I have worked in the fertility and pregnancy space for 20 years. 15 of those years I have also served pregnant women as a doula. As such, I’m a huge advocate for breastfeeding. I personally breastfed my daughter until she was 14 months old.
I love everything breastfeeding has to offer.
However, if you are currently breastfeeding, not menstruating and are wanting to fall pregnant again, some choices need to be reconsidered. I have women from time to time enquire if I can help bring back their cycles whilst they are still breastfeeding. In short, the answer is no.
And to save you the cost of a consultation fee, here’s why.
In Chinese medicine it is said that breastmilk is “born from blood”. Blood however is made from Qi.
It takes 10 parts of Qi to make 1 part of Blood. Quality Qi is acquired through the quality of food we eat, the level of hydration, the quality of air we breath and the quality (and amount of) sleep we get. How well that Qi is actually processed, digested and utilised by every cell in our body is determined by the strength of our various physiological systems (digestive, respiratory, nervous etc).
In my clinical experience (and my own personal experience) mothers usually don’t prioritise themselves. In particular, they forget to eat, or don’t eat very well, they forget to drink water, and their sleep is more often than not broken, because of their child/children. A breastfeeding mother has to make an ENTIRE food source for another human being from her own body, as well as ideally keeping herself well-nourished and hydrated at the same time. So what happens if the mother is not prioritising herself yet also breastfeeding? What kind of reserves would she be digging into to do this?
Breastfeeding is energy output. Looking after a child is energy output. A menstrual period is a loss of Blood from the body. A menstrual period is energy output. The mother has grown and incubated a baby requiring huge amounts of Qi and then birthed that tiny human which depletes Qi and Blood stores rapidly. Birth is energy output. So whilst in a state of Qi and Blood depletion, the mother has to make breastmilk from dwindling Qi and Blood reserves.
How can one expect a period to come back when all reserves are being put into the sustainability of the child and the survival of the mother? The menstrual cycle is actually not important in this scenario. The uterus, although wondrous in its function of growing and giving life, is not important for the life-survival of the mother. The uterus is not as crucial as the heart or brain for example. Women can have hysterectomies and still survive. Why would the woman’s body want to lose blood from the uterus when all her reserves are being prioritised elsewhere? The woman can’t actually afford to lose anything from her body because to do so would be detrimental. It would be draining, depleting and not ideal. It’s no wonder then that for some women the menstrual cycle does not come back whilst breastfeeding.
On the other hand sometimes the mother is doing all the right things, eating well, sleeping great, well-hydrated, and breastfeeding and still the period has not returned. The principle is still the same in this instance. The mother’s body is utilising all Qi to make breastmilk as well as keep the mum alive. Not having a menstrual period is a sign that the woman’s body is not yet ready or strong enough to lose blood via a menstrual period.
For some women, the cycle may have come back quickly the first time, only a few months after birth. And they may have had no issues falling pregnant with the second child whilst breastfeeding. Now that same woman wants a third, and it’s not happening. I would consider that the woman’s body is really trying to tell her that this time around things need to be done differently. All Qi and Blood reserves are now diminished leaving nothing for the body to build or draw from. In this case, why would the mother’s body want to cause more depletion by having a menstrual bleed when she has used everything to grow and birth 2 children and is also using everything to feed her child (or children)?
If we are to rebuild Qi and Blood in the mother using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to reestablish a menstrual cycle it is crucial to understand that weaning is essential. This ensures that nothing extra is being lost whilst the body is being replenished. This ensures the fastest way to rebuild Qi and Blood stores, and then when the body is ready and strong enough to lose Blood, it will have a period.
If you are not ready to give up breastfeeding then unfortunately my clinic is not the clinic for you. You might like to wait, have the child wean itself and reconsider falling pregnant when your period has returned naturally. Whilst acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are very effective at encouraging regular, healthy menstrual cycles, I believe that you would be wasting your time, my time and your money by exploring treatment whilst you are concurrently breastfeeding. Other practitioners might feel and tell you differently. By all means you can seek out treatment elsewhere, however in my clinical experience, and moral principles, I would not feel right giving you treatment and taking your money while you are breastfeeding and wanting a period to come back.