While many women are fortunate enough to escape their monthly visit from the period fairy for a good few months after birth, there will come a time when she returns. And the chances are good she will bring with her all those fun side effects you came to expect pre-pregnancy plus some fun new stuff for the breastfeeding mum; think sore nipples and a potential dip in milk supply #thanksmothernature
So, when will my period actually come back?
Ahhh the million dollar question! Every breastfeeding mum will have a different answer to this and the majority of them will be completely in the spectrum of normal. When your baby is tiny and you're recovering from birth and feeding constantly, your body hits the 'off' switch for ovulation meaning no egg is released and no period occurs. When the 'on' switch is flicked however, is very much an individual thing.
While it's typically expected that a mum who is EXCLUSIVELY breastfeeding (i.e. not supplementing and feeding regularly throughout the day and night) will enjoy being free from periods for between 9-18 months, some women will find that their period returns much earlier. Others may find that it's absent for an extended period. There is no 'one size fits all' answer unfortunately. And while your period may return once or twice, it could then seemingly disappear again for a good few months. You may also experience typical ovulation signs like cramping, breast tenderness or hormonal breakouts but find that your period doesn't arrive. It can be extremely frustrating and this unpredictability is one of the primary reasons that breastfeeding as birth control can be unreliable.
Generally speaking, many women will find that their period returns, or at least starts to 'feel' like it's coming back when their baby starts solids and begins sleeping for longer periods. These shifts indicate to your body that ovulation (and potentially procreation) can return.
Can my period cause a change in my milk supply?
Sometimes, but it's not usually enough of a dip to cause problems. Ovulation and the start of your period cause your oestrogen and progesterone levels to go up and the calcium content of your blood to go down which can interfere with milk production and cause tenderness in your breasts and nipples.
The drop in milk volume itself isn't usually hugely significant and generally happens a couple of days before your period arrives. You may notice your bub fussing a little more, especially if your letdown takes a bit longer than usual. The hormonal changes can also cause your milk to taste slightly different (less sweet, more salty) which can also cause some booby-time squirming.
The best way to manage any dips in supply is by feeding as regularly as possible along with plenty of skin to skin. It's also super important to stay well hydrated. You can also try a combined calcium and magnesium supplement both before and during your period. If you're concerned, it's always a good idea to speak with your Lactation Consultant or GP who can offer further advice.
What about sore nipples (and, ahem, chocolate cravings)?
Tender breasts and sore nipples might be annoying when you're not breastfeeding but can be downright agonising when you are! The same hormonal shifts and drop in calcium is responsible for the aching boobies and ouchy nipples you may experience in the lead up to, and first days of, your period. Unfortunately there isn't a huge amount you can do except to ensure that your bub is latching well and not biting down or pulling too much at your nipples. Changing the position that you feed in can be helpful, as can an over-the-counter pain killer though you should always discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist prior to use.
Breastfeeding and cravings for sweet things often go hand in hand. Add ovulation to the mix and it's no surprise that you want to eat all the sugary/sweet/salty things. Again, you can thank your hormones for the double whammy they're serving you up. Our best advice? Be gentle with yourself. Breastfeeding is hard work at the best of times and when other factors are at play is can be really, really tough. Try to keep a stash of healthy snacks at home (we love Boobie Bikkies for a sweet but nutritious treat), drink plenty of water and if a couple of chocolate bars disappear just write it off as self care!
For more information about breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding Resources.