Let’s talk about breastfeeding and our periods.
We all mention it to each other, mama to mama, at some point postpartum while exclusively breastfeeding. We all want to know what to expect, what’s “normal” and we’re always curious about what other mamas go through with it. Some say another benefit to exclusively breastfeeding is that it delays the return of our menstrual cycle, which what mama wouldn’t want that? Some say it’s great for birth control and nature’s way of knowing not to get pregnant so quickly while still needing to nurture their newborn. Well, I would like to share with you my experience on my lovely cycle when I have (and still do) exclusively breastfeed.
I have never missed a period, ever. I am not one of the lucky ones who misses out on their monthly visit from Aunt Flow. Even when I was a young teen, under extreme stress, anxiety, experienced a loss and was very active is sports. Even through motherhood after three pregnancies, one being a miscarriage that made me very sick, one traumatic, emergency c-section, and one healing but challenging VBAC. And I’ve NEVER missed it while exclusively breastfeeding and nearly practicing all Seven Tenets of Ecological Breastfeeding, which I will go in to more further down.
Every woman’s body is different so each woman will react differently to exclusively breastfeeding, including how we each define exclusively breastfeeding and how it might look for each of us.
When it comes to our miraculous bodies and our cycles during exclusively breastfeeding and in general, there are three important things to know: 1) when and if you are ovulating, 2) your luteal phase, and 3) your actual period.
Before pregnancy, an average healthy woman’s cycle will be anywhere from 25-32 days; what’s important is that it’s consistent and to know what’s common for your monthly cycle. However, after childbirth, a healthy, exclusively breastfeeding mama’s body can delay all stages and the return of your menstrual cycle; OR, what you most uncommonly hear, you can experience all, two or one of these stages while breastfeeding.
Although I have the upmost respect for the documentation and research on the history of exclusively breastfeeding mama’s cycles, a lot of the “average” does not apply to me. Because of that, while exclusively breastfeeding, I practice Natural Family Planning by charting my body’s cycle to prevent unwanted pregnancies or health interruptions from breastfeeding.
According to THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, “Fully breastfeeding means the baby relies completely on mother for nourishment and for all of his sucking needs. Your baby’s frequent nursing inhibits the release of hormones that cause your body to begin the monthly preparation for a new pregnancy. Ovulation does not take place and you do not have menstrual periods.” This makes sense; our bodies are flooding with hormones postpartum and it takes awhile to get our bodies back in to its regular cycle. But, again, that wasn’t exactly the case for me.
Sheila Kippley in Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, explains practicing Ecological Breastfeeding typically has the greatest impact on menstrual cycles. The seven tenets of Ecological Breastfeeding are:
1. Exclusive breastfeeding (no other liquid or solid from any other source enters the infant’s mouth) for the first six months of life.
2. Comfort your baby at the breast.
3. Don’t use bottles and pacifiers.
4. Cosleep with your baby for night feedings.
5. Cosleep with your baby for daily nap feedings.
6. Nurse frequently day and night and avoid schedules.
7. Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
I followed this pretty much the first few months after my VBAC daughter and, again, my cycle came back.
With my son, being premature, I had to add a supplement with my breastmilk for the first few weeks a little, and he had always used a pacifier, too (hospital), so I know that’s why I never skipped a menstrual-beat. But with my daughter I did everything according to any practice or definition of “exclusively breastfeeding,” and although it wasn’t perfectly 28-30 days later like usual, I still had my period back within four weeks after I stopped bleeding from birth. The only thing my daughter started taking a couple months old while exclusively breastfeeding was a pacifier. However, she still nursed over 8-12 feedings per day past 6 months.
Even after three years of “exclusively breastfeeding,” I guess I still find myself confused on what that means to every mother when talking about her cycle. It shocks me when I still hear, read and see women telling each other and new, expecting mamas that they won’t get their period. It’s hard to believe there’s women getting their periods back if exclusively breastfeeding because it seems to be uncommon or not “average.”
I think we’re just all different and I think it’s important for every mama to get to know her postpartum body, listen to it, and be empowered to know what her body’s cycle is. So, although not having a period for 6-24 plus months is totally another great incentive to exclusively breastfeed, just remember to also educate each other on the uncommon possibilities of our amazing, strong bodies, too. Being empowered to know you’re in control of your body and your own natural family planning is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding
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