While postpartum periods are different for everyone, there are certain aspects you can expect as the body changes. Katie Nelson–a full spectrum doula who guides parents through the whole pregnancy journey–gives us the facts and offers her top tips.
While it’s often described as being similar to a heavy period, the bleeding experienced after birth is not actually your menstrual cycle! This bleeding, called lochia, is the shedding of all the excess tissue and blood that was needed to line your uterus during pregnancy and is a result of the ‘wound’ left where your placenta detached. This bleeding is heaviest for the first 3-10 days and will become lighter over time. Postpartum bleeding will reduce to red/brown discharge and typically ends entirely around 4-6 weeks postpartum.
When will it return?
Much like other aspects of pregnancy and birth, this is difficult to predict. While some folks will have their cycles return almost immediately, some may not for upwards of a year postpartum.
One factor that we can consider is feeding, as this impacts your hormone levels. For those who choose to formula feed, they are likely to see their cycles return faster. Folks who choose to breastfeed/chestfeed will likely see more of a delay, called lactational amenorrhea. According to La Leche League International, almost all folks who exclusively breastfeed/chestfeed will be without a period for 3-6 months or longer, and most see their period resume between 9-18 months postpartum.
It’s important to note that many people will not recognize when ovulation returns (which occurs before you menstruate) so it is indeed possible to become pregnant again before your period ever returns!
What will it be like?
Again, this is hard to predict! While it is quite common for your first period after birth to be heavier than usual, some folks will find that this is their new normal.
It’s important to remember that your body didn’t have periods for quite some time, so it may take a few months to get back into a more regular and predictable cycle. Some folks will also find that their periods are lighter and more manageable after pregnancy as well.
There isn’t a lot of data on why some periods will become heavier and why some may become lighter, but it seems that the uterus just likes to throw a curveball every so often.
My top tips!
Be prepared with pads
Since we don’t know when your period will make its grand return, my number one tip is to stay prepared! Toss some pads or tampons in your diaper bag and try to identify any premenstrual symptoms if you can so you aren’t caught completely off-guard.
Since your uterus and cervix have undergone such intense changes (even if you didn’t have a vaginal birth), your previous methods of period management may need some tweaking. You may require a different size tampon or pad, and menstrual cup users may need to go up a size to ensure a proper fit for your postpartum anatomy.
Birth control considerations
If birth control was something you used before pregnancy, your provider will likely discuss resuming this at your 6-week postpartum visit. It’s important to note that you may need to try a different form of birth control as well, as not all hormonal contraceptives are recommended for those who plan on breastfeeding/chestfeeding.
You’re not alone
While there isn’t much certainty on the topic of postpartum menstruation, we can try to remember that everyone is in the same boat. Nobody knows when their period will return or what exactly it will be like; it’s important to remember that no matter what your journey looks like, you’re never the only one going through it!
About the Author
Katie Nelson is a full spectrum doula in Ontario, providing care for families and individuals throughout their reproductive journeys. Her social platforms are dedicated to breaking down stigmas of all kinds, from discussing pregnancy, birth, loss, and everything in between, to bringing you along on her journey with chronic illness, queer identity, and mental health. She is passionate about changing the way we see taboo subjects and is well known for bringing up topics like inclusive language, harm reduction, and reproductive justice around the dinner table.