If you’re pregnant, a new mum or simply thinking about having children someday, you may wonder what happens to your periods after having a baby. For some mothers, their periods come back fairly soon and are pretty regular, whereas for others, their cycle and their periods may be pretty different after childbirth!
Here we’ll break down everything you need to know about postpartum periods and what to do if yours are more painful than normal.
- It can take a while to get your period back after giving birth - especially if you’re breastfeeding
- That’s because hormones involved in breastfeeding can suppress ovulation, causing your cycle to be irregular
- Some people find that their period symptoms improve during and after pregnancy
- However, for some, their periods can be heavier and more painful
Firstly, let’s establish the difference between postpartum periods and post-birth bleeding. Post birth bleeding is the bleeding you experience straight after labour - this will happen whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-Section! Postpartum bleeding, also known as lochia, is a mix of blood, mucus and uterine tissue - and is technically not a period.
This bleeding can continue for a few weeks and will usually start very heavy and slowly taper off, becoming more of a mucus than a bleed. You may notice that the flow is heavier when you breastfeed as breastfeeding makes your womb contract (more on that later!) but if you ever experience extreme flooding or clotting during this time, let your medical team know!
The best way to manage postpartum bleeding is with pads or period underwear - it’s really important not to insert anything into your vagina for the first few weeks after childbirth - including tampons or menstrual cups.
When will I get my first period after giving birth?
Just like it’s hard to predict when our periods will start, everyone’s postpartum cycle is unique. For some people, it will be a matter of weeks, whereas for others it could take up to a year.
The return of your period will also massively depend on how you choose to feed your baby. Generally speaking, breastfeeding delays the return of your period, so if you are exclusively breastfeeding, it may take longer for your period to come back.
However, if you are bottle-feeding or combination feeding (a mix of formula and breast milk) you may get your first postpartum period around 5-6 weeks after giving birth.
Why does breastfeeding delay my period coming back?
Many studies have shown the correlation between breastfeeding and delayed postpartum periods. The delay is mainly down to the hormones involved in breastfeeding - namely, prolactin.
When prolactin levels are high it slows down the production and release of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the hormones that help eggs mature and which trigger ovulation. So when prolactin levels are high, it’s difficult for ovulation to happen. And when are prolactin levels high? When you’re breastfeeding!
Prolactin is always present in our bodies but it slowly increases during pregnancy and gets much higher after childbirth. Prolactin has a few roles within the body, but helping you to produce breast milk is possibly its most important one.
Whilst your prolactin levels will spike when your milk comes in, if you don’t breastfeed, they will decrease and your milk will slowly dry up. However, every time you breastfeed it sends a message to your brain to produce more prolactin and oxytocin to keep your milk supply going. It’s a pretty amazing cycle!
So, whilst you’re breastfeeding, it’s unlikely ovulation will happen - or it may happen less regularly. You can only have a true period if you have ovulated, so if the return of ovulation is delayed, your period will be delayed too!
Will my period be different after having children?
There are many things that will change after you become a mother - the amount of sleep you get each night for one! - and you may find that your periods are slightly different too.
It can take up to a year for your cycle to fall back into a regular rhythm - especially if you are breastfeeding. In theory, your prolactin levels will stay high for as long as you breastfeed, so cycle irregularities can continue until you stop. If after a year your periods are still pretty irregular - and you aren’t breastfeeding - speak to your doctor or healthcare provider as it could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance.
For some people, their periods will be much easier to manage after having children and period pain could be a lot less intense! Whilst there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this phenomenon, researchers still aren’t 100% sure why it can happen. One theory is that childbirth gets rid of some of the prostaglandin receptors in the uterus. Prostaglandins are hormones that tell your uterus to contract during labour, but they are also behind the cramps you experience during your period. The upshot? Fewer pain receptors, less period pain!
Heavy, Painful Periods
However, some mothers aren’t so lucky. It’s possible for periods to become heavier, more painful and generally more problematic after having a baby. This could be down to a few reasons. If you notice that your periods are heavier or you have cramping when you breastfeed, that might be because breastfeeding produces oxytocin which contracts the uterus. It might also be that your uterus has become larger and therefore you have more endometrium to shed when your period arrives. Finally, it could be that you have developed a condition that causes painful periods. It’s possible for endometriosis and adenomyosis to occur after having a baby, even if you had totally healthy periods before, and you are even more susceptible to fibroids after becoming a mother!
Whatever the cause of your painful periods, it’s essential that you speak to your healthcare provider and get the support you need! Period pain should never be normalised or accepted, even after childbirth.
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