During a woman's childbearing years, progesterone plays a vital role in preparing her body for pregnancy, and subsequently, in sustaining a pregnancy. After childbirth, a woman's progesterone level plummets. In some women, progesterone levels remain low until she weans. For this reason, some women choose to use a progesterone cream as a supplement.

Progesterone's Role

When you become pregnant, the placenta takes over progesterone production from the ovarian follicle that produced your egg. Progesterone production remains high for the duration of pregnancy; during this time, it prohibits further ovulation as well as prepares your mammary glands for milk production by stimulating their growth. Once you deliver the baby -- as well as the progesterone-producing placenta, called the afterbirth -- it takes your body just three to four days to return to prepregnancy levels of progesterone.

Progesterone & Prolactin

After you give birth, prolactin becomes the dominant hormone for milk production. Research by Dr. C. Matthew Peterson from the University of Utah College of Medicine finds that prolactin and progesterone compete for the same receptors in the human body 5. When progesterone binds to prolactin receptors, it prevents your breasts from making milk. For this reason, wait until your milk supply is established -- on average four weeks after delivery -- before using a progesterone cream. It is safe for babies, as it is not passed into a mother's breast milk.

Benefits of Progesterone Cream for Nursing Mothers

Using a progesterone supplement benefits your physical and mental health. Progesterone supplements -- both oral medications and creams -- help alleviate vaginal dryness. This condition is common for both postpartum and postmenopausal women. If your menstrual cycle returns while still breastfeeding, progesterone cream helps to regulate your cycle and help you avoid anovulatory cycles in which your body does not produce a viable egg for fertilization 6. A 1994 study published in "BMJ" found women who took a progesterone supplement were less likely to develop postpartum depression, also known as the "baby blues"; however, not all experts agree. Doctors Diana Dell and Nada Stotland tell MedPage today studies touting the benefits of progesterone supplements as a cure for postpartum depression and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) fall short.

How To Take Progesterone Cream

Wait until your milk supply has stabilized before taking progesterone cream. In the United States, you do not need a prescription for progesterone cream; it is available over the counter under a variety of brand names. Because some women are sensitive to the cream, apply it to different areas of the body with each application; it is easily absorbed through the capillaries, so apply to to areas where you blush including your face, neck and chest. Apply the cream two to three times a day for 21 to 25 days, then do not apply it for five to seven days -- this is simulating a menstrual cycle. Talk with your doctor before beginning a progesterone cream regimen for specific dosing guidelines.