Managing Your Period While Breastfeeding

Have you ever been told that you won’t have your period while breastfeeding? The rumor that breastfeeding is a natural form of contraceptive is definitely a falsehood. There are certain hormonal changes that occur in breastfeeding women that undoubtedly have an effect on their menstrual cycle, but these changes certainly aren’t reliable enough to work in the stead of birth control. It is estimated that most women who use breastfeeding as the sole milk supply for their babies with little or no supplementation with a bottle or pacifier have a 90-something percent chance of being without a period. That being said, other factors can affect whether or not you will get a period and these factors can override the hold that breastfeeding has over your cycle.

What Causes a Period While Breastfeeding?

As mentioned before, many women are led to believe that breastfeeding stops periods from coming, but in reality, there are several things that can affect a gal’s cycle. One such thing is birth control. Hormone-based birth control such as pills, injections, patches, and IUD’s can force the body into a cycle in which it has a period on the fourth week of the cycle. If you have started taking birth control then this will explain why you have a period while breastfeeding. Another factor is stress. Being a new mom is a veritable rollercoaster of emotion. Once moment you’re perfectly happy and content and the next you’re weeping from exhaustion and worry. These oh-so-common stresses of motherhood are expected but for some individuals, the stress can cause an upheaval in their hormone levels resulting in an early period. –Or if you’ve haven’t had a period up until this point, excess stress such as financial difficulties, going back to work, or health issues, can cause hormone fluctuations that jump-start your system into having a period.

Am I Fertile?

If you’ve had a period while breastfeeding—even one—then you should probably play it safe and consider yourself a Fertile Myrtle. For most women, the first period after childbirth is a sign that the body is ready to resume its natural menstrual cycle and it will do so, although it may be a bit haphazard at first. It is not uncommon for a woman’s menstrual cycle to be a bit crazy after childbirth. In fact, it can take up to six months for your period to finally return to normal in the sense that you can predict your periods as you might have done before getting pregnant. Regardless of the potential hiccups in your cycle, if you’ve had your first period after childbirth, then yes, you’re technically considered to be fertile.

If you are worried about becoming pregnant so soon after giving birth then it would probably be a good idea to consider the birth control options available to you. Barrier methods, such as condoms, spermicides, and diaphragms, are recommended by lactation experts because they have no effect whatsoever on a woman’s hormones and will not interfere with her milk production or quality. Hormonal birth controls—even the mini-pill that is often recommended for breastfeeding moms—can change the composition of breast milk.

Taking Hormonal Birth Control While Breastfeeding

Most women are encouraged and even pressured by their ob/gyn to get on birth control within about six to eight weeks after giving birth. There are a few reasons why they make this suggestion, the main one being that it ensures that you don’t get pregnant. Pregnancy and childbirth are very strenuous on the body and while the female form is specifically designed to carry out this process, it is meant to do so with proper healing and re-strengthening between babies. In fact, it is suggested that women wait at least one year between giving birth and planning the next pregnancy. The fact that you ovulate two weeks before getting your period means that you could become pregnant before even receiving your first period after childbirth!

Birth control will force your body to suppress ovulation, meaning that your body will not release an egg, and if it does, it will be very unlikely to implant and survive in the womb. A woman’s first ovulation after giving birth can occur anywhere from 25 to 72 days after childbirth. The average is around day 45. By this point, if you are opting to take birth control, you will probably want to have been on the pill, patch, shot, or intravaginal device for at least a few weeks so that the contraceptive will be effective and ready to work for you.

The most recommended birth control for breastfeeding women is known as the “mini-pill” or progestin-only birth control. There hasn’t been a great deal of research regarding the long term effects of breastfeeding women taking birth control with estrogen, but the general consensus is that pills containing estrogen should be avoided. The progestin-only pill is taken once a day every day for 28 days, during which time it releases steady amounts of the progestin hormone. Progestin generally prevents the egg from being released; however because the progestin-only pill is not quite as effective as the progestin and estrogen pill, it may not always stop ovulation from occurring. It does, however, have fewer side effects that the “full” contraceptive counterpart.