Pregnancy can cause morning sickness, new body hair growth, tooth decay, and more, but it also has some perks. Just imagine: no periods. And if you decide to breastfeed, you might get to prolong that no-period phase even longer. But is it normal to have irregular periods while breastfeeding, or to not get your cycle at all? Health experts say your period’s schedule (or lack thereof) while breastfeeding is different for everyone, and if it comes and goes, it’s not cause for concern.
“Breastfeeding often has a significant impact on menstruation, but how it impacts people varies widely from person to person, and can also change over time as your nursing relationship changes," Dr. Megan Davidson, doula and author of Your Birth Plan: A Guide to Navigating All of Your Choices in Childbirth, tells Romper. In her experience working with postpartum moms, she's learned that the time it takes for a period to return can be different for everybody.
How breastfeeding affects your period
Pregnancy, postpartum, periods, and breastfeeding all have something in common: they’re all tied up in hormones. And because hormones vary so much from person to person, how breastfeeding affects your period is unique to you.
“For most people, their period will return within a couple months of giving birth if they are not lactating, but the hormonal changes required to support breastfeeding can significantly alter this timeline,” says Davidson. “I’ve worked with people who have resumed menstruation within this same two-month window even while breastfeeding, and I’ve worked with others who have not gotten a period for the entirety of the time they lactated, potentially a year or more.”
So, when will Aunt Flo get back on her monthly schedule? “Most women will resume a normal cycle approximately six months after delivery; however, it can be irregular for up to a year and still be considered normal,” Dr. Kendra Gillespie, OB-GYN at River City OB-GYN and Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Florida, tells Romper. “Breastfeeding is the result of complex hormonal interactions. One of the hormones that is elevated during breastfeeding, prolactin, also impacts another hormone, GnRH, that contributes to regulating your period. Because of the elevated levels, the normal interplay is altered and periods can become irregular.”
How your period affects breastfeeding
If you do have your period while breastfeeding, it can cause some changes in your supply.
“Many people who are lactating find that their milk supply can decrease temporarily during ovulation and menstruation,” says Davidson. “This drop in milk production can happen mid-cycle, in the days before menstruation, or during the period and can be different for different people. The hormonal changes that can cause this temporary dip in supply can also increase sensitivity and make nursing less comfortable.”
Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?
Irregular periods during breastfeeding may make you feel like you can’t get pregnant, but experts agree that breastfeeding does not equal birth control.
“It is important to note that even though breastfeeding can suppress your fertility, it should not be considered an effective form of birth control. Many people get pregnant while lactating,” Davidson says.
“The period irregularity is representative of irregular ovulation because of the hormones,” says Gillespie. “You can still ovulate, but at unpredictable times. Therefore, methods like the Lactational Amenorrhea Method or Fertility Awareness Method are difficult to implement because many women will still have periods, though irregular.”
Can you take hormonal birth control while breastfeeding?
It’s important to talk to your doctor about birth control before you ever give birth, and discuss what options might work best for you after you deliver, Gillespie says. If a hormonal form of birth control has worked well in the past, it’s OK to pick it back up.
“All hormonal contraceptive methods are safe to use during breastfeeding when started at the appropriate time, and discussed with your doctor,” she says. “There are studies which show that methods containing estrogen could decrease milk letdown, but other studies have challenged that theory and encourage use of whichever method the patient prefers. However, if there are mothers who are concerned about this, progestin-only birth control methods are just as effective.”
If your period hasn’t returned yet and you’re concerned, reach out to your obstetrician. And while your period’s timing may be irregular for a while, Gillespie recommends keeping an eye out for one other change, and be sure to call your doctor if you notice it.
“The most concerning irregularity with bleeding is heavy bleeding, which we usually describe as changing a pad every 30 minutes for more than two hours, but could be any amount deemed heavy by the patient. Heavy bleeding more than six to eight weeks after pregnancy can be a sign of other abnormalities, such as retained placenta, infection, problem with blood vessels, or cancer, and should be addressed in person with a doctor.”
All in all, there’s no one definition of a normal period while you’re breastfeeding. As long as you aren’t having abnormally heavy bleeding, or relying on breastfeeding as birth control, the experts agree your cycle will come back all in due time.
Dr. Kendra Gillespie, OB-GYN at River City OB-GYN and Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Florida
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