What would a National Breastfeeding Month series from a menstrual cup company be without a post on periods??
Periods during/after breastfeeding are tricky. Gone are the days of perfectly timed cycles and knowing when you would start. Unfortunately, I can’t give you cut and dry answers about when your cycle will start but I can give you general information.
First, let’s look at why breastfeeding changes our cycles
Breastfeeding naturally delays ovulation. This is our body’s way of ensuring we don’t get pregnant right away and naturally spacing out children. Our bodies release a hormone called prolactin while nursing, this is the hormone that suppresses ovulation and thereby keeps away periods and the chance of getting pregnant.
Postpartum bleeding is not menstruation
After giving birth (either vaginally or by c-section) there is a significant blood flow called lochia. This will last up to six weeks postpartum and varies in flow similar to a menstrual cycle. The bleeding the first few days can sometimes be much heavier than a menstrual cycle. Make sure to wash yourself with the peri bottle provided by your practitioner as lochia contains a lot of bacteria as well. Typically practitioners say nothing should be inserted in the vagina for 4-6 weeks postpartum so you will want to ask about using your menstrual cup to capture the flow. Many cloth pad manufacturers have postpartum kits specifically tailored to the variable flow and needs of lochia.
Cycles usually stay away a few months
As with many things, there is no “one size fits all” rule for when your cycle will return. According to kellymom.com (which is an awesome breastfeeding resource, by the way) the average woman’s cycle is delayed 14.6 months. There are obviously variables involved in this. Pay close attention to your body and how it feels. We find menstrual cup users are more in tune with their cycles anyway so hopefully your first postpartum cycle won’t catch you off guard. Some women chose to carry their menstrual cup or some pads with them just in case. If you had any tearing or an episiotomy make sure to ask your practitioner when you can begin using your menstrual cup again after your cycle returns. Typically six weeks is all that is required but sometimes longer.
There are some “tricks” to keeping your period away longer while nursing
Generally speaking, there are a few things you can do to help delay ovulation/ menstruation longer while nursing. These also happen to be good tips for maintaining a healthy milk supply and breastfeeding relationship.
- Nurse on demand~ We talked a bit about this in our first post of this series. Nursing on demand releases more prolactin and helps keep your milk supply up.
- Exclusively breastfeed for at least the first 6 months and ensure your baby gets all their sucking needs for food and comfort at the breast.
- Nurse overnight~ This is the #1 reason for early postpartum menstruation. Babies are not designed to sleep through the night and neither is your milk supply. The hormones that help suppress ovulation are actually produced in higher amounts in the overnight/early morning hours.
- Babywear~ Keeping baby close allows for easier nursing and helps your body produce more prolactin.
Your first few postpartum periods
When your cycle does return it is likely to be sporadic. If you have completely weaned your body will likely take a few months to regulate out. Should you have a period while breastfeeding it might be a couple months before you have another. Most women find their first 1-3 periods to be extremely heavy with bad cramping. I’ve heard several women say their first postpartum period cramps were worse than some of their labor pains! Make sure to research breastfeeding safe/friendly cramp relief and don’t be afraid to ask for extra help with baby and the household chores. There is a myth that breastfeeding while on your period causes “bad” milk- this is not true, continue to nurse, it can actually help with cramps. Your milk will taste a bit different and baby may nurse a bit less frequently but your milk is not going to dry up or spoil just because you’re having a period. Most women will not resume a normal menstrual cycle until the nursling has completely weaned.
Getting pregnant while breastfeeding
It is possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. Some women even ovulate without ever having a period! Many mothers successfully get pregnant, nurse the entire pregnancy and even tandem nurse the newborn and older sibling. To increase your chances of fertility consider night weaning after the baby is 6-12 months old (it’s good to discuss with a lactation consultant, IBCLC or La Leche League leader before night weaning). Once your period has returned you should definitely consider yourself fertile. If you feel as though you’ve shown ovulation symptoms but not had a period yet you can always get ovulation tests or even a more high-tech monitor or other tracker. Be aware that some types of contraceptives are not breastfeeding safe and/or can affect milk production. Make sure to always check with a healthcare provider before utilizing contraceptives while breastfeeding. La Leche League groups and lactation consultants will often have good (and free) resources on preventing pregnancy (or becoming pregnant) while breastfeeding.
Ask Questions and Start A Conversation!
We hope that you’ll ask questions and share your experiences. Talk to other women, encourage them to share and learn from one another. The stigma surrounding menstruation seems to be decreasing more and more each day. Please reach out to us or a trusted friend/ doc/ midwife/ breastfeeding expert with any questions or concerns.
We want to know about your postpartum cycle- when did it return, what was it like, did you get pregnant while breastfeeding??
Feel free to reach out to us via the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any other questions or concerns. Here at Keeper we love to see women supporting and helping other women at all stages in our journeys.
Like this article? Check out Part 1 and 2 of our breastfeeding month series!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Olivia lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and 5-year-old son. She enjoys spending time in the mountains, studying about essential oils, natural remedies and herbs, as well as upcycling/ DIY projects. Olivia’s family is almost completely Zero Waste and strives to live with as little impact on the Earth as possible. They are currently downsizing and planning to move into a Tiny House in 2016.
~ Please be aware I am not a medical doctor, these statements are educational and should not be viewed as medical advice.