Breastfeeding mothers are bombarded with information from all sides regarding various facts and fictions that surround the act of naturally feeding their new baby. One of the most regularly heard myths that has been told regarding breastfeeding involves its effect on a woman’s monthly cycle and her ability to become pregnant.
For years, it was believed that a breastfeeding mom was unable to become pregnant while exclusively breastfeeding her baby. There have been many studies regarding this supposed phenomenon, and the idea that breastfeeding can be a form of contraception has been fully debunked.
While it is true that breastfeeding can keep a woman from starting her period for some time, every woman is different, and every breastfeeding journey is unique. Many exclusively breastfeeding mothers will go anywhere from 3 to 14 months without seeing any signs of Aunt Flow.
This is due to the hormones that allow a breastfeeding mom to continue producing milk. As long as the breast is being stimulated and milk is being produced, a breastfeeding mom may not have a menstrual cycle.
However, if there is any change in production, a change in feeding schedule, or number of feedings, the level of a woman’s hormones may change - triggering the beginning of a new menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, that woman would be unaware of any change until after she started her period, which means that she could potentially get or be pregnant and not even know that it was a possibility. This is because ovulation happens before your visible "period" in a menstrual cycle.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms use some form of contraception while breastfeeding so as to reduce the chance of unwanted pregnancy. It is not recommended that women who are breastfeeding use hormonal based forms of contraception since the hormones can negatively impact breast milk production.
If an oral contraceptive is a must, then it is recommended that the pill taken be either a combination pill or be what is called a “mini-pill.” Both of these options are either low in or have no estrogen, which is the hormone that can cause breast milk supply to dwindle. If possible, it is most recommended to utilize condoms or other hormone-free birth control options. A new pregnancy can also have a dramatic negative effect on breast milk supply.
Many of our clients experience a "dip" in supply every month during their cycle. This is normal and it doesn't mean they need to supplement, give up breastfeeding, or wean. Taking extra calcium and magnesium supplements during that time of the month can help keep your supply up. So don't despair if you experience a dip in your supply when you start your monthly cycle after giving birth. Keep pumping and nursing, and take your calcium and magnesium. You will get through it!
Another important piece of knowledge to take away from this discussion is just because the crimson wave has not made its arrival due to a successful breastfeeding journey, it does not mean that the body is not getting itself ready for a new pregnancy. It is important to utilize effective forms of birth control to lessen the chance of a new, and potentially unwanted pregnancy.