Breastfeeding: Always consult your doctor if in doubt

Monday August 01 2022
Breastfeeding pic

While breastfeeding can help delay your period’s return, it is not a reliable form of birth control. If you want to avoid getting pregnant, you should use another method of contraception in addition to breastfeeding. PHOTO|FILE

By Salome Gregory

To avoid confusion and making bad decisions, it’s advisable to seek the right information from the right people. Your mother, grandmother, aunt or sister may have been there and know a lot but it doesn’t hurt seeking a second opinion. Talking to your doctor during pre-natal visits will help you avoid unnecessary stress after delivery.

Breastfeeding is different for everyone and can be hard at times. You need not worry for your doctor will always be there and ready to help, provided you let him know what you need to know. Having been attending to you for nine months, you will probably be in possession of his phone number. Just call him.

Given that people say a lot to new mothers, sometimes making them fail to understand which information is right and which is not, we spoke to health experts to know the truth about some common beliefs about breastfeeding.


Period while breastfeeding

It’s not unusual for women to miss their periods when breastfeeding. This happens because the hormone responsible for milk production, prolactin, makes a woman stop ovulating and having their periods. A breastfeeding mothercould go up to a year without menstruating if they are breastfeeding day and night.

Advertisement

Most of the women Your Health spoke to admitted to be aware of this fact and many said they had experienced that. However, none was aware why it happens and only two women said they consulted a doctor to know whether it was okay missing their periods. These decided to seek medical attention because they feared they would be pregnant.

Generally, different people have different opinions on the matter, with many believing they can’t conceive if they are not menstruating. The opposite is true according to health experts.

A mother of three, Joyce Romanus,38, missed her periods each time she gave birth. Sharing her story, Joyce says 11 years ago, just a day after celebrating her firstborn’s first birthday, she started experiencing fatigue, nausea and fever.

The doctor suggested she test for malaria and UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) when she went to the hospital for consultation. The results for both tests turned out negative.

“The doctor suggested we do a pregnancy test but my husband told him there was no way I could be pregnant as I hadn’t been menstruating for a year. The doctor laughed and insisted I take the test,” recalls Joyce.

According to her, the doctor’s reaction scared her. She started wondering whether she could be pregnant and how that could be possible when she wasn’t getting her periods. In about ten minutes the results were ready and to her surprise, Joyce was told she was pregnant.

“This was a shocking surprise for me and my husband. The doctor told us it was normal to be pregnant even if one is not menstruating. He advised us on how to care for myself and our first-born child, who was one-year-old at the time,” shares Joyce.


Breastfeeding and pregnant

Dr Living Colman, a gynaecologist at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) says a lot of women are not aware they can conceive while they are breastfeeding even if they are not menstruating. He says very few seek medical attention when they miss their periods.

He says it’s normal for women who breastfeed day and night to miss their periods for about a year, a period during which they can get pregnant if they are not using any contraceptive method.

“People don’t know that ovulation can happen even before monthly periods resume after delivery. This makes it possible for a woman to conceive even if she’s not having her period. It is advisable to have protected sex during this period,” Dr Colman says.

The doctor advises women to always consult experts if in doubt of anything that can only be explained better by medics.

Linda (not her real name), a primary school teacher and a mother of two children found out she was pregnant ten months after delivering her first child. Like Joyce, she too had not been menstruating. Her mother assured her that her period must have stopped because she was going through turbulent times.

“My husband had left me for another woman. He left a few months before I delivered my first child. It was a very challenging time and I ended up in depression. It was so bad that my doctor decided I should deliver by caesarean. So when my mother told me I must have missed my periods due to depression, I believed her,” shares Linda.

She got involved with another man, the father of her second child, after her husband dumped her. Like many, she had no idea she could conceive sans periods.

There are many breastfeeding myths including the belief that breastfeeding affects a woman’s libido, that it causes stress and depression and that breastfeeding during pregnancy affects milk production.

Dr Colman says all these are wrong beliefs and advises women to always confirm the truth with health experts.

Rose Stanley, a midwife at the Muhimbili hospital says a majority of women believe that a pregnant breastfeeding woman’s breast milk lacks the required nutrients, a belief she refutes.

She says what women should know is that when a breastfeeding mother gets pregnant, milk production is likely to go down as the body starts producing colostrum, which is the first form of milk released by the mammary glands after giving birth.

She says a lot of women don’t ask questions on what to expect during pregnancy and after delivery.

The health practitioner says it’s up to women to ask experts as many questions as they want in order to always have the right information. She says it’s the duty of health experts to give them the necessary information but this is not always possible due to a number of unavoidable reasons.

“There are a lot of things that women need to know about during pregnancy and after giving birth. But since the time is usually limited, we only give them basic education on things like the importance of breastfeeding, how to position the baby when breastfeeding, burping the baby after feeding and the like,” adds Rose.

She says before delivery women are trained on how to care for their babies and themselves, what to eat before and during pregnancy as well as when breastfeeding. We also teach them about hygiene matters and the importance of getting enough rest.

Women also believe that exclusive breastfeeding can be used to prevent pregnancy. This is true but if done the right way.

When you exclusively breastfeed, meaning you nurse at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night, and feed your baby only breast milk, your body naturally stops ovulating. You can’t get pregnant if you don’t ovulate. That’s why breastfeeding-as-birth control is also called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). Lactational refers to breastfeeding, and amenorrhea means not having your period.

When you do it perfectly, the LAM birth control method can be about as effective as hormonal contraceptives. About 2 out of 100 people who use breastfeeding as birth control get pregnant in the six months it can be used after a baby is born.

If you breastfeed but also use formula, LAM isn’t a great birth control method for you. It also doesn’t work if you use a breast pump. You need to nurse your baby if you want your breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy.

It’s important to remember that breastfeeding can only be used as birth control for the first six months of a baby’s life, or until your period returns. After that, breastfeeding is way less effective especially as the baby begins to eat solid foods and sleeps longer at night.

Dr Colman advises women to visit maternity clinics for advice on the right methods to prevent pregnancy.

“There is a lot of misleading information in the society which puts women’s health at risk. This can be avoided by consulting experts,” notes Dr Colman.