You’ve just had your baby, and the first few weeks have been a whirlwind of baby snuggles, kisses, and healing. Chances are you’ve hardly had any time to think about yourself, but now that you’re nearing your six week check-up with your midwife or OB, you may be starting to wonder: What’s the deal with getting your period after pregnancy?
Here’s everything you need to know, including:
- When to expect to get your period after pregnancy
- How to tell the difference between postpartum bleeding and your period
- How breastfeeding can affect your period
- And natural ways to regulate your menstrual cycle
When Can You Expect to Get Your Period After Pregnancy?
You may be surprised to learn there’s really no concrete answer. Some women get their period as little as eight weeks after birth, others may not get their period for a year or longer—that’s a pretty big range!
Our bodies are all different and countless factors can influence when you get your period after pregnancy, such as:
- whether or not you’re breastfeeding (& if baby is sleeping through the night),
- hormonal imbalances,
- stress levels,
- your body’s own homeostasis,
- and endless other triggers!
What’s the Difference Between Postpartum Bleeding and a Period?
Immediately after childbirth, you’ll experience bleeding, but this isn’t the same thing as a period.
Postpartum bleeding: Lochia
Bleeding after birth is called lochia. Lochia, which means “relating to childbirth” in Greek, is made up of blood and tissue that’s being shed from the uterus.
Unlike a period, lochia can last for several weeks—even up to 12 weeks.
It can also taper off and then start up again, which can lead to confusion. If lochia stops and starts again, some women may think wrongly assume they got their first postpartum period. You may not know definitively if it was your period until the bleeding returns (or not) the following month.
First period after birth
Your first period after pregnancy may be very scant—or super heavy—as your body continues to slough off tissues leftover from pregnancy. Note: If you pass big clots, speak with your medical provider to rule out any issues.
Don’t worry if your first period seems different from your pre-pregnancy periods.
Your body may need a few months to regulate itself. And don’t be surprised if your period doesn’t seem to be the same as it was prior to pregnancy: The length or flow of your period may never return to how it was.
Will I Get My Period While Breastfeeding?
You can get your period while breastfeeding, although it is typically much later than non-breastfeeding moms. Both research and anecdotal evidence show that most breastfeeding moms do not get their periods until at least 3-6 months after birth. Why?
Prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, has the ability to suppress the hormone that manages periods. This is called lactational amenorrhea.
If you are formula feeding or supplementing, you’re more likely to get your first period sooner—sometimes as early as 8 weeks after birth. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, nursing through the night, and not supplementing with any formula, you might not see your first period until baby’s first birthday. Some breastfeeding women don’t get their first periods until they wean their children!
Things That Affect When a Breastfeeding Mama Gets Her Period After Pregnancy
1. Baby’s sleep schedule
The more baby wakes up at night to eat, the more milk mama continues to produce, and that milk-producing hormone, prolactin, works to suppress menstruation. When baby starts to sleep through the night, mama’s body slowly produces less prolactin and milk, which in turn can trigger mama’s period to return.
2. Introducing solids
Introducing solid food can also affect periods if baby eats a lot of solid food and nurses less. When baby eats more and nurses less, this signals mama’s body to produce less milk, and that little shift can be enough to trigger menstruation. Many babies start solid foods around six months.
3. Mama’s hormonal makeup
Despite the averages, our bodies are all different, and each mama must take into account her own hormonal makeup. Some moms may be nursing all through the night, but still get a period two or three months postpartum. Other moms may wean their child and not see a period for months. If you have concerns about your hormones, speak with your doctor or midwife.
Don’t Be Surprised If Your Period Comes and Goes…
To confuse matters even more: A breastfeeding mama’s period may come and go. If your baby starts sleeping through the night at three months, mom may get her period back. But, if baby’s sleep pattern changes (4 month sleep regression, anyone?!), mom’s milk production and hormones will change and her period can stop again. It will return once baby starts sleeping longer stretches at night.
Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Some moms rely on exclusive breastfeeding as a method of birth control. Called lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), this method of NFP was shown to be 98% effective in one study. Keep in mind that this study is 20 years old and was only effective when the following conditions were met:
- Baby must be six months old or younger
- Baby must be exclusively breastfed
- Baby must be nursed consistently through the day and the night (at least every 4 hours during day and every 6 hours at night)
- You must not have had your first postpartum period.
If those conditions are not met, LAM is not reliable.
Further, a review of other studies on LAM found that many women are not meeting the above criteria, and therefore, not using this method of NFP correctly, which, of course, decreases efficacy.
So, yes, it is possible to get pregnant even if you are nursing—and even if you haven’t had your first postpartum period! That’s why LAM is not foolproof—there is still a 2% chance of pregnancy. It is possible to ovulate even before you get your first period, which would make pregnancy a possibility. (It’s important to know the signs of ovulation!)
Irregular Periods After Pregnancy
If you haven’t had your period in awhile, but want to get pregnant again, you may be anxious for your cycle come back. It can be especially frustrating if you’ve always had periods that operate like clockwork!
First, know that some irregularity is completely normal in the first year postpartum. Remember your body just went through huge hormonal changes during pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum healing, and breastfeeding.
Here are some common irregularities:
- A change in flow: You may experience a scant or heavy first period after pregnancy
- Longer than normal cycles: Your first cycle may be 45 days, then 40, then 35, and so on until eventually your cycle returns to normal
- Changes in the number of days you bleed: You may bleed for 4 days now instead of 6, or vice versa
Natural Ways to Regulate Your Menstrual Cycle
Although irregularities are normal, you may want to get yourself back into balance. This will help you with natural birth control or with trying for another baby.
Luckily, there are natural ways to regulate your menstrual cycle:
- Optimize your diet: Eating a healthy diet helps the body function to the best of its ability. Ditch the processed foods and aim for organic, whole foods.
- Get enough zinc: One study found that zinc deficiency disrupts normal ovulation. The takeaway? Adequate zinc levels play a key role in healthy ovulation. Getting enough zinc can prevent menstrual cramps, too.
- Get enough magnesium: Magnesium is invaluable to women’s reproductive health. During pregnancy, doctors administer magnesium to counter eclampsia seizures or to stop premature labor, but magnesium also plays a role in menstruation. Studies show that magnesium reduces PMS symptoms, such as lower back pain or lower abdominal pain. Learn more about magnesium supplementation here (and how to incorporate some magnesium-rich foods, too.)
- Improve your circadian rhythm: Studies show that your circadian rhythm can affect your endocrine system, and because periods are hormone-controlled, it makes sense that if your circadian rhythm is out of whack, it may affect your menstrual cycle. Avoid blue light around bedtime, and if you’re reading on your Kindle during midnight nursing sessions, set it to the “night mode” which features an amber screen.
- Take cod liver oil supplements: Studies have shown that cod liver oil’s omega-3 fatty acids boost fertility and even support proper fetal development. You can read about this and other fertility boosters in this post.
- Camu Camu powder: A supplement high in vitamin C that also regulates periods? Yes please!
- Reduce stress levels: Try practicing mindfulness, exercising, yoga, meditation. 🙏🏻
When to Talk to a Doctor
When should you talk to a healthcare provider about irregular periods or a period that hasn’t returned after pregnancy? You should contact your provider with any questions or concerns during the postpartum period, but you should absolutely talk to your doctor if you experience the following:
- Any period that requires you to change your tampon, pad, or cup every hour
- Bleeding that lasts more than seven days
- Clots larger than a quarter
- Missing a period after you’ve already had a few
- Mid-cycle spotting
If you are formula feeding and haven’t had a period three months after birth or if you are breastfeeding and haven’t had a period three months after weaning, it’s time to see your doctor.
How about you?
When did you get your first period after pregnancy? How long did it take to regulate? Share with us in the comments below!