Breastfeeding, Periods and Getting Pregnant
After those big fat super pads and mesh undies that are a necessary postnatal ‘thing’, discovering that breastfeeding can delay the return of your periods is a welcome bonus.
This period free time though, varies among individual women. Most mothers who continue to breastfeed will resume periods between nine and eighteen months after birth. However, while some lucky ladies can go a year or more without a glimpse of Aunty Flo, others can find her visiting within just a few weeks. Typically, the more frequently a baby breast-feeds and the longer you keep breastfeeding, the longer it takes for periods to return.
If you are mixed feeding for instance, offering a bottle for some feeds or giving your baby a dummy and also, as your baby starts stretching out intervals between feeds (if he starts sleeping longer at night), your hormone levels will start signalling to your body that it’s Ok to start preparing for another pregnancy and your periods will usually return sooner.
According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League), ‘almost all mothers who are fully breastfeeding their babies are free of menstrual periods for 3 – 6 months or longer.’ This is called lactational amenorrhea.
‘Fully breastfeeding’ means keeping your baby close and offering your little one the breast for all nutritional and sucking needs day and night. Although there will be exceptions, exclusive breastfeeding (no bottles, dummies or other foods) will usually suppress your fertility hormones, delaying ovulation and menstruation.
Can I get pregnant before I get my period?
While it is rare to ovulate before you have your first period (it’s often called the 'warning period'), this can happen. You may ovulate before you get your period back if your baby is over six months and not exclusively breastfeeding – as he starts family foods and if he sleeps longer at night. If you want to space your babies, it would be a good idea to discuss contraception with your health carer, letting them know you want an option that is compatible with breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding as contraception
Exclusive breastfeeding alone can be an effective method of contraception - the ‘Lactational Amenorrhea Method’ (LAM) is reported as 98 – 99.5% effective as long as certain criteria are met:
1. Your baby is younger than six months old
2. Your menstrual periods have not yet returned
3. Baby is breastfeeding on cue (both day & night), is offered the breast for comfort as well as ‘food’, is exclusively breastfeeding - no dummies or bottles and no self-soothing by thumb sucking, for instance, that may reduce sucking at the breast.
Once your baby has started family foods, if your periods haven’t returned, you may further delay the return of fertility by weaning onto family foods very gradually and breastfeeding before feeding solids. See here for research about ‘ecological breastfeeding’ and natural child spacing.
Will my period affect my milk supply?
It is common to have a slight dip in milk supply during your menstrual cycle, usually a few days before your period. During ovulation and just before your period, levels of estrogen and progesterone can fluctuate and may cause some breast tenderness. Higher estrogen levels can impact 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 milk supply, while alterations in sodium levels may make your breastmilk taste slightly salty at this time, this isn’t a concern and is unlikely to impact on breastfeeding.
For effective strategies to naturally boost your milk supply, download our FREE ebook 'Making More Mummy Milk,Naturally' by Pinky McKay, IBCLC Lactation Consultant.
If you do feel your milk supply is a bit lower around your period, please don’t worry, any ‘dip’ in your milk supply will only be temporary and will settle once your period starts, as your hormones balance out again. Meanwhile, respond to your baby’s hunger cues (he may need to feed more frequently at this time), and check that he is having plenty of wet and poopy nappies – remember, what comes out must have gone in!
Many mums have told us that lactogenic foods are helpful at this time - eat nourishing foods and drink fluids according to your thirst. You can also try supplementing with a combination of calcium and magnesium supplements such as 1000mg of calcium taken with 500mg of magnesium before and during your period.
If you are concerned, please seek help from a breastfeeding counsellor or an IBCLC Lactation Consultant.