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The Menstrual Cycle and Breastfeeding

Although every woman's body responds uniquely to the hormonal changes brought on by nursing their babies, there are certain constants that are associated with the monthly menstrual cycle and breastfeeding. Many women will experience irregular periods while nursing, while others will not menstruate at all until they stop breastfeeding their babies altogether.

As a general rule, breastfeeding causes a delay in the return of menstruation following pregnancy for most women. Also, the frequency of breastfeeding plays a large role as to how soon the menstrual cycle is regulated and once again normal. Women who nurse their babies exclusively may not have a period for as long as a year or more after their pregnancies and will soon discover that the menstrual cycle and breastfeeding seem to be directly related to one another.

Some new mothers will have their menstrual period after cutting down to nursing only two or three times per day, supplementing the other times with formula. Most women who start off formula-feeding their babies will usually begin menstruating anywhere from one to three months following delivery.

The absence of menstruation is actually considered to be a normal occurrence while breastfeeding provided the woman is doing the following:

- Breastfeeding exclusively without using formulas, cereals, or baby foods

- Nursing at least six times per day while alternating breasts

- Breastfeeding at least every four hours during the daytime hours

- Nursing at least every six hours during the nighttime hours

If you find that you aren't breastfeeding that often, or if several months have gone by and you still aren't having your usual menstrual cycle, consult with your healthcare provider for their assessment and evaluation.

The technical term for a lack of menstruation due to breastfeeding is known as lactational amenorrhea. Some women rely upon breastfeeding as a means of postponing ovulation in what's referred to as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) for as long as six months after giving birth. It's important to remember that you should consider yourself fertile once your monthly menstrual cycle has returned. However, since this isn't necessarily true for each and every woman, especially those with irregular periods, one should always make sure to use a safe means of birth control if they aren't interested in having another baby right away.

Consult with your own family doctor or gynecologist for their recommendations as to which method is best for you. Many mothers who are breastfeeding choose to use a barrier method, such as condoms or the diaphragm, until they are no longer nursing their babies to avoid the risk of passing on any of the hormones contained in the birth control pill.

Often times, menstruation will begin again once the baby is eating solid foods, or has been weaned from the breast, or is nursing from a bottle more frequently. Once baby begins sleeping throughout the night, or at least for four to six hours at a time, this may affect the menstrual cycle when breastfeeding.

Besides nursing, a woman's menstrual cycle may even be affected by factors such as a new mother sleeping with her baby, which is never a safe practice as babies can be accidentally suffocated, or fall from a bed risking serious injury. Also, if a mother wears her baby close to her body in a sling on a frequent basis, that may even alter the hormones responsible for causing menstruation as well.

Always remember that the menstrual cycle and breastfeeding are different for every woman, and also for every pregnancy. It's also not uncommon for women to report having an entirely different experience from one pregnancy to the next. If you have questions or concerns, don't hesitate to contact your doctor and make an appointment as soon as possible. Most new mothers faithfully take their babies to receive check-ups and immunizations when necessary, but often neglect their own health during the important months following childbirth.

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