There were a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for during the entire labor, birthing and postpartum process of having my son, and cramping while breastfeeding was one of them. As he latched on in the hospital, I remember feeling so confused. Labor was supposed to be over, so why did it feel like I was having intense menstrual cramps again during what was supposed to be a sweet and special bonding moment with my son? Frankly, the process of reproducing can be really weird. There are many strange things that happen to your body, not only while you're pregnant, but postpartum, as well. Random cramps, fluids, mood swings, body changes — you name it. And strange things definitely happen while you're breastfeeding. While you may have been prepared for some postpartum cramping, but cramping while breastfeeding can still catch you off guard. Here’s what it is and why it happens.
Why am I cramping while breastfeeding?
Cramping while breastfeeding is totally normal, and many women experience it, says Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. The cramping is related to oxytocin — the hormone that causes uterine contractions in labor — that’s released while you’re breastfeeding, explains Bohn.
In fact, cramping while breastfeeding is a very important side effect of breastfeeding directly postpartum — it’s not just normal, it’s a very good thing. “Oxytocin causes our uterus to cramp, which helps the mother because it decreases her risk of heavy bleeding and postpartum hemorrhage,” says Rachel Taylor, a registered nurse and lactation counselor.
This oxytocin-induced cramping is working to shrink your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size after being stretched out during pregnancy and childbirth, says Chrisie Rosenthal, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
Is it normal to cramp while breastfeeding?
It’s definitely normal to experience cramping while breastfeeding, especially for several days postpartum. “Cramping is quite uncomfortable the first several days after birth, but gets better the more the uterus shrinks,” says Taylor. “After one week of postpartum, cramping should be very mild, and you probably won't notice it at all.” You could potentially feel cramping while breastfeeding for up to six weeks postpartum, says Katie Clark, a certified lactation educator.
But when should you worry? When is cramping while breastfeeding a cause for concern? “If the pain feels severe, over-the-counter pain medication isn't providing relief, or you are concerned about the pain/cramping you're experiencing, reach out to your OB-GYN, '' says Rosenthal.
Should I be concerned if I am not cramping while breastfeeding?
If you’re not feeling any cramping while breastfeeding — or not breastfeeding at all — not to worry. That’s normal, too. “The uterus naturally [goes back to normal] even without breastfeeding,” Bohn says. However, if you are breastfeeding and not experiencing any cramps at all postpartum, Taylor suggests you should check with your lactation consultant because it could be a sign that your baby may not have an effective latch.
Can cramping while breastfeeding be a sign of pregnancy?
Cramping while breastfeeding can absolutely be a sign of pregnancy, explains Clark, if you’re way past the postpartum stage. “Cramping sometimes occurs with implantation or for other various reasons, so it could certainly happen while breastfeeding,” she says.
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, don’t sweat any cramps you may feel while you’re feeding them. Unless you’re feeling severe pain or the cramping lasts for more than a few days, cramping while breastfeeding is completely normal and part of the healing process your body goes through postpartum.
Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
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