Almost all breast-feeding mothers are menstruation-free for the first six months postpartum.
It’s a phenomenon known as lactational amenorrhea. Essentially, your baby’s regular nursing acts as an inhibitor on the release of the hormones necessary to prepare for a new pregnancy. No release of hormones means no ovulation can take place, and so you have no period.
But because amenorrhea is unique to each and every breast-feeding mother, this can last anywhere from just a few months postpartum to several years. There are a number of factors that will impact when you have your first period after your baby. These include:
- how often your baby nurses
- whether or not supplements are being offered to your baby
- whether or not your baby takes a pacifier
- how long your baby sleeps at night
- whether or not your baby is taking solids yet
- your own body chemistry and its sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations related to breast-feeding
If you begin menstruating again while you’re breast-feeding, you may experience spotting and irregular periods and wonder what’s going on. It’s completely normal to have inconsistent cycles when you’re nursing a baby, and you can chalk it up to the same hormones that caused amenorrhea.
Will My Period Be Different if I’m Breast-Feeding?
While it may not be as regular and consistent as your pre-baby periods, menstruating while breast-feeding will be similar in other regards.
Whether or not your cycle was inconsistent before your baby, your period while you’re breast-feeding could be longer, shorter, or even missing in action for several months at a time. You may be irritable or moody before your period begins. You may notice nipple tenderness during ovulation, in the days leading up to your period, or both.
Again, the consistency of your cycle and symptoms related to your period will be impacted by how frequently your baby is nursing and how that affects your hormones.
Will Menstruating Affect My Milk Supply?
Don’t consider your period a sign that breast-feeding must come to an end. La Leche League International advises that nursing can and should continue when your period returns. You may, however, notice that your baby is a little fussy around your time of the month. Don’t assume it’s because your milk has “gone bad.” Your breast milk is just as nutritious and suitable for your baby as it is when you aren’t menstruating.
Your baby’s fussiness is likely due to the fact that some mothers experience a small and temporary reduction in their milk supply just a few days before their period begins, and for the first few days into one.
Once your hormone levels return to normal, your supply will return to normal. Many babies will make up with the drop in your supply by nursing more often.
The return of your period, even while you’re breast-feeding, means that you are once again fertile and you could become pregnant. La Leche League notes that breast-feeding as a method of birth control, which is known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), is considered effective only when certain conditions are met. These include:
- your baby is less than 6 months of age
- your period hasn’t yet begun
- your baby is breast-feeding exclusively without using pacifiers or supplements of any kind
- you are nursing your baby on demand during the day and overnight as well
When these conditions are met, there is less than a 2 percent chance of becoming pregnant. That makes LAM a form of birth control that is as reliable as a condom or a diaphragm.
Birth Control Options While You Breast-Feed
Once your period begins, or other conditions of LAM are no longer being satisfied, you’ll need to consider an alternate form of birth control if becoming pregnant isn’t what you want at this time.
To avoid problems for your nursing baby, you should explore nonhormonal barrier methods. These include condoms, diaphragms, and spermicides. The intrauterine device (IUD) is also considered safe if you’re breast-feeding.
Natural family planning methods are also an option, though these often have a higher failure rate than barrier methods. Most of these methods involve a combination of tracking things like cervical mucus, basal body temperature, spotting or menstrual bleeding, and the position and firmness of your cervix.
If you want to explore hormonal birth control options while you continue breast-feeding, be careful to use progestin-only options to reduce any negative effects on your milk supply. Some women have experienced a significant impact on their milk production with progestin-only contraception.
You can try to avoid this by introducing this birth control option well after you’ve successfully established breast-feeding, but you may want to avoid any contraception that has estrogen while you’re breast-feeding. It’s a good idea to discuss how your milk supply and composition might be affected by hormonal contraceptives with your doctor. Some will recommend that they be avoided altogether, while others think introducing them after your baby is over 6 months is fine.