Have you ever wondered what periods are like after birth, or how soon can you get pregnant after having a baby?
In our recent Instagram Live with Dr. Brooke Vandermolen, aka ‘The OBGYN Mum’ and WUKA Period Health Expert, we talked everything periods after pregnancy. As an Obstetrics and Gynaecology doctor, medical writer and blogger, Dr. Brooke gave us the lowdown on postpartum periods.
1. Your first period after birth may be heavier than your periods before birth.
This can be because, after pregnancy, the line that thickened up and then formed the placenta to nourish your baby throughout your pregnancy. Not all of that blood sheds with postpartum bleeding, so some of it will still be a bit thickened. It’s normal for your first period after giving birth to be a bit heavier.
Some people find it’s really light and their first period is a bit of spotting, it goes away, they have nothing else for a while, and then they get another period and it’s different. It’s variable, so don’t be worried if it's very heavy or very light.
2. Breastfeeding can affect when you have periods again.
Everyone is confused about when you can expect the first period after birth and when it will actually start. It depends a lot on what happens in your birth and what kind of birth you have and, more importantly, whether or not you are breastfeeding.
When breastfeeding, this sends a signal to the brain that releases a hormone called prolactin. It helps you to produce the milk and for bonding with your baby. Whilst your breastfeeding, that high hormone level prevents you from ovulating. If you don’t ovulate, then you don’t see your period. So, if you’re breastfeeding or if your prolactin levels are high after giving birth, you won’t see your period for a little while.
For the majority of people who are breastfeeding, they’ll find that their periods may come back anywhere between 9 months and 18 months after pregnancy. Some people find that their periods don’t come back at all while they are breastfeeding – so, if they breastfeed their baby until they are 2 years old, they won’t see any periods. Others, though exclusively breastfeeding, may see their period after 6 weeks. There’s no knowing which category you will fall into. It’s normal if your periods don’t come while you're breastfeeding. It’s also normal if they return. It can be 4 or 5 weeks after birth, but it can be not for 18 months. It’s very variable.
Once you start introducing food, your baby starts taking less milk, sometimes for a long enough time for your prolactin levels to drop and for you to start ovulating again.
3. Weight can affect your periods.
If you have irregular periods or heavy periods, your weight could be a factor. It’s natural to gain weight during pregnancy and it’s natural to not always go back to the size you were before. It’s important to build in exercise and do as much as possible to nourish your body with healthy, homemade food, especially if you are breastfeeding your baby as well. A lot of people find that, due to the calorific demand of breastfeeding and passing those high fats on to your baby through milk, it does help to lose some weight.
If you have a higher BMI (body mass index) than you were before your pregnancy, this can impact ovulation. It’s the same in people who aren’t pregnant or haven’t recently given birth. If your weight is higher, it can mean that the fat tissue can affect hormone levels going round your body. For example, people with a BMI of above 30 may experience more irregular periods and can find it harder to get pregnant.
What you can do: Of course, if you’ve got a newborn baby, it may not be as easy as before to attend an exercise class on your own. Perhaps try regular walks or a buggy walk class near you – this could be an added bonus from a social perspective as well.
4. You shouldn’t use tampons or menstrual cups for up to 6 weeks after giving birth.
Whether you’ve had a Caesarian or a vaginal birth, you will have some bleeding and that can go on for around 7 days. It can last for up to 3 weeks. It will start pretty heavy for the first week or so, heavier than your normal period would be, and will eventually become more like spotting before it finally goes away. If it’s light, then heavy, then light and then heavy again, then you should see your healthcare provider.
Especially if you’ve had a vaginal delivery and you’ve had a tear or stitches down below, tampons or menstrual cups are not recommended. Holding that blood near the cervix when it’s open can introduce infection or won’t encourage infection to come out if it’s there already. We want the blood to flow out without obstruction at that time.
WUKA Period Health Expert Dr. Brooke Vandermolen says:
‘I always encourage people to pack period underwear in their bag or to take to hospital, because I think it’s a fantastic thing to use for postpartum bleeding. If you can find something to absorb that away safely, then period underwear could be something to try.’
What you can do: Although your postpartum list might be slightly shorter than your baby’s, reusable period underwear can make those initial post-birth days (and weeks) a little more comfortable than maternity pads, like very thick sanitary pads. You don't need to worry about changing your underwear often or leaking on the sofa with WUKA'S Postpartum Pants. What's more, they can absorb 60ml of blood, the equivalent of 12 regular tampons.
5. Regular periods after pregnancy mean you are ovulating again and could get pregnant.
Your periods after birth can tell you a lot about your body. The best way of knowing if you are ovulating again is if your periods become regular. If you, in general, begin to have a period where the cycle is 28-29 days (varying by a day or so either side) for 3-4 months, this is a good indicator that you are ovulating. Each time you ovulate, your period comes 14 days later. If there are big differences every month, this could mean you are ovulating at random times.
Something to be aware of is that you might have worse premenstrual syndrome (PMS) after pregnancy. This can be due to the shift in hormones. Your oestrogen and progesterone levels may be higher during pregnancy and then they drop, so it can take some time for things to settle back down after a while.
👉 A lot of people may find that their first few periods after pregnancy are heavy. You could have heavy or irregular periods after birth.
👉 Add WUKA Super Heavy Flow Period Pants to your postpartum shopping list (they might be useful for absorbing increased milky discharge in the third trimester too).
👉 Learn about common postpartum period symptoms and what to do about them. If you’re worried about discomfort or heavy periods, call your healthcare provider.
About Dr. Brooke Vandermolen:
Dr. Brooke Vandermolen is an NHS doctor currently working and training as a Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and mother to 2 babies. Brooke founded her educational platform ‘The OBGYN Mum’ to share insights and tips around pregnancy, birth, fertility, menopause and more through social media and blog posts. Her research in the fields of maternal medicine and high-risk pregnancy has been presented at major international conferences and published in prominent medical journals.
Find out more about our WUKA Period Health Experts here.