Childbirth is one of the most beautiful connecting factors of womanhood, and it’s a capability within your body that should be honored and celebrated. The postpartum changes your body experiences are progressive steps toward a new, strong, and providing body (and even if they seem weird, they’re normal!). All women’s bodies are different, and that means the return of menstruation will happen at varying times—and that’s ok! When your period does make its first postpartum appearance, it’s important to be prepared with gentle and clean products that will help ease your body back into its normal cycle.
Your breastfeeding routine (whether or not you are breastfeeding at all!) most heavily influences the return of your period. That’s because prolactin, the hormone responsible for your body’s breast milk production capabilities, suppresses ovulation in your body. According to Parents Magazine, women who don’t breastfeed find that their period typically returns anywhere between four and eight weeks after childbirth. Women who breastfeed exclusively may not see their period return for six months or more, while women who breastfeed and formula-feed may see their period in weeks to months. So, depending on your preferences, your body’s natural hormone production will determine when it’s time for your period to return.
HOW BREASTFEEDING IMPACTS YOUR POSTPARTUM PERIOD
Breastfeeding typically impacts the return of your period, and breastfeeding exclusively may also affect fertility. Exclusively breastfeeding your baby can even act as a form of natural birth control for you.
According to Planned Parenthood, exclusive breastfeeding is defined as feeding your baby only breast milk by nursing every four hours (at least!) during the day and every six hours at night. Because breastfeeding naturally halts ovulation, the chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding exclusively are extremely low. Known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), this form of natural birth control is extremely effective. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood, “only about two out of one hundred women who use breastfeeding as birth control get pregnant in the six months it can be used after a baby is born.”
The arrival of your first postpartum period may also impact your milk supply. It’s common for your supply of breast milk to decrease before or during your period, and you may also experience discomfort while breastfeeding during your first period after pregnancy. The composition and taste of your breast milk may also change due to all of the hormonal changes occurring in your body. These are all normal shifts, and shouldn’t cause any worry. To minimize a drop in supply, it’s sometimes recommended to take a daily dose of 500-1,000mg of calcium and magnesium supplements from the middle of your cycle through the first three days of your period, though you should consult your doctor before adding supplements or vitamins to your diet. Your milk supply will return to normal after your cycle.
BIRTH CONTROL WHILE BREASTFEEDING
While exclusively breastfeeding is a viable form of contraception, many women may not feel comfortable relying on breastfeeding alone as a form of birth control. It’s a completely valid concern, especially if you’re waiting on your postpartum period after giving birth for the first time. If that’s the case but you’re still interested in using an alternative form of birth control, it’s important to seek out non-hormonal or low-dose birth control options instead.
If you took the pill before getting pregnant, it may be worthwhile to try out the mini pill. A form of oral contraception with only a low dose of progesterone and no estrogen, this non-hormone alternative may have a lighter effect on your breastfeeding. You can begin taking the mini pill once your baby is six to eight weeks old.
If the mini pill doesn’t work for you, try a longer-term solution like an IUD. If an IUD with estrogen and progesterone decreases your milk supply or causes any other signs of general discomfort, a copper IUD may also be an option. It contains only progesterone (no estrogen!), so it has no impact on breastfeeding.
Of course, condoms will still work and will have no adverse effects on your fertility. If you prefer a diaphragm, make sure to have it refitted if you’ve lost more than 15 pounds postpartum to ensure maximum protection. No matter what, you’ll be able to find the contraceptive method that works best for you and your postpartum body.
HOW WILL YOUR PERIOD CHANGE AFTER PREGNANCY?
Once your first postpartum period does return, it may be different than the period you were used to before pregnancy. Because your body is still in the process of returning back to its normal cycle, it’s still going through necessary changes. Don’t worry—a different first period after pregnancy doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.
Your postpartum period may be heavier or more irregular than your previous periods. You may also notice changes to the blood consistency and color, as well as shifts in cramp severity. Your premenstrual symptoms may change, and you may encounter irregularities in discharge and cycle regulation. While these differences may be uncomfortable, keep in mind that they’re temporary; your post-baby body is just going through its scheduled maintenance.
Because postpartum periods, especially those that return on the earlier side, are typically more uncomfortable, many women choose to use pads rather than tampons while their bodies recuperate. If opting for pads, you might also want to try period underwear for maximum comfort (and sustainability!). Don’t worry: eventually, your period will return to how it was before baby.
WHEN SHOULD YOUR POSTPARTUM PERIOD CONCERN YOU?
While most irregularities that occur with the first postpartum period are normal and expected, like heavier bleeding and increased cramping, there are a few changes that you should keep an eye out for.
If you experience extremely heavy bleeding where you need to change your tampon or pad every hour or more, you should contact your doctor. If your postpartum period does not return up to three months after you’ve stopped breastfeeding, you should also alert your doctor. Symptoms like sudden fever or foul-smelling discharge are also irregular, and it’s a good idea to get checked out if you notice those changes as well. These may be signs of an infection or another medical concern.