Breastfeeding and Your Period

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

baby sleeping in mother's arms
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Your body goes through many changes while you're pregnant, during childbirth, and as you breastfeed. One of these changes has to do with your menstrual cycle.

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.

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.

Is the Bleeding Right After Childbirth a Period?

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 paler in color. As the days go on, it will turn brown and eventually yellow or white. Lochia and spotting can last for up to six weeks.

When Will You Get Your First Period After Your Baby Is Born?

You could get your first period as early as six weeks after the birth of your child. 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.

Even if you do breastfeed, you could get your period back right away.

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

How Can Breastfeeding Keep Your Period Away Longer?

Breastfeeding can put off the return of your menstrual cycle for many months, a year, or even longer, depending on 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 4 to 6 months old

Once you start breastfeeding less often such as when your baby is sleeping through the night or once you've started weaning, your period is more likely to return. Although, for some women, menstruation does not return until a few months after breastfeeding has completely ended.

How Does Pumping Affect the Return of Your Period?

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.

If Your Period Returns Can You Stop It by Breastfeeding More?

No. When your menstrual cycle starts again, it will continue to come each month.

You will not be able to stop it again by breastfeeding more often.

Can You Get Pregnant Again When Your Period Restarts?

Yes, you can get pregnant once you start to get your period again so 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.

Can You Get Pregnant Again Before Your Period Returns?

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

Do You Have to Wean Your Baby Once You Get Your Period?

There's no need to wean your baby when your period returns. Breastfeeding while you have your period is perfectly safe. It's not harmful to you or your child at all. The quality of your breast milk is still good even though the taste and amount of breast milk may change for a few days.

How Can Your Period Affect Your Breast Milk?

Taste: Hormonal fluctuations that happen around the time of your period can change the flavor of your breast milk. The milk is still good, but your child may not like the taste of it. 

Supply: The hormone changes can also affect the amount of milk that you make. So, during your period, you may notice a decrease in your breast milk supply.

What to Do About a Low Milk Supply During Your Period

To combat a dip in your milk supply during your period you can:

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.

How Will Your Period Affect 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 during menstruation. Your baby may:

These changes in your baby's behavior should only last a few days during your period. Then, your child should settle back into her normal breastfeeding routine. If it doesn't improve in a few days, talk to your doctor.  

Can Your Period Make Breastfeeding Painful?

Your period may not only affect your baby, but it may cause some breastfeeding issues for you, too. It's not uncommon to experience sore nipples when menstruation returns. So, for a few days before your period starts, it may be a little uncomfortable to breastfeed.

If possible, try not to let the pain prevent you from breastfeeding. Continue to put the baby to the breast to maintain your milk supply and prevent other breastfeeding problems such as breast engorgement, nipple blebs, plugged milk ducts, and mastitis.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Danforth DN. Danforth's obstetrics and gynecology. Gibbs RS, editor. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

Wiessinger D, West DL, Pitman T. The womanly art of breastfeeding. Random House Digital, Inc. 2010.

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