Some pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding are to be expected, while others can indicate a pregnancy or reproductive tract problems like an ovarian cyst. It’s important to separate the breastfeeding symptoms from those symptoms that might actually indicate a pregnancy or another issue. While pregnancy and breastfeeding can have some shared symptoms, some symptoms are more likely to occur in only one of these states.
When a woman first begins breastfeeding, she will notice swelling of the breasts and uterine contractions. The first few weeks after a baby is born it can be mildly to moderately painful, similar to a menstrual cramp, when the baby latches on, as nursing stimulates uterine contractions. This is an important function since the contractions help to shrink the uterus down to its normal size, but it is one of the pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding that may first be noted. In addition, the feeling of milk-engorged breasts is sometimes associated with the swollen or painful breasts that occur during pregnancy.
A few other pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding include weight gain or retention. Though it’s possible to lose all pregnancy weight, and some women do, others find weight loss very difficult. The body’s ability to maintain an energy store at this time ensures that a baby is healthily fed. In pregnancy, bodies retain weight, too, so these symptoms are thought to be similar.
One of the other pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding can be absence of menstruation. At least in the early months of breastfeeding, especially if the baby is being exclusively nursed, women may not have a monthly period. Because this varies, women should not consider nursing an excellent form of birth control. It’s possible to get pregnant before a period occurs, and it’s not always easy to tell when menstruation will resume.
As pregnancy is possible, there are other pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding that are thought to be more likely to indicate a pregnancy. Absence of periods after menstruation has restarted suggests possible pregnancy. Crankiness and irritation are more associated with increased levels of the hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), than with the main nursing hormone, oxytocin. Prolonged feelings of nausea or faintness are also likely to be associated with hCG. Feelings of general tiredness could be related to hCG or oxytocin, but oxytocin is more likely to create sleepiness and relaxation.
Many women report having other pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding, but these are anecdotal. Rarely, a large ovarian cyst may produce some hCG and can even cause positive pregnancy tests. In most cases, the way to solve the dilemma about whether symptoms are being produced by pregnancy or by breast-feeding is to take a pregnancy test. If the test is negative, it might be worth it to repeat it two or more weeks down the line. Should the test be negative again with no recession in pregnancy symptoms, women might wish to speak to their physicians about possible causes.