There is a lot of information out there around what to expect when you are trying to get pregnant, pregnancy, and morning sickness. But what happens after you give birth, the postnatal time, your menstrual cycle, and fertility are all an important part of the same picture. Having an understanding of how this can differ from woman to woman and sharing and listening to other women’s experiences can help to guide us around the sort of things we can expect.
We are all unique, and our menstrual cycles are different also, but the return of the menstrual cycle after childbirth is momentous. Your first period after pregnancy is a symbol of health, fertility and can also be the beginning of a new chapter in the mother-baby relationship.
Naturopath Georgia Borowski shares what women can expect, and how they can support themselves through their first period after pregnancy.
What is the first period like after birth?
The much-anticipated return of your period after you have a baby is a healthy sign that your fertility has returned, and your body is moving into a new rhythm. It is a sign that your body is doing exactly what it is meant to and is a milestone post-birth.
As with all new changes in life, this may come with mixed thoughts and feelings. For some, it may be symbolic of initial healing post-birth, the end of the newborn stage, and for others, it is often accompanied by a change in routine with their baby. For many women can be symbolic of the end of their time breastfeeding.
When will my period return?
The truth is we never really know when our cycle is going to return postpartum, as no two women will have the exact same experience. There are certain factors that may guide us as to how soon a woman is likely to have her period return.
We asked some of the mothers at the Tooshies & TOM Organic office what their first period after pregnancy was like for them:
“Really heavy and painful. More like a first period – like my body was shedding old blood. I was a bit devastated when it came out of the blue 4 months after giving birth as I was still exclusively breastfeeding so I was surprised. Since then my periods and ovulation have been more intense than ever.” — Cara
“It took 9 months for my period to return. When it came back it was like my normal period; PMS followed by 5 days of bleeding.” — Janine
“My first postpartum period wasn’t heavy, it was more cramping with spotting. I got my first period 8 months after giving birth.” — Michelle
“Similar to pre-pregnancy my first period after birth was light with no major problems. My period returned 6 months after birth.” — Sarah
Can I get my period while breastfeeding?
Postpartum, a woman’s menstrual cycle will return and initiate a new rhythm and cycle. It will begin as soon as your body is ovulating again and is a healthy sign that things are back on track. For women who do not breastfeed, the return of their period can occur soon after the postnatal bleeding has ceased. For women who breastfeed it is likely to be delayed. The hormones required to make milk will naturally suppress ovulation and menstruation – at least for a little while. For many women, breastfeeding will inhibit the return of their period at least while they are exclusively breastfeeding. It is common at the time when solids or mixed feeding begins that their period may return.
How does breastfeeding affect my period and why?
This is a really interesting question and certainly not a question with only one answer. How breastfeeding affects a woman’s period is unique to each individual. Something that is common in this situation is irregular cycles. The mix of the breastfeeding hormones coupled with menstrual hormones may see less regular cycles, less painful periods, lighter periods and spotting. It’s safe to say that what we are used to may not come back straight away and there may be some irregularity, which is very normal. One of the women at TOM Organic shared, “I was a bit devastated when it came out of the blue as I was still exclusively breastfeeding so I was surprised. Since then my periods and ovulation have been more intense than ever.”
Will my first period after birth be heavier?
It’s important to remember that the initial bleeding post-birth is not a menstrual period. The initial bleeding post-birth is in response to the pregnancy and birth and will likely last for a number of weeks. A regular period is the endometrial lining shedding in response to an egg not being fertilised that month and it’s certainly possible that there may be changes post-baby. It is not uncommon for things to change with your period after you have had a pregnancy, for some women pregnancy can kick start regular cycles that were not there before. It may see cycles return as usual and for some women, their periods may be more painful and heavier. There is really a spectrum of normal and most things will fit into that.
What postpartum symptoms / abnormalities with my period should I look out for?
The things that are important to look out for postpartum are similar to the things women should consider abnormal in general. Any red flags including extremely heavy bleeding, x-large clots, intense pain, the absence of your menstrual cycle even months after stopping breastfeeding are all things that you should follow up with your GP or gynaecologist/obstetrician.
Can I expect my cycle to return to what it was like before getting pregnant?
For most women, it is really likely that their periods will return much like they were before within a few cycles. Pregnancy can often be a healthy reset and may even clear some common symptoms that were present before. For those women who find their cycles do not return to a regular rhythm, it may be that there is an underlying condition that was there already. In the case of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) if a woman had irregular cycles before a pregnancy this is likely to show up again if no lifestyle and dietary changes are made to influence this.
Should I avoid tampons? Cups? What is the best period product to use and why?
Depending on how soon a woman’s period returns post-birth, it may be best to use organic pads. To support you with your post-birth bleeding, it’s a great idea to use an organic maternity pad. Organic pads are likely to be the least irritating by avoiding introducing anything unnecessary in an area that may be inflamed and still recovering. Allowing time for your body to heal and repair postpartum is key here. This is a great question to ask your obstetrician or midwife at your 6-week postnatal check-up. Depending on your body, the type of birth you have had and how your recovery is going.
How can I make my first postpartum period easier and more comfortable to manage?
The postnatal period is a delicate time, a time of new beginnings and many firsts. As a naturopath having supported many women, and a mother who has experienced this first hand – having the right support around you makes the whole experience easier. When it comes to the first period postpartum, there may be a lot of emotion or excitement. One thing is for sure — your menstrual cycle is a sign of health and fertility, it is a sign that your body is returning to a new rhythm. The more we take care of ourselves during this time; rest when we need to, sleep when we can, nourish our bodies with wholesome and nutritious food, our bodies will respond accordingly. If you do find that your periods have become more painful, erratic or you find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster each month, just reach out. There are plenty of professionals who can support you.
Georgia Borowski is a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist who specialises in supporting and educating women through hormonal changes, fertility, pregnancy and postnatal care. You can find her at Women’s Health Melbourne where she consults in person, or online at naturopathgeorgia.com.au
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