One of the the great perks of being pregnant is the lack of a monthly period! Nine blissful months free of tampon, pads, and extra trips to the bathroom! After birth, your period will likely return after 6-8 weeks if you choose not to breastfeed. However, if you do choose to breastfeed, chances are your period won’t return right away! For some women they can go an entire year of breastfeeding before Aunt Flow returns!
So, how does breastfeeding prevent your period from starting?
As with most things in a woman’s body it all comes down to hormones. A special hormone called prolactin is produced by the breastfeeding mother’s body in order to produce breast milk. Prolactin often suppresses the rest of your reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. Without high enough levels of these reproductive hormones you are unlikely to ovulate and as a result, won’t menstruate! Science is pretty cool right?!
A world of caution: Just because your period hasn’t returned does NOT mean you can’t get pregnant. Here is a friendly reminder from 10th-grade health class, ovulation happens BEFORE menstruation. This means you could release an egg, and get pregnant before your period ever shows up! The takeaway? If you are not interested in getting pregnant again (at this time) be sure to use contraception.
So if you are like me you are probably wondering when the elusive Aunt Flow will return? Probably at the worst possible moment. Here are 5 signs that your period may be returning and you will want to have some supplies ready for its arrival!
Sign #1: Decrease in Breast Milk Output
As discussed above prolactin (the milk-making hormone) causes a dip in reproductive hormones. If your body begins to produce more of the reproductive hormones your prolactin is likely going to diminish. A drop in prolactin can cause a dip in breast milk supply. Luckily, our bodies are incredibly smart and these hormones will even out and won’t disrupt your milk supply in the long term.
Sign #2: Fussy Baby that doesn’t want to nurse
This sign is not as common for some people but it can happen. As your hormones fluctuate with menstruation the taste of your milk can change as well. Your breast milk can taste less sweet to the baby and for some babies, this can cause some temporary nursing problems. This can also tie into a drop in supply as mentioned above leading to fussy frustrated babies that are not getting the milk they are used to. Don’t worry though, as your hormones even out your breastmilk will too!
True Story: As my period was coming back (around the 9-month postpartum mark) my daughter got EXTREMELY frustrated with nursing. She would frantically try to nurse and as soon as she’d trigger a let down she would bite me, HARD! (I assume this was because she didn’t like the taste of my milk.) We had an entire frustrating day of nursing with her screaming and biting me, and me wanting to scream with frustration (and pain!). I finally threw in the towel and decided to give her a bottle of freezer breastmilk from earlier in the month. She happily chugged that bottle and left me alone to ice my poor bruised nipples. Luckily this behavior didn’t last long. She either decided that she didn’t care about the taste any more or she just got used to it! So the lesson of the story, if your baby is getting frustrated with nursing and you suspect a change in hormones is to blame try giving some expressed breast milk to give yourself a break. Just remember to pump if you skip a nursing session so that you maintain supply!
Sign #3: Tender breasts
A rise in the reproductive hormone, progesterone can be thanked for this breast pain. After ovulation estrogen levels drop and progesterone levels rise. Around day 21 of a typical 28-day cycle progesterone levels should drop off again and with it your breast tenderness should diminish as well. So if you feel tender, sore breasts you might be getting your period sometime in the next week or so!
Sidenote: tender breasts could also be a sign of pregnancy!
Ah good old fashioned PMS. Well, PMS is also caused by fluctuating hormones. In this case the rollercoaster of emotions are the result of the rise and fall of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen peaks around week 2 of a menstrual cycle. From there estrogen takes a dive, preparing your body for menstruation. If you are feeling unexplained irritability it could be a sign that your period will be returning within the next two weeks.
If you are having mood swings there are things you can do to help! Try exercising, nourishing your body with healthy, delicious foods, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. Caffeine can increase anxiety and irritability, alcohol can act as a depressant, and sugar, unfortunately, is just bad for you.
It is likely that your first postpartum periods are likely to be irregular. Just be prepared to relax and go with the flow (pun intended)
What might you expect from your period postpartum?
- Different cramping (lighter or stronger)
- Blood clots: Your first period is likely to be heavier than it used to be as there is more uterine lining to be shed. As your cycle continues in the coming months this should even out.
- More pain then you were used to
- Irregular cycles
As time goes on things should even out!
Now does anyone have any tips for dealing with PMS and cramps while chasing around a baby? Leave them in the comments below! I’d love to read them!
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