Getting the hang of breastfeeding can be tough enough (Is my latch correct? How does this breast pump work? And why are my breasts so lopsided?!), then, a few months later, your period returns and it can change the process again. Here’s what you should expect when your period returns.
Mothers who are breastfeeding exclusively usually don’t get their periods for several months after their babies are born, says Frances Jones, a lactation specialist and coordinator of the milk bank at BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver. But if you aren’t nursing as often, which frequently happens during sleep training, once your baby starts sleeping through the night (hurray!) or when you start to introduce solid foods, you may begin ovulating sooner. And for some women, ovulation just kicks in on its own after only a few months. (For this reason, and because your period may not look normal right away, don’t rely on breastfeeding as a form of birth control. You can still get pregnant while breastfeeding.)
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“Most mothers won’t notice a change in their milk supply when their menses return,” says Nathalie Pambrun, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Midwives. “However, some women do feel that their nipples are more sensitive at the time of ovulation, while others report a slightly lower milk supply on the days they have their period throughout the time they’re breastfeeding. They may also notice that their babies fuss a little more, as they aren’t getting as much milk as they’re used to.”
Because levels of calcium in your blood decrease during menstruation and this has the potential to affect your milk supply, Pambrun recommends taking a calcium and magnesium supplement if you notice a dip in supply. Overall, though, breastfeeding has a lot to do with supply and demand—the more your baby effectively nurses and the more milk she needs, the more your body will produce. “If you notice that you seem to be producing less milk than usual, try feeding your baby more often to bring your milk supply back up,” Jones says.
It also helps to switch sides during feeding so your baby is on each breast at least twice in the same feed (this is called switch nursing), and use breast compression to keep your baby nursing for longer. Avoid pacifiers and bottles if possible so that all of your baby’s sucking takes place at the breast—and maybe add a pumping session in between feedings, or directly after, if you need to boost your supply. “If you’re worried that your milk supply has truly taken a dive and doesn’t seem to be improving, talk to a healthcare practitioner,” Jones says.