What causes irregular periods after having a baby? WUKA experts discuss this and other postpartum changes to your menstrual cycle.
What to expect after having a baby
During pregnancy, your body undergoes massive changes, almost daily, as it nurtures and protects your growing baby and prepares for labour and delivery. Immediately post birth, even more changes occur, and in the months following too. In fact, it can take up to 12 months for the body to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth, despite common misconceptions that women are able to ‘bounce back’!
It’s also worth noting that some of the physical changes that take place during pregnancy and birth can be permanent- hello bigger feet! But don’t panic- this is normal, and lots of women experience it. Knowing what to expect can help you to accept these changes, and will also help you spot potential issues if they arise in the postpartum period.
Changes you can expect post birth:
- Uterus contractions: Despite baby already being delivered, your uterus will continue to contract- first to expel the placenta, and then to help it shrink down in size. The contractions also help compress the blood vessels where the placenta was attached, cutting down on the risk of postpartum haemorrhaging. These contractions will feel a lot like the contractions you felt during labour, or like intense period cramps. If you breastfeed your baby, you might notice the contractions coming on during a feed too. You can take paracetamol to ease the pain, and rest assured they should only last for a few days.
- Lochia: this is the blood loss you experience after your baby is born. It’s not a period- lochia is made up of blood, mucus, tissue and other materials form the uterus. This postpartum bleeding will start off very heavy, and eventually will taper off after a week or so- but can last for up to six weeks in total. We recommend WUKA Postpartum collection period pants to absorb your flow, and to gently support your tummy as you recover.
- Colostrum comes in: whether you breastfeed or not, colostrum will be produced in the breasts, starting even before baby is born. Around two to four days after birth, milk production begins: your breasts will swell, and could become sore and painful. If you don’t breastfeed, milk production will gradually slow down and stop, but this can take a few weeks. You can ease discomfort by wearing a good bra ( the WUKA everyday Bralette is perfect, as there are no underwires, it will simply provide gentle support when you need it), applying a cold pack and by taking pain relief. Don’t pump the milk, as this will stimulate production.
Alongside physical changes, there are emotional changes too, as your hormones start to settle down post pregnancy and birth. It’s normal to feel a little more tearful or anxious than usual- especially when you factor in the exhaustion of labour and subsequent nightly wakings with a newborn. However, remember to check in on your emotions during this time, and reach out if you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to talk to.
The so-called ‘baby blues’ are normal but that doesn’t mean you don’t need support- and be aware that post natal depression is also a very common occurrence for new mums too. Knowing the signs and reaching out for help is important. Find out more about post natal depression from the NHS here.
Your first period after having a baby
With all the physical and emotional changes taking place, your period might be the last thing on your mind, but as life settles down a little, you might be wondering when your first period will occur, and what it will be like. For lots of women, it really can depend.
When will first period arrive?
If you breastfeed your baby, your first period could be delayed for as long as you’re nursing your baby. For most breastfeeding mums, their period returns as their baby starts to eat more solid food and less milk, anywhere from six months to one year post birth.
If you bottle feed your baby, your period could return at any time after postpartum bleeding has ended- this could be as early as five or six weeks after birth.
What will my first period be like?
We’re all different, so its hard to say exactly what your first period after birth will be like. It’s worth noting here though, that just as it’s not recommended to use a tampon to absorb postpartum bleeding, the NHS advises to avoid them for your first period after birth too- recommending instead to wait until your six week postnatal check, to ensure that any internal wounds have healed before you use them.
Period pants are your best option here, as they will gently support your tummy and absorb your flow without the risk of infection or discomfort. And as your first period post birth is more likely to be a little heavier and with more cramps than usual, period pants will help you stay dry and comfortable while you focus on the important job of caring for your new baby.
Why is my period irregular after having my baby?
Lots of women experience irregular periods after having a baby; it’s completely normal for it to take a while for your cycle to settle down. And there are many reasons why your cycle might seem to be erratic for a while:
As already mentioned, breastfeeding can delay your period, but there is still a chance that your cycle could resume while you’re nursing your baby. If you combine breast with bottle, you will produce less prolactin, and this can cause a period- but even if you are exclusively breastfeeding, you could still get a period one month, and nothing the next.
As with everything else, we’re all unique and we all have different bodies, different cycles, different experiences.
Stress can be a major cause of irregular periods, whether you’ve had a baby recently or not. And for some, the early days of parenthood can be very stressful indeed, which can definitely affect your cycle.
Try to eliminate stress as much as you can. It sounds cliche, but if you can sleep when baby sleeps (or at least rest!) then do it. And accept as much help as is offered. The postpartum period is an essential time for you to take care of yourself too.
Sudden or extreme weight loss can cause irregular periods, and in the postpartum period it can happen easily. Weight loss is to be expected, as you lose the excess water and fat (and baby!) that you accrued during pregnancy. But for most women, it can take up to twelve months to lose any extra weight gained, and this slow rate of loss is recommended too.
Losing too much weight too quickly can unbalance the hormones and cause disruptions to your cycle, so try to eat healthy, balanced meals regularly if you can. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need extra calories too, as more energy is expended producing milk for your baby.
Similarly, excessive weight gain can play a role in irregular periods. Try to exercise gently and make sure you’re fuelling your body with nutritious foods as much as you can. While this is really not a time for extreme diets, it is a time for self care, so steer clear of processed foods and high sugar/ salty foods too.
If you use hormonal birth control, this too can cause irregular periods- especially as your body settles into taking them again post birth. This study done in 2011 concluded that it can take up to two cycles before periods become regular again, so be patient and track your cycles to be sure.
Painful periods after giving birth
As already mentioned, your periods might change after you’ve had a baby- and these changes could be permanent too. If your periods are more painful after your baby is born, speak to your doctor so that you can discuss the potential reasons why.
For some women, painful periods after birth can be due to extra endometrium (the mucus lining in the uterus) that needs to be shed, and this will ease over time.
For some women though, period pain could improve post birth. If you have endometrisosis, you might find that your periods improve at first. Likewise, other women find that the stretching that occurs in the uterus during pregnancy leads to lighter and less painful periods overall.
Again, we’re all different; tracking your cycle and symptoms will help you to better understand your cycle.
Can I get pregnant with irregular periods?
Yes, you can still get pregnant with irregular periods. If you’re having a period, you’re ovulating- and if you’re ovulating there is a chance that the egg being released is fertilised.
Can breastfeeding affect my fertility?
Breastfeeding can affect ovulation, but there is still a chance that you could get pregnant even if you exclusive feed your baby. Always take precautions if you don't want to get pregnant again straight away.
Is it normal to have irregular periods after having a baby?
Its very normal to have irregular periods after having a baby, especially as hormones can be all over the place for some time. If you’re breastfeeding, it can take even longer for your periods to return to normal, and for some women their cycle changes can be long term.
The best way to understand your cycle post birth is to use an app or your phone to track it. Make a note of your symptoms too, so that you have a bette idea of what to expect and when- and so that you can be aware of potential issues if they arise.
How long can it take for your period to regulate after having a baby?
It can take a few cycles for your periods to regulate after having a baby. For some women, changes can be long term, and for others they can be short term. If you’re on hormonal birth control, you can expect irregular periods for two or three cycles, before they begin to regulate again. If you’re concerned, speak to your GP for advice