How your period changes after childbirth
One of the silver linings of being pregnant is a well-deserved break from getting your period. Now that an egg has been fertilized, your uterine tissue is busy creating a nourishing, life-giving home for your baby – instead of sloughing off over the course of three to seven days with fun accompanying side effects like uterine cramps, breakouts, and fatigue.
Of course, those period pains will be replaced by a whole host of new and equally enjoyable side effects. Yay, pregnancy!
But what about after you’ve given birth? How soon will your period come back? And will it be the same as it was pre-baby?
After childbirth, your period will eventually reappear – but exactly how soon that happens depends on a few different factors, including whether or not you choose to breastfeed, whether you get back onto hormonal contraceptives, and whether you have any underlying conditions. You may also notice that your period post-baby is a little different (maybe heavier, maybe lighter) than what it used to be.
Still anxiously waiting for your menstrual cycle’s return? Here’s what to expect when you’re no longer expecting.
Bleeding & discharge after childbirth: Lochia
Don’t believe the Instas that make it seem otherwise—childbirth is a messy process and your body continues to adjust even after you deliver your baby. You may feel like you’re on your period nonstop for the first four to six weeks following birth.
While technically not menstrual blood, lochia (the vaginal discharge after childbirth) definitely has a period blood-like quality, especially during the first three days following delivery: During this timeframe, it typically has a fragrant smell and is dark red in color.1
Over the next two weeks, the lochia will lighten from red to yellow or cream-colored and you will eventually stop bleeding.
During this time, it’s best to wear pads and hold off on anything that involves penetration (like using a tampon or having sex) because your vagina and vulva will be pretty sensitive. If you had an episiotomy during birth, the skin between your vagina and anus, called the perineum, is also probably going to be sore.1
Give your body time and space to heal. The less that goes on down there, the better! One final note: If you continue to have lochia discharge for more than six weeks after delivery, make sure to speak with your healthcare provider.
When will you get your first period after giving birth?
Everyone’s post-birth “bounce back” process is different – including how long it takes for your period to return. One major factor that dictates how long it’ll take for your menstrual cycle to jump back into action is whether or not you’re breastfeeding your newborn.
First period after childbirth if breastfeeding:
Your first period after childbirth, if you are breastfeeding, might not show up for 8 to 15 months postpartum. Postpartum, BTW, is the official term used to describe the return of the body and pelvic organs to a non-pregnant state.
Why the wait? Your body uses a hormone called prolactin to produce milk. When prolactin levels are high, it’s a signal for the body to delay ovulation (thus, no menstruation).
However: you should know that you can still get pregnant while breastfeeding, even if you are not menstruating – so you should use a form of birth control if you’re sexually active and don’t plan on becoming pregnant again.2 When breastfeeding, you’ll need to stay away from estrogen-containing hormonal contraceptives, so stick to barrier-method options like condoms or talk to your provider about starting the progestin-only “mini pill”, the Depo-Provera shot or an IUD.
Another note for breastfeeding parents: If your period returns while you’re still breastfeeding, you may notice a bit more fussiness from your nursing baby. This is because hormonal changes may slightly alter the taste of your milk, and you may also notice a drop in milk supply.3 If you have access to a lactation consultant, this is a good time to reach out for tips and support.
First period after childbirth if not breastfeeding:
If you aren’t breastfeeding, you’ll most likely start getting your period again much sooner: Anywhere from 55 to 60 days postpartum. This process is all a part of your body’s natural hormonal response to the massive changes of both pregnancy and childbirth.
Changes to your period after having a baby: What to expect
Your first period after having a baby is probably going to be different than what it was before pregnancy.
Those who have endometriosis or experience painful periods may find that their periods are actually less painful than they were prior to pregnancy. Why? When you’re pregnant, your body produces significantly higher levels of progesterone, one of the key reproductive hormones. The progesterone works to decrease the amount of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus.
Unfortunately, this change is not permanent. Those with endometriosis may start to have painful periods again once progesterone settles back to normal (as in, non-pregnancy) levels.
You also may experience bleeding for more days or a heavier menstrual flow overall. During pregnancy, the uterus expands to nourish and support the baby.4 A larger uterus equals more uterine lining to shed every month. For the same reason, period cramps could potentially be more painful as your uterus contracts to expel more tissue.5
First period after a C-section
Your first period after giving birth via C-section may not be that different from someone who delivered vaginally. When it comes depends on if you are breastfeeding, and isn’t related to how you delivered.
However: Those who undergo C-sections should keep an eye out for periods that are significantly lighter than they were pre-pregnancy. This could indicate scarring of the uterine lining, also known as Asherman’s Syndrome.
Sometimes during a C-section, scar tissue forms in the uterus or cervix. If scarring is severe enough, it will prevent the normal shedding of the uterine lining and you could either have a very light period or no period at all. Asherman’s Syndrome scarring can also cause intense stomach cramping and fertility problems.6
If you are noticing any of these symptoms post-cesarean section, speak with your healthcare provider or OB-GYN.
Heavy periods after giving birth: When to talk to your doctor
Adjusting to your post-pregnancy body and all of its quirks definitely takes time. Some women experience heavier, longer, or more painful periods after giving birth. As noted above, it’s possible that these changes relate to a larger uterine cavity (having been stretched during pregnancy), which translates to a larger volume of endometrial tissue to shed each month.5
While a heavier period is normal after childbirth, uterus-havers should reach out to their healthcare provider if their period changes in any of the following ways:
- Soaking through multiple pads or tampons in an hour
- Having periods that last longer than 7 days or interfere with your normal activities
- Expelling blood clots larger than a size of a quarter
- Experiencing unusual pelvic or abdominal pain
- Feeling dizzy or faint during your period
Any of the above could indicate that something more serious is going on healthwise. Depending on what your provider determines to be the root cause, you may need to start taking iron supplements or begin hormone therapy. Plus, heavy bleeding is pretty annoying and can seriously disrupt your quality of life.7
Once your body has healed and your period has returned full-force, you may find that your newly-heavy flow requires a bit more creativity in the period product shopping department. If you’re bleeding through tampons twice as quickly as you used to, consider switching to a menstrual cup or menstrual disc.
Flex Cup™ and Flex Disc™ are both wearable for up to 12 hours at a time (and taking care of a baby is exhausting, so less time spent changing period products = more time to relax). Cups are great if you’re looking for a sustainable, reusable option for the long haul – but if your main requirement is convenience, menstrual discs are disposable and easy to take on the go.
If your flow is heavy enough that you’re bleeding through a menstrual cup or disc in less than 12 hours (this isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about), you might find that period underwear is an easier and more comfortable form of backup protection than pads or liners.
Irregular periods after childbirth
Your body goes through so many changes before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth that you may find yourself having irregular periods for a few months postpartum, This is completely normal, especially if your period returns while you’re still breastfeeding.
You may spot or bleed for fewer days, or get your period and then go many months without getting it again. Once you start to reduce the time you spend breastfeeding and your prolactin levels decrease, your cycle should return to whatever “normal” was for you before pregnancy.8
If your menstrual cycle still hasn’t resumed after more than 15 months postpartum, or if it continues to be irregular for more than six months, mention it to your healthcare provider or OB-GYN.
Other menstrual cycle changes you may experience
Pregnancy can also release hormones that relax the uterus and dilate the cervix. For some lucky menstruators, that will lead to easier periods (congrats!). Those who resume hormonal birth control again post-pregnancy are also likely to experience lighter periods.
Lighter periods are not always a cause for celebration. Sheehan’s Syndrome is a rare post-pregnancy complication that can cause you to miss periods because your pituitary gland isn’t working properly. Luckily, Sheehan’s is treatable, but be sure to speak with your doctor if your periods are much lighter than they’ve ever been, or if your period is still mysteriously absent and you’re no longer breastfeeding.
There is truly no one “normal” way for your period to return after childbirth. Just like the road to becoming a parent, everyone’s journey is going to be different. Lifestyle choices, too, play a role in how quickly your cycle normalizes as a new parent (like whether or not you’re breastfeeding).
If you have any questions or concerns about unusual bleeding after giving birth, check in with your OB-GYN or healthcare provider. When in doubt, it’s always best to talk to an expert.
This article is informational only and is not offered as medical advice, nor does it substitute for a consultation with your physician. If you have any gynecological/medical concerns or conditions, please consult your physician.
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