Periods During Breastfeeding

 All women experience a time of postpartum bleeding following birth which is not considered a menstrual period. If bottle feeding, most mothers will have their first real period not long after this. Breastfeeding, however, suppresses menstruation at least for a while. For some mothers, there may be an absence of menstruation for weeks, months, and even years while still breastfeeding. Some mothers report needing to completely wean before they see their first period. Others begin menstruating as soon their babies begin taking supplemental foods or sleeping through the night. Once menstruation returns it may continue to be irregular during lactation. It’s not uncommon to have a shorter or longer than normal period while breastfeeding. It’s also not abnormal to skip a period or see the first period return and then find that months pass before the next one (1a).

When the first period returns depends upon several factors: how frequently the baby is nursing, how often the baby is supplemented with bottles, whether or not the baby takes a pacifier, how long the baby is sleeping at night, whether or not solids have been introduced, and the mother’s own individual body chemistry and the way it responds to hormonal influences associated with breastfeeding. Any time the stimulation to the breast is decreased, especially at night, menstruation is likely to return soon after (1b).

When menstruation does return, you should consider yourself fertile and take precautions against pregnancy if desired. Some women consider their first period as their “warning period” that they are now capable of becoming pregnant. However, it is possible to become pregnant before the first period returns, although quite rare (1c).

The return of menstruation does not mean the end of breastfeeding. The milk does not sour or “go bad” when you are having a period. The milk is no less nutritious when you are menstruating than when you are not. Some women do notice a temporary drop in milk supply in the days just prior to a period and for a few days into one. This is due to hormonal fluctuations. Once the period begins and hormone levels begin to return to normal, the milk supply will boost back up again. Most babies can compensate well for this temporary drop in supply with more frequent nursing (1d).

Nipple tenderness occurs for some women during ovulation, during the days before a period, or at both times. Some mothers report feeling antsy while nursing at these times, too. As with the drop in supply this is also hormonally influenced and therefore temporary (1e).

Some babies may detect a slight change in the taste of the milk just before a period, again, due to hormonal changes. These same babies may nurse less often or less enthusiastically during this time as a result. Almost anything is considered normal when it comes to your periods while breastfeeding (1f).



Diet Restrictions While Breastfeeding

Different cultures and individuals believe different foods may harm a breastfed baby. Some women believe spicy foods will harm their baby, while other moms think that eating garlic or chocolate causes colic. Everyone says different, but if it helps, there are no scientific studies that show certain foods are dangerous to the health of your baby.

To feed your baby the healthiest breast milk possible, you need to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups including plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid, or consume in moderation, foods that are high in calories and low in nutrient value such as chips, soda and sweets. Drink plenty of fluids to help maintain your milk supply (1a).

If you have a family history of allergies, your baby may show signs of sensitivity to certain foods. If you suspect your baby may be allergic to a food you are eating, avoid that food for a few days then try eating a small amount. If his symptoms return, avoid that food while you are breastfeeding. A study in the journal Clinical Pediatrics reports breastfeeding actually helps reduce allergies in children up to the age of 15 (1b).

Some women believe drinking beer helps increase their milk supply. This is a myth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding alcohol during breastfeeding. Alcohol does pass through mother’s milk. If you do decide to drink alcohol, the academy suggests drinking a small amount right after a feeding so your body has time to get rid of as much alcohol as possible before you nurse again. A study in the journal Pediatrics showed infants who were exposed to alcohol in breast milk slept less (1c).

Drinking less than 25 oz. of coffee per day shouldn’t cause any problems for a breastfed baby. Remember, though, caffeine can be found in some sodas, chocolate and some medications. If you are consuming these foods or medications along with coffee, your baby may be getting too much caffeine (1d).

Some babies may be more sensitive than others to certain flavors, spices or gassy foods such as beans, broccoli or cauliflower. If your baby is fussy, irritable or can’t sleep after you eat certain foods, it’s best to avoid them while you are breastfeeding. This will make you and your baby happier and more comfortable.



Counterproductive Breastfeeding Strategies

Some strategies and suggestions you may encounter while breastfeeding may not actually help at all and overall may exasperate the very problem they seek to resolve.

Letting your breasts refill before feeding – first your breasts create milk on demand and are always ready to provide your child with nourishment.  Second as your breasts reach storage capacity they produce milk more slowly.  There is no reason to delay nursing a hungry child simply because your breasts are not “full.”

One size fits all feeding schedule – different milk production rates and nourishment needs between children mean that you and your child will develop a tailored feeding schedule that matches you to them.  Trying to impose a feeding schedule can create much more drama and tears than solving problems.

Measuring your milk supply by pumping – self expressing your milk is a learned skill and even when you are at your best your baby will be much more efficient at getting the milk to flow.

The best thing you can do for your baby is to listen to their needs and work with them as you develop a breastfeeding schedule.   Your body will respond to their nursing needs and create all the milk needed for your proper nourishment as your child grows.

Common Misconceptions About Breast Milk Supply

Breastfeeding Questions: Do I Have Low Breast Milk Supply?

New mothers often pay close attention to how their child is nursing and may encounter some of the following conditions and mistake them for a diminishing breast milk supply.  Most breast milk supply concerns fall into one of two categories: concern for your baby or concern for your breasts.

Baby factors:

  • Your baby seems hungry sooner than expected – Adjust your expectations and make a chart of feeding times to ease your worries
  • Breastfeeding sessions occur more often and last longer – This is a normal occurrence during a growth spurt
  • Breastfeeding session suddenly gets shorter – Babies become more efficient at nursing as they gain more practice
  • Your baby is fussy – Almost all babies no master how much they are fed go through fussy periods.

Mother factors:

  • Breasts feel softer – This is normal after three or four weeks as your body’s breast milk production meets your baby’s needs.
  • Breasts cease leaking – Some mothers never incur leaky nipples while others find that leaking nipples only happens during the first stages of breastfeeding.
  • Breast milk release or let down is not felt – There are occasions when you may not feel your breasts let down even when it happens.
  • You are unable to express quantities of breast milk – Expressing breast milk is a learned skill and not a test of your breast milk supply.

As you continue to breastfeed you and your baby will develop a rapport and begin understanding one another.  Generally as long as they are satiated after nursing your breast milk supply is just fine and you are doing very well as a breastfeeding mom.

Read More:

How Are Feeding Intervals Counted?
Establishing A Routine
Breastfeeding Techniques Fine Tuned
Is My Baby Getting Enough Breast Milk?
Warning Signs While Breastfeeding
Increasing Breast Milk Production
Three Things Everyone Thinks Dramatically Increases Milk Supply

Breastfeeding while Pregnant

Pregnancy and lactation are quite compatible and continued breastfeeding helps the older child feel secure during a time of change.

During your pregnancy you and your toddler will have to accommodate some changes.  Beginning about the fourth month of pregnancy your breast milk may decrease in volume and begin to change to colostrum. Your toddler may react to these changes or they may not.

If you decide to stop breastfeeding it is important for you and your toddler to find time together. This is a great time for other members of the family to take an increasing active role in the life of the toddler.

Nursing your Toddler

The benefits of breastfeeding your toddler are no different than they are for younger children.  Some of the reasons mothers decide to continue breastfeeding their toddlers are:

  • Breast milk continues to be a wonderful source of nutrition regardless of anything else your child eats
  • Antibodies in your milk continue to protect your toddler, even if nursing once a day
  • Breastfeeding is comforting to your child
  • Your toddler’s nursing time may be the only snuggle time you get with your ever busier child when they are awake.
  • Breast milk is tolerated by sick children unable to stomach other foods.

Minor Illness and Infection

Chances are that sometime during the course of breastfeeding you will develop a  cold, get the flu, a yeast infection or some other illness. If you are actively breastfeeding then your baby has already been exposed by the time your symptoms show.

You should continue to breastfeed for your body produces antibodies to the illness and will pass those into the breast milk and to your baby helping protect them.  Should you stop breastfeeding when your symptoms appear you can actually increase the chances of your baby contracting the illness and the severity of the illness for them. Even through more serious complications like surgeries can you continue to breastfeed, but be sure to keep a running dialogue with your pediatrician.

Is it Safe to have Sex while Breastfeeding?

A few common myths and questions:

Will there be time for my husband and I to be alone together? Absolutely! Remember that that there are two of you and one of your baby.  You can put your minds together and find the time  and place to be with your partner.  You may find that you need to consider being more open about the place and timing, but where there is a will there is a way.

Can sexual foreplay affect my milk? No.  Don’t worry about passing on germs from your partner to your baby with your nipples. Your baby is already exposed to the family germs and there are also special glands in your nipples to help them remain clean and germ free during nursing.  Breastfeeding does not make your breasts off limits to your partner but they will need to be more aware that your breasts may be ore sensitive and tender, particularly when you are engorged.

How will breastfeeding affect my sexual desire? This is something that varies from woman to woman so there is no common answer.  Generally breastfeeding does not directly affect your levels of sexual desire.  There are usually other stronger influences in your life that will cause your feelings to shift.

What about feeling “touched out”? There are sometimes when after holding and being near your baby all day that you need some time by yourself.  The annoyance you feel when your partner approaches is called being “touched out”    A little bit of time to yourself or some tough from your partner where you are receiving instead of giving can help relieve this feeling.  Be sure to keep an open and honest dialogue with your partner.

Myths About When to Wean

A frequently asked question of breastfeeding mothers is, “How will I know it’s time to stop breastfeeding?” Undoubtedly you will come across several “helpful” suggestions that you can chalk up to breastfeeding myths. Here is a list of common myths about when to stop breastfeeding:

  • When  your baby gets their first tooth
  • When your baby bites you
  • When your baby starts eating solid food
  • When your baby begins to feed themselves

The American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) recommends breastfeeding for the first year of your child’s life, however the decision as to how long you continue to breastfeed is solely your call.

Many babies that are exclusively breastfed for the first year express a desire to continue breastfeeding as part of their diet. Other children gradually wean themselves as they discover solid food. You and your child will know when it is time to end breastfeeding.

Read More About Weaning:
A Brief History of Weaning
Five Signs it is Time to Wean
10 Reasons to Think Twice About Weaning

Breastfeeding Myths:
Truth Behind a Few Breastfeeding Myths
Nipple Preparation During Pregnancy
Breastfeeding While Pregnant

Nipple Preparation during Pregnancy

You may have heard that during your pregnancy you need to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding. Some suggestions for nipple preparation are to rub your nipples with a towel or to continually try to express breast milk before your child is even born. The idea of nipple preparation during pregnancy can be added to a long list of breastfeeding myths.

Recent breastfeeding studies have shown that the body will prepare your nipples for breastfeeding and there is little you can do to improve on this process.

The only sensible thing you can do to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding is stop using soap when you wash your nipple beginning in about the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. Soap has the potential to dry your skin and increase the chances of sore and cracking nipples. The way to clean nipples recommended by breastfeeding experts is to use warm water and a soft cloth.

There is no need for extensive nipple preparation during pregnancy. Like most physical changes in your body as you prepare to birth your child you will find that your body is inclined to naturally get itself ready for what is to come. Your job is to relax and enjoy the ride.

Read More About Breastfeeding Myths:
Truth Behind Breastfeeding Myths
Sex and Breastfeeding
When to Wean