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Does getting periods while breastfeeding affect my supply?

When do periods return postpartum?

The time when the periods return after the birth of the baby varies from woman to woman. A major factor affecting it is whether or not the woman is breastfeeding, and how much.

For women who are not breastfeeding, periods can return as early as 6-8 weeks postpartum. For women who are combi feeding, the return of the period could be a little later. However, for the women who are exclusively breastfeeding their baby, the periods usually return between 9 and 18 months postpartum. Some mothers have even reported the return of their periods as late as 2 yeast and beyond.

Effect of Breastfeeding on Menstruation:

In women who are exclusively breastfeeding their baby, the estrogen levels are very low. These low levels of estrogen prevent their bodies from menstruating. For women who don’t breastfeed or are also using other modes of feeding their baby, the estrogen levels come back up early, and thus, they start menstruating early.

As the baby grows up and starts depending on solids, when there is regular separation from the mother wherein there are intervals of long hours between feedings and when the baby starts to sleep for longer stretches of time, the mother’s body faces a reduced effect of breastfeeding on the estrogen levels. The estrogen levels rise and the body begins to menstruate again. In rare cases, the mother doesn’t start menstruating for as long as she is breastfeeding her baby at all.

One perspective suggests that when babies are feeding on their mothers often enough to suppress their fertility, it could be because they are not yet ready to share their mothers with a sibling.

Effect of Menstruation on Breastfeeding:

When a breastfeeding woman starts to menstruate, her estrogen levels have risen. Just like progesterone, even high levels of estrogen can inhibit lactation. This is the reason why some (not all) women experience a dip in their supply around their periods.

However, the baby makes up for it by nursing more often – increasing prolactin levels by more suckling. So, a menstruating woman can meet her baby’s needs just fine. There are the following techniques that can be tried to tackle this temporary dip in supply.

  1. Breastfeeding the baby often
  2. Pumping mothers can try power-pumping
  3. Galactagogues can be helpful

Breastfeeding as a tool for Contraception:

Since breastfeeding can suppress menstruation, it can be used as a tool for contraception (birth control method). This method is called ‘Lactation Amenorrhea’. It is as effective as any other hormonal contraceptives. Its effectiveness has been observed to be close to 98%.

As described in ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding’, the Lactation Amenorrhea Method of using breastfeeding to delay fertility needs to meet all of the following 3 requirements –

  1. “Your periods have not returned.
  2. Your baby is exclusively and frequently fed from your breasts- this is especially important to remember when your little one begins sleeping through the night. It means not just that your baby does not have bottles, but also that they do not use a pacifier, in other words, that all of your baby’s sucking needs are met at your breast.
  3. Your baby is less than 6 months old. If your little one is older and eating solid foods, your chances of ovulating and risk of pregnancy increase. Some moms will find it takes more than six months for their cycles and fertility to return, while other mothers find that their cycles and fertility return earlier than six months. It is also important to mention that after six months, there is a higher chance that you might ovulate and possibly become pregnant before your first postpartum period. If you suspect you are pregnant, you will want to check with your health care professional.”

Please read more about Lactation Amenorrhea in our article “Breastfeeding and Contraception”.

References:
https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/fertility/
https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/fertility/
https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/565623_2
https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/breastfeeding