What to Know About Your Period While Breastfeeding

Learn about how breastfeeding can affect your period and fertility, and how your period can affect your breast milk and your baby.

Medically reviewed by Rebecca Agi, MS, IBCLC

Many new parents who are breastfeeding or chestfeeding wonder if and when they'll get their period back after giving birth. There's no one answer, just like there's no single feeding plan that works for every parent.

But in general, if you are lactating consistently, your period will likely not return for several months or even a year after childbirth. If you aren't breastfeeding exclusively, you may get your period sooner.

Lactation suspends your menstrual cycle by impacting postpartum hormones. When you nurse your baby, your pituitary gland produces a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin causes your body to produce milk but inhibits the hormones FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) that stimulate ovulation.

Learn more about your period while breastfeeding, including when it returns after childbirth, how it affects your milk supply, and what it means for fertility.

<p>Parents / Brianna Gilmartin</p>

Parents / Brianna Gilmartin

How Breastfeeding Affects Your Period

In the first days after you have your baby, you may have some bleeding, but that's not your period. Postpartum bleeding is called lochia, and it may be heavy at first. Lochia is the natural shedding of your uterine lining that develops throughout pregnancy.

Your period will eventually return after giving birth, depending on whether you are breastfeeding and how often. While everyone's body is different, here is what you can expect:

  • If you do not breastfeed at all or only sometimes: If you're not nursing full-time, your period might resume anywhere from two weeks to 12 weeks after delivery. Don't expect to fall into your predictable menstrual cycle after that. It can take up to a year for your period to become regular again due to hormones readjusting from pregnancy.

  • If you breastfeed exclusively: You may not have a period at all until you reduce the number of feedings per day (eliminating nighttime feedings, for instance) or fully wean your baby. Your cycles might be irregular for a while after that first period returns.

How Your Period Affects Breastfeeding

If your period returns when you are still breastfeeding or chestfeeding, it doesn't mean you have to wean your baby. Nursing while you have your period is perfectly safe. Your breast milk is still healthy and nutritious for your baby.

However, hormone changes related to your period may change a few aspects of your breastfeeding experience, including nipple tenderness, milk supply, and milk flavor.

Related: Breast Changes After Pregnancy: Will They Ever Be the Same?

Nipple Tenderness

It's not uncommon to experience sore nipples around the time of your period. So, for a few days before your period starts, it may be a little uncomfortable to breastfeed. Here are some tips to help you deal with nipple tenderness:

  • Make sure your baby is latching properly: To properly latch, your baby needs to take the whole nipple plus some of the areola into their mouth. If they feed from just the tip of your nipple, shooting pain and nipple soreness can result.

  • Try a baby-safe nipple cream between feedings: These ointments can soothe and moisturize sensitive nipple skin.

  • Try to continue to breastfeed: Your baby's suckling can help you maintain your milk supply and prevent other breastfeeding problems such as breast engorgement, nipple blebsplugged milk ducts, and mastitis.

  • Pump if it's too painful: Pumping milk will help you keep up your milk supply while you wait for the tenderness to pass.

Related: 2023 Best for Baby Award Winners for Feeding, According to Parents

Milk Supply

In the week or two between ovulation and your period, your body's levels of estrogen and progesterone increase. The uptick in those circulating hormones can interfere with milk production.

The decrease in your milk supply related to your period is usually temporary. You may notice the dip during the few days before your period arrives, but once you get your period, your supply should begin to increase again as the hormones balance out. To help boost your milk supply, you can:

  • Try an herbal breastfeeding tea: The natural ingredients in these drinks may help boost your milk production just before your period. Just check with a health care provider before taking any supplement, "natural" or otherwise.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with milk-boosting foods: Anemia can hinder milk supply, so be sure to consume plenty of iron-rich foods like red meat and leafy greens. Many parents swear by consuming plenty of breastmilk super foods called "galactagogues," such as fennel, oatmeal, and almonds.

Related: 5 Best Lactation Cookie Recipes for Boosting Milk Production

Milk Flavor

Research shows that the composition of breast milk changes around ovulation (mid-cycle). Sodium and chloride levels in the milk increase while lactose (milk sugar) and potassium decrease. Breast milk becomes saltier and less sweet during this time.

Many infants continue to breastfeed well and without any issues throughout your menstrual cycle. Other infants will not like changes to your milk's flow or taste. Your baby may become fussy and breastfeed either more or less than usual. They may even refuse to nurse.

These changes in your baby's behavior should only last a few days (or a few cycles, as they adjust to new patterns). Your child should settle back into their regular feeding routine. If you do not see any improvement in a few days, talk to a doctor or a lactation consultant.

Related: New Study Underscores Brain-Developing Powers of Breast Milk

Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding

Yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. When your period returns, you should consider yourself fertile.

However, you can also become pregnant before your first period has returned. That's because there is a two-week time frame between ovulation—when your body releases an egg that can be fertilized by sperm to make a baby—and your period. So, there is a chance of conception prior to your first postpartum period.

If you're not ready to have another baby right away, you may want to look into different birth control methods well before you need to dig out the pads and tampons again. A good time to talk to a health care provider about birth control options is during your first postpartum visit—or, to be even safer, during a third-trimester check-up.

Related: 20 Breastfeeding Tips Every New Parent Should Know

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Read the original article on Parents.