After carrying your baby for nine months, you may’ve gotten used to the joy of not having a monthly period. However, your menstruation cycle after birth will eventually kickstart itself again, which means the inevitable arrival of your postpartum period.
There are so many questions about having your first period after pregnancy. When do you get your first period after birth? Will your period after birth be different from what it was like pre-baby? What will your first period after c section be like? And many more.
That’s why we’ve put together everything you need to know for the return of your menstrual cycle after birth.
Things may change a bit from your periods before your pregnancy, such as possibly a heavier period after pregnancy, but with this information, you’ll better know what to expect as you anticipate your first postpartum period.
When do you get your period after birth?
When you get your first period after baby depends on whether you’re breastfeeding or not.
- If you are not breastfeeding, your first period after pregnancy will probably start within 4-8 weeks of delivery.
- If you are breastfeeding, then the return of your period after birth could vary.
- If you’re breastfeeding exclusively, meaning you aren’t giving your baby any other foods or liquids except your breast milk, then it’s possible for your period to not return for the entire time you’re breastfeeding. However, some women still get their first period after baby within a couple of months, whether they’re breastfeeding or not. Still others don’t begin their menstruation cycle after birth for six or more months.
Depending on when your first period after baby starts, your body may still be healing from delivery.
If your postpartum period starts within four to six weeks, avoid using tampons or menstrual cups until you’ve been cleared by your doctor at your six-week postnatal check-up. You don’t want to run the risk of tearing unhealed tissue or causing infection. Instead, stick to pads until you know you’re fully healed.
A warning about getting pregnant again before your first postpartum period
The important thing to know in all this is that you CAN get pregnant again before your first period after pregnancy.
In order to menstruate, your body must ovulate, which means that you may become fertile again before you even realize it. Some mothers go for their six-week postpartum check-up only to find out that they’re already pregnant again.
To avoid getting pregnant too soon, it’s recommended that you use birth control as soon as you begin resuming intercourse.
Non-hormonal birth control is recommended if you’re breastfeeding, such as condoms, IUDs, diaphragms, and cervical caps. Just make sure that, if you use a diaphragm or cervical cap, you have your gynecologist refit them because your cervix shape and size will have likely changed after pregnancy and childbirth.
Birth control pills should be avoided if you’re breastfeeding. The exception is a progestin-only option like the “mini-pill” because estrogen can interfere with your milk production.
If you’re worried about taking the pill, you can try other options like the Depo Provera birth control shot, which is administered once every three months and doesn’t contain estrogen.
Breastfeeding and postpartum period
Getting your first postpartum period can affect your breastfeeding, but only temporarily while you’re menstruating.
It’s not uncommon for your milk production to decrease during your period. Your baby may react to your milk tasting differently due to changes in your hormones.
The changes should be minor, though, and return to normal after your period. Your period after birth should not affect your overall ability to continue breastfeeding.
Just keep in mind that, as mentioned previously, although your first postpartum period may not return for several weeks or months while you’re breastfeeding, you should not rely on that for birth control. You can still get pregnant before your first period after pregnancy appears, even if you’re breastfeeding. So be sure to use other non-estrogen-containing birth control during this time.
How will my period be different after giving birth?
Because your uterus stretches and changes shape during pregnancy, it will likely affect your menstruation cycle after birth. Your body will work to shrink back to pre-baby proportions, but it won’t be exactly the same as before. Your uterus will probably stay at a larger size than before pregnancy. This means that your first period after delivery could be very different than what you’re used to.
Following are some of the things you can possibly expect from your first postpartum period:
Irregular cycle length – Especially while you’re breastfeeding, your hormones are trying to regulate themselves again, so your cycle may be a bit erratic. In the first few months, your menstruation cycle after birth could be changing in length each cycle. Over time, it should even out and become regular again, especially once you stop breastfeeding.
Irregular flow that stops and starts – This is another aspect of your body’s hormones trying to regulate themselves as your body gets used to having a new menstruation cycle after birth.
The heavier period after pregnancy – Because your uterus has enlarged, there is more lining to shed, so your first postpartum period may be much heavier than usual.
Some blood clots – Along with the heavier flow, you may pass some small blood clots, which, as long as they’re small, is normal as your body clears out the extra lining and possibly any remaining lochia from delivery.
More intense pain and cramping than usual – Also related to the change in shape and size of your uterus, you may experience more painful and stronger cramping than before your pregnancy.
If you’ve had a cesarean delivery, your first period after c section will reselble what was listed above.
However, it is possible for your first period after birth to last longer than normal – even up to 10 days or more. If it lasts longer than 12 days, then you should see your doctor in case there’s another issue causing it. You also might experience more pain and period stops and starts as your body is also recovering from surgery and trying to adjust to starting a menstruation cycle after birth again.
For vaginal delivery, once your doctor has cleared you for using tampons and menstrual cups again, you may notice a difference in how they fit. You may feel some discomfort with tampons that you didn’t feel before, but you likely shouldn’t need to increase the size of them. For menstrual cups, however, you may need to use a bigger size for your period after birth.
What to expect from your first period after pregnancy
The biggest thing you can expect with the return of your menstruation cycle after birth is that whether you had a vaginal birth or c section, your periods will likely be irregular for a few weeks or months, depending on whether you’re breastfeeding or not. You’ll probably have heavier periods, and the cramping will be more intense.
In your first year, it’s possible for your periods to fluctuate in bleeding intensity, length, and time between periods.
One thing to be aware of is that women sometimes confuse their first period after birth with postpartum bleeding and lochia. So here’s how to tell whether you’re experiencing postpartum bleeding or if you’re actually having your first period after pregnancy.
Postpartum bleeding occurs in the days and weeks directly after giving birth
As your body sheds the remaining uterine tissue, you will experience an increased amount of blood, discharge, and blood clots. This is not your postpartum period; it’s post-pregnancy bleeding for your body to clean and begin repairing itself.
Lochia is different from regular vaginal discharge
Lochia is postpartum discharge that is more of a creamy white, clear, or even light red color and is more watery. It’s often combined with and continues after postpartum bleeding. If you have bright red blood that occurs six weeks or more after childbirth, then that’s more likely your period.
Lochia can last for up to six weeks
If you had postpartum bleeding and then it tapered off to lochia, it’s most likely not your period. If there was a gap and then you suddenly start bleeding again, then it’s likely that the new bleeding is your first period after pregnancy. The 6-week mark is about the normal time to start your menstruation cycle after birth, although it could be later if you’re breastfeeding.
Lochia has a distinct odor
Since lochia is a mixture of leftover body tissue and fluid from pregnancy, it has a different smell. Its sweeter than the smell of the usual period. In any case, there should never be a foul smell, and if there is, then consult your doctor.
Postpartum bleeding and lochia can increase with activity and exertion
Unlike with your period, postpartum bleeding may increase if you’ve been up moving around a lot! If you find that the bleeding and discharge reduces when you’re at rest, it’s more likely postpartum bleeding and lochia.
By following some of the signs listed above, you should be able to tell the difference. If not, then it’s best to ask your doctor when you have your postpartum check-up.
When to call a doctor
Other than the differences mentioned earlier, your postpartum period should be as much like a “normal” period as possible. However, if things go beyond what you would consider normal, it would be a good idea to call your doctor.
Following are warning signs that something could be wrong and you should speak to you doctor as soon as possible:
- You soak through more than one pad per hour – this could be a sign of postpartum hemorrhage, and you should seek immediate medical attention
- You’re passing blood clots bigger than the size of a plum – this could indicate internal bleeding, which can lead to infection and blood loss, so call your doctor right away
- You’re bleeding continuously for more than a week – another possible sign of postpartum hemorrhage or internal bleeding
- You have a sudden fever – this could indicate an infection and should be treated immediately in case it turns into sepsis or toxic shock
- You’re bleeding along with severe and sudden pain – this could be due to infection, unhealed tears in the vagina and/or uterus, or other postpartum complications that should be treated right away so it doesn’t become more serious
- Your postpartum period is accompanied by a severe headache – this is another indication of possible infection
- You’re experiencing painful urination – this could be a sign of a bladder or urinary tract infection, or something more serious, and should be treated as soon as possible
- Your menstrual discharge has a foul smell – this could be another sign of infection
- You have difficulty breathing or catching your breath – this could indicate infection or more serious post-pregnancy complications and should be treated as a medical emergency
The postpartum period is a time for adjustment. While you will likely see differences in your period postpartum, the changes shouldn’t be life-disrupting. They may require some adjustment due to the changes that occurred to your body during pregnancy. In time, your postpartum period will become your new “normal”.
Keep in mind that your periods will change with each pregnancy and subsequent birth. This is due to the fact that your body will go through more changes physically and hormonally. However, unless they’re severe it’s nothing you should get overly concerned or worried about.
If you experienced changes in your first period after baby, what was it like? Share your story or experience in the comments! Help other new moms know what to expect and how to navigate the return of their menstruation cycle after birth.