What to Expect from Your First Postpartum Period

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One of the many great perks of pregnancy is that you get a minimum of nine months sans menstrual cycle. No pads, tampons, monthly cramping or moodiness (okay, so those last two can happen in pregnancy too). At some point however, after your little one is born and your hormones settle back into a rhythm, your monthly visitor shall return. Many women wonder when this will happen and if it will be the same, worse or better than their pre-pregnancy periods. Here’s all you need to know about your first postpartum period and the factors that may impact how long it stays away.

If you are not breastfeeding your baby, you can anticipate the return of your cycle sometime around two months postpartum. There is a wide range of normal for that first postpartum period that can range from light to heavy, more or less cramping than you previously had, small blood clots and a consistent or inconsistent flow. Your period may be totally different than your pre-pregnancy period or exactly the same and it can differ after each child birth, as well. Whether breastfeeding or not, if your period returns soon after your delivery, avoid using tampons while your body is healing.

Breastfeeding your baby can be a game changer in the return of your menstrual cycle and fertility. Breastfeeding releases the hormone prolactin into the body which is necessary to produce breastmilk but consequently suppresses your reproductive hormones. The effect that breastfeeding has on the body will vary from woman to woman with some getting their cycle back a few months postpartum and others needing to ween entirely before their period returns. For women who practice ecological breastfeeding and natural child spacing, the average return of menses is 14.6 months.

Because breastfeeding suppresses fertility hormones and the return of your menstrual cycle, it can be used as a form of birth control for the first six months of baby’s life and possibly beyond. Learn more about maximizing your period of infertility following your baby’s birth and how to use breastfeeding as an effective means of contraception.

Although you can get pregnant before your first period because ovulation may occur, the chances are slim—about 6 percent. Because of this, some women who are eager to grow their family start to feel concerned about when their period will return. If you are breastfeeding around the clock and your body is continuously releasing prolactin and suppressing fertility hormones, it may begin to feel like your fertility will never return. If you are concerned about the return of your fertility because of age or your child spacing plans, there are usually ways to continue breastfeeding and still get your period back. Here are a few tips if your baby is over six months of age and you are concerned that breastfeeding is suppressing your cycle:

  • Start introducing solids: Once your baby is eating more solids, he may not need to nurse as often. Learn more about starting solids with baby.
  • Try cutting out a session and offering a bottle: Sometimes making abrupt changes to your pattern of breastfeeding can bring back your cycle.
  • Work on night weening: Research suggests that reducing time spent suckling at the breast between the hours of 12 and 6 AM may be most effective for bringing back fertility.
  • Be patient. Lactational amenorrhea may be your body’s way of telling you that it’s not ready for the next pregnancy yet and your child’s nursing habits may be indicating the same. In MOST cases, your period and fertility will return eventually despite continuing to breastfeed.

You may feel as though you have PMS symptoms for months preceding the return of your period as your body gears up for ovulation. It’s not uncommon to have some cramping, cervical mucus and other menstrual cycle indicators well before you get your actual period. Then once your cycle returns, it may take a few months for it to regulate back to a reliable schedule (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Although most women will begin to ovulate after their first period, it’s not uncommon to have one or more anovulatory cycle before returning to full fertility.

Whether you are welcoming the extended vacation from your monthly visitor or are anxious for its return, your period will return when your body is ready. If you have not had your first period due to breastfeeding and have concerns about the return of your fertility, talk to your midwife or OB to come up with a plan that works for you and your baby to aid in the return of your cycle. For questions about pregnancy, natural birth or your postpartum period, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.