After pregnancy, your body takes time to restart the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle usually regularizes once the hormones settle a few months after delivery. Also, if you are breastfeeding, it might delay the onset of periods.
In this MomJunction post, we tell you about the correlation between breastfeeding and menstrual cycles in new mothers.
Why Are Periods Delayed When Breastfeeding?
The periods are usually delayed if you are exclusively breastfeeding the baby, due to the hormonal changes. The suckling stimulus on the breast leads to the reduction of the luteinizing hormone (LH) and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) produced by the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands, respectively. These hormones play a vital role in the release of the egg by the ovaries.
There is also an increase in the levels of the prolactin hormone, which affects the ovaries (1). A combination of these hormonal changes leads to a temporary suspension of the menstrual cycle.
When Can You Expect Your First Period When Breastfeeding?
It is difficult to predict a range or exact time when a breastfeeding woman can start getting her periods again.
Medical researchers have found that mothers who bottle-feed (breast milk or formula) their babies get their menstrual periods sooner than the mothers who breastfeed the baby (2).
The effect of breastfeeding depends on several factors like the age of the mother, the duration and frequency of breastfeeding, and if the baby is fed breast milk from the bottle or directly from the breast (1).
Can You Breastfeed On Your Period?
Yes, breastfeeding during menstruation is completely safe. Your breast milk is healthy for the baby, even while you are on your period.
How Does Your Period Affect Breastfeeding?
Periods do not affect breastfeeding adversely but only bring a few changes to your breasts and milk production.
1. Reduced milk supply: Several women notice a temporary reduction in the flow of breast milk while menstruating. It is a temporary change and normalizes in a few days. Have a balanced diet to have a good milk supply. If necessary, the doctor may suggest some supplements likecalcium and magnesium to improve milk production and its quality.
2. Change in milk composition: Some researchers have found that during ovulation and menstruation, the quantity of sodium and chloride increases, while lactose and potassium decrease in the mother’s milk. This might cause mild alteration in the taste of the mother’s milk (3).
3. Nipple tenderness: The hormonal changes that accompany periods could cause nipple tenderness. It is a temporary change. Continue to express milk to avoid clogged ducts and other related problems. You may consult a gynecologist or lactation consultant if the tenderness is severe.
Changes in milk production and the breasts are temporary, and you should continue breastfeeding as usual.
When To See A Doctor?
Breastfeeding and periods often affect one another, but can also occur simultaneously with little concern. However, in certain situations, it is best to see your gynecologist promptly (4).
- No menstrual cycles after stopping breastfeeding
- Too heavy or too less menstrual flow
- Intermittent spotting or bleeding after having sex
- Sudden weight loss
- Pain in the pelvic area or axialla (armpits)
- A sudden decrease in the quantity of breast milk
- Excruciating pain while nursing
- Cracks or abrasions on nipples
- Blood discharge from nipples
- Lumps in breasts
If you see very heavy bleeding between two periods, you should consult your gynecologist as soon as possible.
Breastfeeding And Fertility
It is not necessary that all women who have their periods after delivery ovulate as well (1). Some women may have anovulatory menstrual cycles during breastfeeding before they begin to ovulate.
Research suggests that suckling by the baby results in high levels of prolactin in women who regularly breastfeed, and this could lead to anovulatory cycles. An anovulatory cycle is when the woman menstruates as usual but there is no ovulation, that is, the ovary has not released an egg (2).
Since ovulation in breastfeeding mothers is unpredictable, it is not a sure-shot way of contraception. It is recommended to use other contraceptive methods if you do not want to conceive again.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can my period start and stop while breastfeeding?
Yes. Periods might come and go when you are breastfeeding. It usually regularizes after the baby is completely weaned off the breast milk (5).
2. Can breastfeeding moms have irregular periods?
Yes, breastfeeding moms do have irregular periods due to hormonal imbalance. It settles down by itself once the hormones regularize. However, consult a doctor if you notice any other abnormal symptoms while breastfeeding.
World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life (6). You might have irregular or no periods for a few months while you are breastfeeding, and that is normal. But if you have any concerns, then do not hesitate to consult your gynecologist.
Do you have any experiences to share about breastfeeding and periods? Let us know in the comment section below.
2. P. W. HOWIE et al., FERTILITY AFTER CHILDBIRTH: POST‐PARTUM OVULATION AND MENSTRUATION IN BOTTLE AND BREAST FEEDING MOTHERS; The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology
3. P E Hartmann and C G Prosser, Acute changes in the composition of milk during the ovulatory menstrual cycle in lactating women; U.S. National Library of Medicine
4. Ji Hoon Yu et al., Breast diseases during pregnancy and lactation; U.S. National Library of Medicine
5. Breastfeeding and periods; Health direct
6. Breastfeeding; World Health Organization
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