Breastfeeding and Menstruation

When will your period return and will it affect your baby and your breast milk?

baby sleeping in the arms of mother
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Menstruation is connected to fertility, pregnancy, and even breastfeeding. Missing a period is one of the first signs of pregnancy, and while you're pregnant, the hormones in your body keep your period away. Then, if you decide to breastfeed, your period may stay away for weeks, months, or longer. So, when should you expect your period to return and how will menstruation affect breastfeeding and your baby?

You may have many questions about what to expect once your baby is born. Here's what you need to about breastfeeding and your period.

Bleeding After Childbirth

The bleeding that you'll have right after your baby is born may seem like a period, but that's not actually what it is. It's called lochia, and it's a mixture of blood, mucus, and tissue from the lining of your uterus.

Lochia starts out as bright red bleeding. It can be very heavy, and it may contain blood clots. After a few days, it will start to slow down and turn pink or lighter in color. As the days go on, it will become brown and eventually yellow or white. Lochia and spotting can last for up to six weeks.

First Period After Baby Is Born

You could get your first real period as early as six weeks after you have your baby. If you don't breastfeed, you can usually expect menstruation to return within three months. However, everybody is different, so the time frame varies from one woman to the next.

Breastfeeding could hold off your period longer. However, even if you do breastfeed, you could get your period back right away.

You are more likely to get your period back sooner if:

Can You Breastfeed On Your Period?

When your period does return, it doesn't mean you have to wean your baby. Breastfeeding while you have your period is perfectly safe. It's not harmful to you or your child at all. Your breast milk is still healthy and nutritious for your baby. However, hormone changes in the days leading up to your period can affect your breast milk and your baby's breastfeeding pattern for a few days.

How Your Period Affects Breastfeeding

You may not notice any difference in breastfeeding when your period returns. And, even if there are some changes, your baby may not mind and continue to breastfeed as usual. However, it's also possible that the return of your period can cause: 

Research shows that the composition of breast milk changes around ovulation (mid-cycle). The levels of sodium and chloride in the milk go up while lactose (milk sugar) and potassium go down. So, the breast milk becomes saltier and less sweet during this time. 

Also around the time of ovulation and just before the start of your period, estrogen and progesterone levels change which can affect your breasts and your breast milk. When estrogen and progesterone levels go up, it can make your breasts feel full and tender. Higher estrogen levels can also interfere with milk production. Studies also show that calcium levels in the blood go down after ovulation. The lower level of calcium may also contribute to sore nipples and a drop in the milk supply.

Dealing With Nipple Tenderness

It's not uncommon to experience sore nipples when you get your period. So, for a few days before your period starts, it may be a little uncomfortable to breastfeed. Here are some tips to help you deal with nipple tenderness.

  1. If possible, try not to let the pain prevent you from breastfeeding.
  2. Continue to put the baby to the breast so you can maintain your milk supply and prevent other breastfeeding problems such as breast engorgementnipple blebsplugged milk ducts, and mastitis.
  3. Don't use a numbing cream to try to relieve the pain. These products can numb your baby's mouth and interfere with the let-down of your breast milk
  4. Ask your doctor if it's safe for you to use an over-the-counter pain reliever for the few days it hurts.
  5. If it's too painful and you just cannot breastfeed, you can pump your breast milk. Pumping will help you keep up your milk supply while you're waiting for the tenderness to pass. It also allows you to continue to give your baby your breast milk.

Increasing Low Milk Supply During Period

The decrease in your milk supply related to your period is usually temporary. You may notice the dip during the few days before your period arrives. Then, once you get your period, your supply should begin to increase again as the hormones balance out. To combat a low breast milk supply during your period you can:

  1. try to build up your breast milk supply naturally
  2. use an herbal breastfeeding tea or another galactagogue to help boost your milk production
  3. eat a well-balanced diet with iron-rich foods (red meat, leafy greens) and milk-making superfoods (oatmeal, almonds, fennel)
  4. drink plenty of fluids
  5. try a combination of calcium and magnesium supplements such as 1000mg of calcium taken with 500mg of magnesium before and during your period
  6. talk to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group for more information and helpful advice

If your milk supply drops too low, it could be dangerous for your baby. So, you should also:

If your breast milk supply does go down to a point where your child is not getting enough, the pediatrician may recommend a supplement.

Your Period and Your Baby

The return of your period may not have any effect on your baby or your milk supply all. Some infants continue to breastfeed well and without any issues. On the other hand, some infants will not like the taste of the breast milk or the drop in the amount of breast milk that can happen when your period returns. Your baby may:

  • become fussy
  • breastfeed more due to the lower milk supply 
  • breastfeed less because there is less breast milk and it tastes different
  • refuse to nurse

These changes in your baby's behavior should only last a few days. Then, your child should settle back into her regular breastfeeding routine. If you do not see any improvement in a few days, you should talk to your doctor.  

No Period While Breastfeeding 

Breastfeeding can put off the return of your menstrual cycle for many months, a year, or even longer. It depends on your body and how often and how long you decide to breastfeed. Your period may stay away longer if you:

  • breastfeed exclusively
  • breastfeed both day and night
  • keep your baby close to you by babywearing and co-sleeping
  • avoid giving your child a bottle or a pacifier
  • don't supplement with formula or water
  • hold off on starting solid foods until your little one is four to six months old

Once you are breastfeeding less often such as when your baby is sleeping through the night or you begin weaning, your period is more likely to start up again. Although, some women don't get their period for a few months after breastfeeding has completely ended. When it finally shows up, breastfeeding more often will not get it to stop again. 

Pumping or expressing breast milk by hand does not have the same effect on your body as breastfeeding does. If you choose to pump and bottle feed your baby, it will not hold off your period.

Your Period and Your Fertility

When your period returns, you should consider yourself fertile. If you're not ready to have another baby right away, you may want to look into birth control.

Your doctor will most likely talk to you about your birth control options during your first postpartum doctor visit at approximately four to six weeks after your baby is born. If not, bring it up and be sure to tell her that you're breastfeeding since some types of birth control can interfere with your supply of breast milk.

Pregnancy Before Return of Period

You can release an egg from your ovary (ovulate) before your period returns. Therefore, there is a chance that you can become pregnant while you're breastfeeding even before your period comes back. So, if you're involved in an intimate relationship, and you're not using birth control, it is possible to find yourself expecting again without ever getting your first postpartum period.
 

A Word From Verywell

Breastfeeding can affect your period, and your period can affect breastfeeding, your breast milk, and your baby. While many women do not notice any changes when their period returns, some women experience inconvenient or concerning issues. Luckily, the most common breastfeeding problems that result from the return of your period are temporary. Breast tenderness might be uncomfortable, and a dip in your milk supply might mean a fussy baby or breastfeeding very often. But, if you can hang in there, the issues usually only last a few days and go away on their own. At least until the next cycle.   

Of course, you may decide that the sore nipples and extra work it takes to keep up your milk supply are just too much. While it's still safe and beneficial to breastfeed when you have your period, some moms choose to wean once their period returns. It may even be easier if the baby is breastfeeding less due a lower breast milk supply and the change in the flavor of the milk. It's true that the longer you can breastfeed, the better it is for you and your child. But, it's really up to you and what works best for your family.

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