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If you are breastfeeding your baby, your periods may not return for several months after childbirth. This is because the hormone that causes you to make milk, prolactin, also stops you from ovulating and having your period. If you are breastfeeding day and night, it can be up to a year before your period returns.
Many factors determine when your period will return when you are breastfeeding. These include:
- how often you bottle feed your baby
- the way your body responds to hormone changes
- how often and how long your baby is breastfeeding
If your baby is being fed only using bottles, you may find your periods return shortly after birth.
Your first period after birth
If you breastfeed exclusively, your first period may not return for several months or 1 to 2 years if you keep breastfeeding. If you bottle feed or partially breastfeed your baby, your periods may return as soon as 3 weeks after having your baby.
Once they do return, your periods may be irregular, especially if you are still producing milk (lactating). The duration of your period can also change. It is not unusual to skip a period, or even for it to be a few months before your next one.
When you start reducing the amount of time you spend breastfeeding, your periods should start to return to their usual routine. You may notice some spotting (light bleeding) at first.
If you have irregular periods while breastfeeding, such as continued spotting, heavier than normal bleeding or long cycles, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor because there may be other causes apart from breastfeeding. Your doctor will need to conduct a thorough examination and may need to order some tests to exclude other causes.
If your period has come back, it means that you are fertile again and you could become pregnant, even while you are breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor or nurse about contraceptive methods while breastfeeding.
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Does having a period affect breast milk supply?
The return of your period should have little effect on your breast milk so you can continue to breastfeed if desired. Some women find a temporary drop in the amount of milk they produce just before their period starts or for a few days into it, but it will increase again when hormones return to their normal levels.
Your midwife or doctor will be able to give you further advice and information about your periods and breastfeeding.
I’m breastfeeding, so why have my periods started again?
If you are breastfeeding, you may ovulate as early as 10 weeks after giving birth. Your period would then start two weeks later, around 12 weeks after giving birth. Or it may be over a year before you start ovulating again, and your periods return.The average time it takes for mums who are fully breastfeeding to become fertile and start their periods is about six months.
You’re more likely to get your periods back sooner if:
- Your baby is sleeping for more than four hours at a time during the day, or is sleeping for more than six hours at a time at night.
- Your baby has begun to eat solid foods.
- You are supplementing some breastfeeds with formula milk.
- Your baby uses a dummy.
- Your baby is feeding less often during the day, and for less time at each feed.
Your periods are less likely to return if:
- You’re feeding your baby often during the day, and your baby has not started solid food.
- You co-sleep with your baby.
- You carry your baby close to you in a sling or carrier during the day so that they can latch on whenever they want.
When your periods return also depends on the level of the hormone progesterone in your body.
Hormones and Breast-Feeding
When your baby is born, you’re already equipped with natural nutrients needed for feedings. Unless you can’t breast-feed, your doctor will likely encourage you to do so. This is often regarded as the safest, healthiest form of nutrition for newborns.
While it might seem like breast milk simply appears when your baby is born, there is much more at play here. In fact, just as hormones helped support your pregnancy, they are also responsible for breast-feeding. Prolactinis the primary hormone responsible for breast milk production. It’s produced by the pituitary gland, which is located in the brain.
What Stops Periods?
Prolactin also prevents menstruation. Breast-feeding keeps these hormone levels high, so the longer you nurse, the more likely you will experience a light period, or no period at all. On the flip side, as you wean your baby off of breast milk, your periods will likely return relatively quickly.
Your baby will drink the most breast milk during the first few months of their life. As your baby needs less milk, and also starts eating solid foods, the pituitary gland will sense this feeding change and produce less prolactin. As prolactin levels slow down, you might find that your cycle returns, despite the fact that you’re technically still breast-feeding.
Changes in Feedings
If you do get your period while breast-feeding, you might notice other unexpected changes too. You might find, for instance, that your baby isn’t as interested in feeding times, and will actually eat less during your period. This is thought to be related to taste changes in the milk.
Or, the situation can be the opposite. Since prolactin controls milk production, you might not offer as much of a supply during your period. Then your baby might want to feed more frequently.
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