woman with sanitary pad

What to Know About Getting Your First Period After Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your period stops so your body can nourish your growing baby. For many women, this is a nice perk—a break from painful periods and annoying trips to the bathroom to change sanitary products. However, your period isn't gone forever. It will come back after the birth of your baby, but the timing of when it happens can vary. To help you better understand what to expect post-pregnancy, we've put together some essential information on your first period after birth.

Why Periods Stop When You Get Pregnant

Your menstrual cycle is fueled by several hormones within the body, all designed to help you conceive and have a healthy pregnancy. If conception doesn't occur, the lining of the uterus sheds and is released from the body as period blood.

If conception occurs, the fertilized egg implants itself into the lining of the uterus, triggering the release of hormones like human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Increased levels of hCG tell your body that you're pregnant and any further ovulation is unnecessary (for now). So, your body stops the regular cycle to shift focus and support your developing baby. As a result, your period stops until after delivery, when your hormones begin to balance again.

Bleeding During Pregnancy

Although your menstrual cycle stops, some women can still have slight bleeding during pregnancy. This can happen for several reasons, but it's important to contact your doctor immediately if it does. While most instances are nothing to worry about, bleeding can also be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. So, if you notice any blood, it's best to see your doctor to understand what's going on.

Bleeding That Occurs for Weeks After the Birth

After you give birth, you may notice some bleeding. This isn't a period. It's something called lochia. Lochia is a natural part of the postpartum healing process, as your uterus is contracting and shifting back to its pre-pregnancy size. You may experience heavy bleeding that appears deep red during this time, but it should slowly subside, becoming a pinkish and then brownish color until it stops. This bleeding can last for about six to eight weeks. You should not use tampons after giving birth to stop lochia bleeding. Instead, stick to menstrual pads or maternity pads.

When Will Your Period Return?

Your first period could start somewhere between four and eight weeks after delivery. However, every woman is different, so providing a timeframe with 100% certainty is impossible. Some may find that their first period after giving birth happens sooner than six weeks, while others don't start having periods again for months. If you're not breastfeeding, your period will likely return sooner rather than later.

Your first period after having a baby can also be paired with lochia bleeding, making it difficult to differentiate the two. If you happen to get your period within six weeks of giving birth, pads should be used until your body has properly healed. If you're breastfeeding occasionally and supplementing with formula feedings, you may restart your period somewhere between six and 12 weeks after delivery. So, as you can see, there's a lot of variability.

Breastfeeding and Your Period

Oftentimes, new moms who breastfeed exclusively will get their period even later than six to eight weeks after giving birth. Some breastfeeding moms may not even restart menstruation until after a year or more! This is completely natural. Breastfeeding affects the concentrations of hormones within your body—they're needed to produce the milk that feeds your baby.

When you're breastfeeding frequently, your levels of prolactin are high, which suppresses reproductive hormones that regulate periods. This usually means you don't ovulate, so you won't menstruate.

Is Breastfeeding an Effective Birth Control Method?

Even though you might not be ovulating, it's still possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. So, although some people believe breastfeeding is a natural birth control, it's not. Breastfeeding as a form of birth control should never be relied on— you can still get pregnant again even before your period arrives.

New parents who want to continue growing their family should wait at least 18 months to try for another pregnancy. This gives your body enough time to heal and fully recover, which can help mitigate several high-risk situations.

When you're ready to start having sex again after giving birth (which shouldn't be until four to six weeks postpartum), it's important to talk about birth control options with your healthcare provider. If you're breastfeeding, it's best to avoid hormonal birth control, which can affect milk production and supply. Luckily, there are still several options that are considered safe during breastfeeding—just ask your doctor.

Does Your Period Affect Breast Milk?

While getting your period will not affect breast milk quality, hormonal fluctuations during a normal cycle may lead to production changes. If you breastfeed your baby and get your period, take note of how your output changes throughout your cycle. If it becomes an issue, try to build a freezer stash during high-output times to ensure you have enough milk to nourish your baby during lower-production periods.

You might also notice that your baby develops an aversion to your breast milk during menstruation. This is because your period may slightly change the taste of your breast milk. It shouldn't be so different that your newborn won't latch, but you may experience some increased fussiness during feedings. If your baby refuses to nurse, you may have to use expelled breast milk or formula while on your period.

What Else Affects Menstruation

A few other things can impact when your period will come back in the weeks after you give birth. The two most common factors are stress and fluctuations in weight.

  • Stress and Anxiety — Becoming a new parent is an exciting time, but it's also extremely stressful. When you're stressed, your body releases cortisol, which can disrupt the hormones responsible for regulating your cycle. Chronic stress can have an even bigger impact, so it's important to try some deep relaxation techniques and find a healthy way to cope. If you're feeling particularly overwhelmed or experiencing stress paired with postpartum depression, contact a professional to explore your treatment options.
  • Weight Gain or Loss — Sudden weight gain or loss after pregnancy can also impact your menstrual cycle. This is especially true for women who go on crash diets to try and get their pre-baby body back. Losing weight should be done using a healthy, balanced approach to avoid further disrupting your body's healing process. Plus, you're more likely to stick with the results when you lose weight slowly. If you're struggling with body image or can't seem to drop excess pounds, ask your doctor for help.

What to Expect with Your First Postpartum Period

As with timing, the characteristics of your first period postpartum can vary. Some women may experience heavy periods. Others might have lighter periods. Period pain may be more severe than what you experienced before pregnancy, or it might not exist at all. It's difficult to predict what will happen as you recover from pregnancy and childbirth. Once your period starts, you can discuss any concerns about flow, pain, and irregularity with your doctor. If your period changes drastically, your doctor may recommend certain birth control options or breastfeeding more often to help alleviate severe symptoms.

Once your period returns, it may resume a normal cycle or take some time to get regulated. Irregular periods after childbirth can be expected, and you might even go a month without getting it altogether. Try to keep track of your cycle and use forms of birth control once you resume having sex. If you have any concerns, speak with your OB/GYN.

In some instances, you may experience small blood clots in your period after pregnancy. This is nothing to be alarmed about. Your body is shedding excess lining that may have built up in the postpartum period. However, if you are feeling faint and the clots are excessive, it's best to schedule an appointment with your doctor to be sure.

If you notice any symptoms of postpartum hemorrhaging, call 911 or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. These symptoms include:

  • Heavy bleeding that doesn't stop
  • Chills
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Clammy skin

Byram Healthcare offers several resources and products to support a healthy pregnancy and postpartum recovery. We carry a large selection of free breast pumps through insurance available to new and expecting mothers to help supplement their nursing sessions, regardless of whether your period has returned yet or not. To compare breast pumps, visit our breast pump product selection guide and start your order today.