For those practicing extended breastfeeding (commonly considered nursing beyond one year or more), or for those who have an earlier return of menstruation, the hormones related to your cycle can create nipple soreness or pain during breastfeeding.
I was surprised to experience this effect with my second daughter. With my first baby, my period returned at 1 week prior to her first birthday. I never had any effect of this sort, but she had decreased her nursing to only a few times a day by one year. With my second, I started to notice seemingly random periods of sore nipples starting around 15 months – I assumed it was teething-related. But a few months later, I noticed the correlation between my fertile days and ovulation. My painfully sore days seemed to span around 4 days surrounding this time. (In a cruel joke, after some delay in conceiving both of my daughters due to some cycle irregularities, and months of charting and temperature taking -- since my second, my fertile days are glaringly obvious to me with no assistance!)
I'm one who believes that much of my body's mysteries often do surround my cycle (I know, I know… not a very feminist approach, but in my case, I fear it is true!), so as soon as I realized this, it was, of course, obvious. I couldn't believe I'd missed it before. But I wondered it if was unusual, or if there was still another explanation.
I posted my question on one of my many breastfeeding-related yahoo discussion groups, in this case, one dedicated to extended breastfeeding. Within days I had several responses ensuring me that this was absolutely possible, and that others experience the same phenomenon. Even more interesting was that the impact of the menstrual cycle differed from woman to woman. Some, like me, had soreness surrounding ovulation, some during their period, and others some combination or span of those two. My assumption is that it has something to with cycle hormones in the same way that nursing during pregnancy can be painful for some nursing women.
In any case, I thought it was valuable to share this phenomenon, because I was caught off guard. Knowing the reason for the discomfort, and that in my case at least, it will be short-lived each month, certainly makes it easier to manage. It also eliminates my need to be assessing and evaluating and trying to "solve the mystery" each time it occurs, which frees up my brain to do other things and to enjoy nursing despite the temporary soreness.
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