, here.
How Long Will My Period Stay Away?
The length of lactational amenorrhea varies from woman to woman. For some, periods may resume as early as 6-8 weeks after giving birth, especially if they're not breastfeeding exclusively. For others, periods may be delayed for as long as they are breastfeeding (even if that is for years).
What Factors Affect the Return of My Period?
Several factors can influence the return of your period during breastfeeding. These include:
Frequency of breastfeeding - the more often you breastfeed, the more prolactin your body produces, which can delay the return of your period.
Nighttime breastfeeding - studies suggest that nighttime breastfeeding may have a stronger impact on suppressing ovulation and extending lactational amenorrhea.
Duration of breastfeeding - the longer you breastfeed exclusively, the longer it may take for your period to return.
Individual factors - your body's unique hormone levels and metabolism also play a role in the timing of your period.
What Happens If My Period Returns While I'm Breastfeeding?
If your period returns while you're still breastfeeding, it does not mean that your milk supply is decreasing or that you're not producing enough milk for your baby. It simply means that your reproductive system is resuming its natural cycle. The return of menstruation can sometimes cause a temporary dip in milk supply in some mothers. This is due to the fluctuating hormone levels that accompany ovulation and menstruation. As estrogen and progesterone levels rise, they can temporarily interfere with prolactin production, (the hormone responsible for milk production). This dip in supply is usually mild and temporary, and only typically occurs around the time of menstruation and possibly ovulation. However, some mothers may notice a more significant drop in supply, especially if they have a history of low milk supply.
Tips for managing a dip in milk supply when menstruation resumes:
• Stay hydrated and well-nourished - drinking plenty of fluids and eating a balanced diet are essential for maintaining a healthy milk supply. Easier said than done? Check out my breastfeeding mother's meal planning cheat sheet, here.
• Magnesium and calcium - these minerals play crucial roles in maintaining a healthy milk supply. Magnesium is involved in the production of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk synthesis. Calcium is also essential for milk production, as it is the primary mineral component of milk. Studies suggest that a dip in magnesium and calcium levels can contribute to milk supply fluctuations, particularly during the premenstrual period and menstruation. Therefore taking steps to ensure adequate magnesium and calcium intake may help to mitigate any dip in your milk supply.
Try, Incorporating magnesium-rich foods into your diet. Foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are excellent sources of magnesium. Choose calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as calcium-fortified foods like cereals and plant-based milk alternatives. Finally, if you cannot meet your magnesium and calcium needs through diet alone, consider taking supplements under the guidance of your healthcare provider.
• Manage stress - stress can negatively impact milk production. Try to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as breath work techniques, exercise, or spending time in nature. My all-time-favourite way to reset my nervous system is with 4-7-8 breathing. Simply inhale for the count of four, hold that breath for the count of seven and exhale for the count of eight. I love this technique for its simplicity and because it can be done anywhere, any time. Highly recommended.
• Increase breastfeeding frequency - if your baby is breastfeeding on demand, you may not need to change much. However, if your baby is not nursing on demand, or if they have started sleeping through the night, you may want to temporarily increase the frequency of breastfeeding, or pumping. Nursing or pumping overnight will have the greatest impact upon your milk supply
• Consult a lactation professional - If you are concerned about your milk supply, talk to a lactation professional such as an IBCLC or a breastfeeding counsellor near you. They can provide personalized advice and support to help you manage your milk supply.
Taking Care of You
If you have any concerns about breastfeeding or your menstrual cycle, do not hesitate to seek guidance from a lactation or medical professional. You deserve just as much love and care as your precious child(ren). So, if you need to, seek personalized advice and support based on your individual circumstances.