Has your milk supply suddenly dropped, all while you’re starting to feel cranky, bloated, or crampy? Don’t panic that your milk is gone; you may just be dealing with PMS.
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Fortunately, this supply dip is temporary, and there are things you can do to help some. Read on to learn more about how PMS and your period affects your milk supply.
When does your period return while breastfeeding?
Some lucky (well, assuming they’re not TTC) moms simply don’t have a period while they’re breastfeeding. I’ve heard of moms who go for years with no period because they’re nursing their toddler.
Others get their cycle back within a few months of birth, even if their baby is exclusively nursing. My cycle always came back within 9-12 weeks postpartum, even with exclusive breastfeeding. The worst.
(BTW, regardless of whether your cycle has started up again, don’t trust that you’re not fertile just because you haven’t had a period yet after 6 months postpartum. Exclusive breastfeeding at least every 3-4 hours in the day and at least every 4-6 hours at night grants 98% effective birth control ONLY for the first six months postpartum. There’s always the chance that you’ve ovulated and just haven’t seen your period show up yet.)
NOTE: If you think you’re dealing with PMS but you’re actually pregnant, that could also affect your supply. Milk supply will begin to taper off by mid-to-end of your first trimester or so, and you will probably stop producing milk (roughly) around 20 weeks. But you can still nurse for comfort. Read here to learn more about tandem nursing.
Some moms get “phantom cycles.” Basically, you get all the symptoms – cramping, mood swings, etc. – but Aunt Flo never comes. After my fourth child, I had a combination of an early return of my cycle with phantom periods. I would switch back and forth between a real period and a phantom cycle each month.
Regardless of what your cycle does, though, it can affect your breast milk output.
Why does PMS affect your milk supply?
Your body’s hormones are always changing to support different phases of your cycle. Estrogen is highest during the first half of your cycle (before ovulation), while progesterone dominates during the second half. However, these two hormones aren’t what directly affect milk production levels.
The changes in estrogen and progesterone levels affect the levels of calcium in blood serum. Serum concentration of calcium is lowest before your period. And since low serum calcium levels reduces milk production, your supply can dip before your period.
Does breast milk taste different during your period?
Moms of older nurslings might get told that their milk tastes funny right before their cycle hits. There’s a reason for this!
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Milk composition changes somewhat right before your period, making it possibly taste saltier or less sweet. While a toddler can complain about the change, infants aren’t able to verbally describe this change, but they can still make it clear that they aren’t happy.
Infants may be cranky about nursing during your PMS and the first day or two of your cycle, turning their head to the side and refusing to latch. Or they might act fine and never complain.
How to help your milk supply during PMS
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to raise your supply right before your cycle.
Take a calcium supplement
Since a dip in calcium is a large part of the problem, a calcium supplement during the second half of your cycle can keep your supply strong.
You’re best off taking a combined calcium / magnesium supplement (Just taking an antacid, which is made of calcium carbonate, doesn’t help much because the calcium is not well-absorbed by the body). This brand is a perfect choice because it’s at a good ratio of calcium to magnesium and it’s in the right form for your body to use.
Use breast compressions
Breast compressions, both during nursing and pumping, can help you get every last bit of milk out. Plus, over a few days, it can actually increase your supply.
This video, from Stanford University, does a great job of showing technique for breast compressions (yes, it shows breasts in the video, so it’s “adult content”).
Continue nursing and snuggling your baby
Sometimes, when you get nervous about your supply, you may be tempted to “top off” your baby with formula. But that’s probably not necessary.
The bigger problem with “topping off” is that, when done often enough, it can cause a more permanent drop-off in your supply. Breast milk production is based on supply and demand, so if you lower the demand by supplementation, you end up telling your body to produce less milk.
Nursing and skin-to-skin contact with your baby, though, increases oxytocin and thereby tells your body to make more milk. So cuddle up with your baby, draping a cover over both of you (Bonus: They’re like a built-in heating pad if you’re feeling crampy), turn on your favorite comfort show on Netflix, and just relax.
(NOTE: Do NOT fall asleep with your baby on a sofa. If you think you’re going to fall asleep with your baby, your bed is a much safer place to be.)
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If you’ve watched yourself breast pumping, you may have noticed your “let down.” You may feel tingling or warmth in your breast (or you may not), and then you’ll see that you’re releasing much more milk than you were before.
You can have more than one let down per pumping session, you just have to pump a bit longer. You can help stimulate a second milk ejection reflex by breast stimulation, smelling a onsie your baby wore, or even by just looking at pictures or videos of your baby.
A few moms (like me) get better milk output when they watch the bottles fill up. It’s like once I see those first few drops, I’m encouraged that my body is doing what it’s supposed to so I have a let down.
Most moms (especially during supply dips such as during PMS) pressure themselves about how much milk they see in the bottle. For them, watching the bottle is a source of stress that inhibits the milk ejection reflex.
If that’s you, bring a pair of baby socks in your pumping bag. Put the socks on your bottles while you pump so you can’t watch. It’ll take the mental pressure off so you can relax.
Why I’m not recommending galactagogues
Many sites will recommend specific foods or supplements for milk production, like oatmeal or fenugreek tea. While there’s nothing wrong with those things, they can distract you from what’s most important in keeping up your supply – keep emptying your breasts and keep snuggling your baby.
So if you like oatmeal, knock yourself out and have a big bowl in the morning on the days before your cycle. Just don’t forget the basics.
Conclusions on dealing with a milk supply dip during PMS
I hope these tips encourage you if you’re dealing with a low milk supply around your period.
The biggest takeaway: This supply dip is temporary. Don’t panic and just keep nursing your baby. Your breast milk output will come back up in a few days after PMS and the first day or two of your cycle is over.