by Jessica Martin-Weber
I’ve tried to have a positive perspective on having my period but try as I might, I really just find it annoying, uncomfortable, and inconvenient. It’s not that I don’t celebrate being a woman, it’s just that particular time of the month doesn’t inspire me to celebrate it just then. I hate having my period. But that doesn’t mean I hate my uterus, in fact, I love it. My uterus has lost 6 babies and ached with the loss. My uterus has carried 6 beautiful babies, held them as they grew, held onto them when my body wasn’t sure about going through with it, and pushed them out when it was time. I kind of admire my uterus and I’m grateful for it even though about once a month I’d like it to find a temporary residence. Uteruses are strong.
I don’t think I’m alone in the love/hate uterus relationship. Perhaps the idea of celebrating your moon-flow, AKA period, sounds like asking you to dance around with joy at the prospect of wearing diapers, your fat jeans, revisiting 10th grade acne, and trying to munch celery through insatiable chocolate cravings while huddled in the fetal position with a hot pad on your lower belly watching your trusty old “Friends” or “Buffy” DVDs. Except for the DVDs you’d probably rather go wait for 8 hours in line at DPS for your next fantastically freakish driver license head shot. Yours never turn out fantastically freakish? Great, that’s just me. Fine, you’d rather pull your eyelashes out one by one or the proverbial go see your dentist.
However you feel about your uterus, breastfeeding does a uterus good. Seriously, the way the whole thing works isn’t just good for baby, it’s usually good for mom too and right off the bat it starts with being good for your uterus.
If your uterus could talk (it can grow babies, why not talk?), here’s would your uterus would want you to know about breastfeeding:
It can save your life.
Potentially in more ways than one. But what really makes your uterus happy is that putting your baby to suckle at your breast stimulates the release of oxytocin in your brain which helps your uterus to clamp down. That initial latch of your wee babe strengthens the natural contractions and if you haven’t already, helps you expel the placenta and make sure you don’t bleed to death. It can help prevent a postpartum hemorrhage. But don’t worry if your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed right after birth (give them a break, it was an eventful occasion, being born), this continues to work for as long as it takes for your uterus to reduce to it’s normal non gestating size. Every time you put your brand new baby to your breast and endure a wave of contractions you may curse, swear, stomp your foot, breathe through clenched teeth hissing at your partner that next time HE’S having the baby but those painful afterbirth contractions that your nursing babe brings on are important. And yes, it does get more painful with subsequent babies but it still does the job. Hate it all you want but it is way better than hemorrhaging and it’s the body’s perfect way to make sure you’re safe and around for a long time.
It helps you heal.
Along with signaling to the uterus it’s time to shrink back down, breastfeeding can help mom rest. For many women, life just doesn’t let them have the time they need to really heal and that open wound in their uterus doesn’t get the rest it needs which can lead to mom becoming anemic, fatigued, sore, and taking longer to heal. While there’s always a lot to do, breastfeeding can help busy moms take a load off in those early weeks with a hungry baby forcing them to sit and be still long enough to work on a good latch and fill up that little tummy. Taking time to have skin to skin and foster the breastfeeding relationship, moms can reduce their healing time. And because it can help reduce postpartum bleeding and menstrual bleeding, some women will experience a natural rise in iron levels which will be a real energy boost.
It can delay fertility.
With my last baby, my 6th full term pregnancy, I got a break from my monthly flow until 20 months postpartum. Including pregnancy, that was almost 30 months off. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t miss it one single bit. This isn’t a guarantee but the majority of women experience a delay in the return of their fertility if they exclusively breastfeed (meaning no supplementation). When baby is fed only at the mother’s breast the maternal body suppresses fertility to focus on continuing to grow this little person. This would mean no period sometimes until full weaning happens though any time solid foods, supplementation, or artificial nipples are introduced it’s possible a woman’s cycle will return. Sometimes that can be thrown off, usually if artificial nipples are used (yeah, even with bottles of the mother’s own pumped milk) but sometimes even if the mother only ever breastfeeds directly from the tap her cycle may return in the postpartum period. But for those that experience suppressed fertility due to breastfeeding, it can be a nice break from their regular menstrual cycle. Because there are no guarantees though, unless you are hoping to get pregnant again shortly after having your baby, some kind of birth control measures would be wise.
It can help with endometriosis and may help reduce cancer risks.
Because it is common for a woman’s menstrual cycle to be delayed while breastfeeding, women that have endometriosis may experience a stabilizing of the progression of their condition. Causation or correlation, studies show that women that breastfeed have lower incidence of developing uterine, endometrial or ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding is no magic bullet that will save you, you may breastfeed and still get cancer, you may breastfeed and still experience a retained placenta or postpartum hemorrhage, you may breastfeed and struggle with endometriosis or have your fertility return right away. But hey, a chance that you could get a break and make your uterus happy? If you can, it could be a chance worth taking!