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General Guidelines for Breastfeeding Women

Progestin-Only Hormonal Methods
Included in this category of contraceptives are the minipill, implants (such as Norplant), and injectables (such as Depo-Provera). These progestin-only hormonal methods are thought to avoid the adverse effects of estrogen on milk supply. When possible, it is best to delay their use at least six to eight weeks postpartum until breastfeeding is well established. Although some hormone passes into breast milk, no adverse effects on breastfed babies have been shown. While implants provide up to five years of protection, the injectables last only about three months.

Return of Menstrual Periods
Most bottle-feeding mothers will be menstruating by the third month postpartum, while fully breastfeeding women are often amenorrheic (not having periods) for many months after delivery. The duration of amenorrhea generally is related to the amount and frequency of infant suckling at the breast. Amenorrhea is shorter for women who breastfeed in a token fashion or on a rigid schedule. Menstrual periods are delayed longer in women who breastfeed their babies on demand, around the clock and who delay the introduction of solid foods for about six months. Typically, menstrual periods resume within a month or so of interrupting full breastfeeding (i.e., when a baby starts sleeping through the night or the mother starts replacing breastfeedings with formula supplements). The return of menstrual periods may be associated with diminished milk supply and a declining prolactin level (the hormone related to milk production). Since decreased milk supply can cause a baby to lose interest in nursing, a woman may find she is unable to breastfeed as long as she had wanted.

A few women experience early return of their menstrual periods despite nursing frequently, through the night, and without supplements. Many of these women continue to produce abundant milk while having periods each month. Other menstruating women perceive that their milk supply diminishes just before and during their periods. They feel they have more milk at other times in their cycle. I recall one woman who experienced sore nipples each month around the time of her period. I speculate that her cyclic nipple pain might have been due to a temporary decline in milk, causing her baby to nurse more vigorously. The return of menstrual periods does not mean a woman needs to wean her baby. However, she should assume she is fertile and could conceive, even if she is less than six months postpartum. The early return of menses (less than six months) should prompt a woman to evaluate her breastfeeding routines and consider whether her milk supply might be low. Even if that is the case, continued partial breastfeeding is still possible.

Being Separated from Your Nursing Infant
Ideally, breastfed babies should accompany their mothers wherever they go and nurse at will. Such unrestricted breastfeeding assures that the baby's needs are promptly met and that the delicate balance between milk supply and infant demand is preserved. If you must be separated from your baby for a short period, you will want to nurse her just before your departure, leaving her with a full tummy. Ideally, you would be able to time your absence to your baby's usual feeding pattern and return before she is ready to nurse again.

If you will be gone past a feeding time, it is preferable for your baby to be fed your expressed milk rather than infant formula. Many nursing mothers learn to express their milk by hand or with a pump shortly after their milk comes in. By removing residual milk after several nursings, a mother can accumulate a couple of ounces of expressed breast milk which can be fed to her infant in her absence. It's a good idea to have a stockpile of frozen breast milk on hand in case you cannot be pres-ent to nurse your baby for some reason . If you do miss a feeding, it is important to empty your breasts when you are away from your baby so your milk supply won't decrease. If your breasts remain full past a feeding time, it sends a message to your body to produce less milk. Thus, skipping nursings without emptying your breasts can decrease your milk supply.

Numerous breast-pumping options are available, ranging from inexpensive hand pumps to battery-operated, small electric, and even hospital-grade rental electric pumps that empty both breasts simultaneously. If you will miss a nursing only occasionally, you can plan ahead to leave a bottle of expressed milk in your absence. Don't expect to pump a full bottle after first nursing your baby, as your supply is closely matched to your baby's needs. Many women pump only an ounce or less of residual milk after nursing their baby. Hand expression or a manual pump can be adequate for collecting milk after several nursings until you obtain sufficient volume for a full feeding. You will get more milk when pumping after an early-morning nursing than you will later in the day. The second breast used at a feeding usually has more residual milk. You can pour the milk you collect from multiple pumpings on a single day into the same bottle. Keep the storage bottle capped and refrigerated, and use the contents within forty-eight to seventy-two hours. Ideally, women who will miss multiple feedings should use a hospital-grade rental electric pump with a double collection system to pump their breasts at their baby's usual feeding time. Hospital-grade rental electric pumps are not only more convenient but also provide maximum efficiency in preserving your milk supply.

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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