Postpartum Menstrual Cycle:
Answers to 7 Common Questions
Many women enjoy the break from their period while they're pregnant. However, once their new bundle of joy arrives, their monthly visitor will soon follow. Since they have no recent last period to go by, it can be difficult to determine when your next one will show up.
On top of not knowing when your period will arrive, your postpartum menstrual cycle can be different than your cycles before you gave birth. There are a variety of factors that can alter your cycle, including frequency and how heavy it is.
This guide will discuss the answers to the top seven questions about the first period after childbirth.
Common Questions About Your First Period After Childbirth
According to Healthline, the 12 weeks after you give birth are also known as the fourth trimester. It's the transitional period that occurs after you deliver your baby as you adjust to your new bundle of joy and they adjust to the world.
A lot happens with a woman's body during this time, including potentially getting your first postpartum period. Let's discuss some of the most commonly asked questions about postpartum menstrual cycles.
1. When Does Your Period Return After Giving Birth?
One of the things to keep in mind about your period returning is that every woman's body is different. It's difficult to pin down the exact time, but your first period after childbirth might depend upon whether or not you breastfeed. Women that frequently and exclusively breastfeed oftentimes don't ovulate, and if you aren't ovulating, you likely aren't getting a period.
It can sometimes take anywhere from six to eight weeks for your menstrual cycle to return. Since everybody is different, you might get yours before or after that timeframe.
With your first period after delivery, it's recommended to avoid using menstrual cups and tampons. This advice typically applies to women who had either a cesarean or vaginal delivery. You want to ensure your body is fully healed before incorporating either of those methods into your cycle.
While you wait to be cleared to use tampons or menstrual cups, you can use pads or period panties instead.
2. How Does Breastfeeding Affect Postpartum Menstrual Cycles?
The act of breastfeeding produces the hormone prolactin. According to the Hormone Health Network, prolactin is the hormone that promotes breast milk production in the female body.
In addition to helping women lactate, prolactin also suppresses the hormones that cause a woman to ovulate. As we said before, many breastfeeding women don't ovulate, and it's because of the production of prolactin.
For those who aren't breastfeeding, you can expect your period to return as quickly as four weeks after you give birth. However, six to 12 weeks is typically the average timeframe.
For women who exclusively breastfeed, you can expect to have a longer break before your period begins. Your monthly cycle might restart between three to six months after you give birth. Keep in mind that some women who exclusively breastfeed don't get their periods for sometimes up to 18 months after they give birth.
If you decide to occasionally breastfeed, your period might show up sooner. Women who combine both breastfeeding and bottle feeding typically have their periods return six to 12 weeks post-delivery.
3. Are Irregular Periods After Childbirth Common?
Yes, it is common to have irregular periods after childbirth. Like we talked about earlier, if you're breastfeeding, your body is producing prolactin. In addition to delaying ovulation, it can also make ovulation infrequent.
Even if a woman isn't breastfeeding, her periods can be irregular. The irregularity is caused by her body recovering from pregnancy and child delivery.
As time goes on, your menstrual cycle will go back to its normal pattern. Women who suffered from irregular periods before childbirth, like those with endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), might want to speak to their physician about their cycles.
4. Is it Normal to Experience Postpartum Spotting Between Periods?
It's normal to have irregular cycles and postpartum spotting between periods when you're breastfeeding. There are a few other causes for spotting during the postpartum phase. They include:
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Urinary tract infections
- Inflammation or infection of the uterine lining
- A piece of amniotic fluid sac or placenta that hasn't come out of the body yet
If you're concerned about bleeding or spotting between your periods, don't hesitate to contact your doctor. According to the March of Dimes, around 1-5% of women experience postpartum hemorrhaging (PPH).
While extremely rare, PPH can occur anywhere from one day or 12 weeks after a woman gives birth. Below are some of the signs you should watch out for:
- Large blood clots
- Bleeding that quickly soaks through a pad without slowing down
- Feeling dizzy, faint, and/or sweaty
- Bright, red blood
Don't hesitate to seek medical attention if you start experiencing any of the above symptoms.
5. What's the Difference Between a Postpartum Menstrual Cycle and Lochia?
Whether you had a cesarean or vaginal delivery, you can expect to have some vaginal discharge and bleeding after you give birth. Your body is working overtime to shed the tissue and blood that lined the inside of your uterus while pregnant.
During the first few weeks after you deliver, your blood might appear in clots, and the flow might be heavier. As time goes on, this blood will transition to lochia or vaginal discharge. As a bodily fluid, lochia appears anywhere from red to creamy white in color.
You can expect to see lochia appear for up to six weeks after you give birth. If you aren't breastfeeding, once lochia disappears, your regular cycle might show back up.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between lochia and your menstrual cycle. Beyond the first week, after you deliver, lochia typically isn't bright red. After a few weeks, it'll appear watery and lighter in appearance.
If you begin to notice bleeding that's bright red after six weeks post-delivery, it's most likely your cycle. Additionally, bleeding related to your pregnancy increases with activity or exertion. If you notice that your discharge increases as you move around and decreases when you rest your body, it's probably lochia.
Lochia also has a different odor than your menstrual cycle. It might have a "sweet smell." The smell is because lochia mixes with tissue leftover from your pregnancy.
6. Are the First Postpartum Periods Usually Heavy?
You might notice some differences with your postpartum period. Most women experience normal periods after they give birth. A normal cycle typically includes bleeding that lasts 2-7 days and happens every 21-35 days.
However, with your first period, you might notice some changes. These changes include:
- Heavier flow
- Increased cramping
- Small blood clots
Your first period is usually heavier than you're used to because your body is shedding the extra uterine lining from being pregnant. However, keep in mind the signs we discussed above regarding PPH. If you're experiencing any of those symptoms, contact your physician.
Your first postpartum period might remind you of your periods during your adolescence. That's because your body's hormones change to help support the growth of your baby. You can expect your period to return to normal after a few cycles.
7. Can You Get Pregnant Before Your First Period After Childbirth?
Unfortunately, some women discover that just because you don't have your period after giving birth doesn't mean you can't get pregnant. Ovulation happens before your period shows up. You can still get pregnant, even if you haven't bled.
Some women also think that because they're breastfeeding they can't get pregnant. As your baby gets older and breastfeeds less, your body will produce less prolactin. The decreased levels of the hormone might not be enough to suppress ovulation in your body.
The lactation amenorrhea method (LAM) is a form of birth control to help prevent getting pregnant. However, it has to be used correctly to work properly.
Amenorrhea refers to when a woman isn't having her period. Lactation means when her body is producing breast milk. If you want to use this method as a form of birth control, it's recommended to speak to your physician about the guidelines.
Unless you'd like to have babies close together in age, you should discuss with your partner and doctor other birth control methods. Your doctor will also advise you when it's safe to start having sex again after delivery. The typical timeframe to wait after vaginal delivery is four to six weeks.
Understanding Your Postpartum Period
While it can be difficult to pin down when your postpartum menstrual cycle will arrive, it's good to be prepared. Taking care of your body is essential after giving birth. Supplement your healthy lifestyle choices with a proven formula that will help get your body back on track.
Explore our online shop to check out our Knowell Supplement that can help you regulate your hormones and your postpartum periods.