After having a baby, it can be quite frustrating trying to gauge when you will get your cycle back. Whether you’re trying to conceive again, or just be able to better track your fertility, without a period, it can be impossible to do so.
Amenorrhea is the term used to describe an absent period. Amenorrhea can be classified as either primary or secondary. Primary amenorrhea is the absence of a period by age 15 years even though other symptoms of sexual maturation have occurred. Examples include, breast enlargement, armpit, and pubic hair, widening of the hips, etc. In other words, the woman has not yet had a period by age 15. Primary amenorrhea is much less common than secondary amenorrhea, occurring in only .3% of women. For those with primary amenorrhea, it is recommended to work with an endocrinologist for specific cases. (1)
Secondary amenorrhea is the absence of periods for more than 3 consecutive months in women who have previously had periods. A period stopping may be a sign of an underlying issue inside the body. Stress, dietary deficiencies, low body weight, hormonal imbalances and coming off the pill are all reasons for an absent period.
Lactational amenorrhea occurs when women are exclusively breastfeeding under certain conditions. These conditions are:
1) Your baby is less than 6 months old
2) You do not have a period back yet postpartum
3) You are exclusively breastfeeding on demand both day and night.
If all these conditions are met, lactational amenorrhea can be a form of birth control. However, since lactational amenorrhea depends on the frequency and baby’s suckling, if you are pumping or going longer between feeds (as baby sleeps longer for example), your period may return faster. In other words, the 98% effective rate of lactational amenorrhea decreases. (2)
Since breastfeeding increases prolactin production, any decrease or disruption in baby’s suckling at the breast, can stimulate the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone aka GnRH. GnRH is suppressed when exclusively breastfeeding, which prevent ovulation. As baby begins nursing less, that hormone increases and with it, so do the chances of ovulating and your period returning.
While the above theory in relation to baby’s age and frequency of nursing is much more widely studied when it comes to lactational amenorrhea, hypothalamic amenorrhea occurs when your body is in a state of low energy availability. What this means is your body is expending more energy than it is taking in. Since breastfeeding requires a ton of energy and calories, when a mother is not consuming enough nutritionally, it can prolong the start of her period due to not having enough energy to run her reproductive system efficiently. Stress impacts hormonal balance and thus the start of a woman’s period postpartum.
Another theory seems to back up this theory about achieving adequate energy balance. Metabolic load hypothesis states that once a mother achieved a positive energy balance, her period would return despite a high demand of nursing. According to this article published in PubMed, “As the relative metabolic load hypothesis suggests, the variable effect of lactation on postpartum fertility may not depend on the intensity of nursing per se but rather on the energetic stress that lactation represents for the individual mother”. As the body achieves a positive energy balance, it begins to reduce the stress and demand on it and think it’s safe again to grow another baby. At that point, it resumes ovulation and menstruation.
While supplements cannot take the place of adequate and proper nutrition, there are some herbs that can help to resume and regulate hormonal cycles. One such herb is Vitex (also known as Chasteberry). Vitex has been shown to help regulate cycles upset by amenorrhea and hormonal imbalance. It helps normalize ovulation, improve a short luteal phase adn promote healthy hormone levels.
Studies have shown vitex to help resume periods in breastfeeding mothers. Vitex is a safe option for those still breastfeeding who want to resume their cycles to conceive again. It can also help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety in nursing mothers, which can arise due to increased levels of prolactin and resulting suppression of estrogen and progesterone.
Protea Nutrition’s Baseline+ was formulated with 250 mg of Vitex to support healthy hormone levels. Baseline+ includes DIM, myo-inositol and maca as well as B vitamins to help balance hormone levels and encourage healthy menstrual cycles.