Along with being one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, lots of moms-to-be consider pregnancy to be a 9-month-long break from “that time of the month.” For many women, going all that time without a period is one of the most welcome side effects of being pregnant (right up there with eating for two and thick, glossy hair!) We hate to bring the bad news, but… Aunt Flo’s going to come back sooner or later.
And for some women, she’s out for revenge. When Aunt Flo returns, she can bring awful cramps and other miserable PMS symptoms with her. For some lucky women, Aunt Flo’s side effects seem to ease up a little, and some new mom’s report easier periods than before they were pregnant. If a woman is exclusively breastfeeding, she might get a longer break from her period than moms that are pumping, supplementing, or exclusively bottle feeding. But this all depends on the woman. Even if she’s breastfeeding, there’s still a possibility that a woman’s menstrual cycle could start back up again!
As beautiful as pregnancy is… it’s also kind of a bloody business. Some women may have spotting during pregnancy. After childbirth and long before menstruation starts again, a woman has to deal with lochia – the post-delivery discharge that starts out even heavier than a period and eventually tapers off. To top things off, menstruation can start again a few weeks after lochia goes away. And when Aunt Flo does come back, she can be a real pain.
15 Bleeding During Pregnancy
One of the most obvious signs of pregnancy is a missed period. However, there are some women who will still get a period or who will bleed/have some spotting throughout their pregnancy. If you experience any bleeding or spotting at any time during your pregnancy, it’s a good idea to check with your health care provider to make sure everything is okay.
Common causes of bleeding during early pregnancy are cervical bleeding, a threatened miscarriage, or an actual miscarriage. Less common than miscarriages are ectopic pregnancies or a pregnancy where the egg implants somewhere outside of the uterus, like in the Fallopian tube. Bleeding later in a pregnancy can also be a sign of complications such as placental abruption or placenta previa. Placental abruption is when the placenta prematurely detaches itself from the uterus before the baby is born; this can deprive the baby of vital nutrients. Placenta previa is when the placenta covers or partially covers the cervix, making a C-section necessary to deliver the baby.
14 Fluctuating Hormones After Pregnancy
Your hormones are to blame for a lot of physical and emotional changes during and after your pregnancy. After the delivery of the baby (and the placenta) a woman’s hormone levels will plummet. Women react to this drop in hormones differently, but a lot of times it will affect a woman’s mood and emotions.
These hormonal changes can also affect women physically. The hormones that give many women a luxurious head of hair during pregnancy will diminish, and the hair may end up falling out or shedding a few months after the baby is born. Also, as estrogen levels drop back to normal after delivery, most women find that their libido hits the floor, too. As hormonal levels stabilize, a woman’s menstrual cycle will eventually return.
While you might not want to deal with Aunt Flo just yet, the return of your period is part of the postpartum recovery process and tis a sign that your body is returning to its pre-pregnancy condition. In some women, menstruation may be delayed due to the increase of hormones that come along with breastfeeding.
13 Losing Lochia
While lochia isn’t technically a period, it’s very similar. Everyone experiences some degree of bleeding after childbirth. (And even if you have a C-section, you’ll still have to deal with it.) Lochia is a vaginal discharge made up of blood and tissue that is sloughed off from the lining of the uterus after delivery. For the first few days after childbirth, it will be bright red and will look and feel like a heavy period. It might come out in a steady flow, or it might feel like intermittent gushes.
Lochia will gradually lessen over the next several days. A week or two after delivery, it will probably only be a small a small amount of yellowish or yellowish-white discharge. It will taper off over the next few weeks before it stops completely, although some women may continue to experience spotting for a few more weeks.
It's best to use heavy-duty maxi pads right after delivery. Hopefully you can score a stash from the hospital before you’re discharged! As lochia lightens, you might switch to regular pads or even pantiliners. Whatever you do, don’t use tampons for at least six weeks (or until your doctor says it’s okay!) to avoid infection!
12 First Period
So how are you supposed to tell the difference between lochia and the first menstrual period after delivery? If the bleeding stopped and the discharge had the white or yellowish-white color of lochia and then bleeding started again, you are probably getting your period.
If the bleeding lessened (without stopping) but then started to flow heavily again, it could be a sign that the mom is overdoing it physically. Think of the inside of the uterus as a big, gaping wound. Increased activity can irritate that wound. Bright red bleeding can reappear from time to time throughout the first six to eight weeks postpartum and is usually caused by exercise or increased activity.
If bleeding and cramping appear or get worst, it’s a good idea to take it easy for a little while. If the bleeding doesn’t appear to slow down during a period of rest, then you should contact your health care provider to rule out any other complications.
11 Periods Can Be Worse
Some new moms may get their period back and everything is back to normal. Same flow, same length as before. Then there are some new moms who end up doing battle with Aunt Flo. Some women experience completely different periods that are much worse after having a baby. Some women complain that periods are heavier or last longer. Some women experience worse PMS symptoms and more painful cramps. Many times periods may return with a vengeance, but will eventually lighten up over the next few months as the body returns to its pre-pregnancy state. Some experience heavy bleeding for the first few cycles after delivery because the uterus expanded so much throughout pregnancy. With more surface area to be shed each month, there’s heavier bleeding – until the uterus returns to its pre-pregnancy size.
If periods don’t regulate after a few months or if periods seem to be extra-heavy for more than two or three months, it’s a good idea to let your health care provider know that they can rule out any uterine or hormonal issues that could be causing the issue.
10 PMS Symptoms Can Be Worse
You probably already know that having a baby is going to change everything. For some women, that means even changes in their PMS symptoms. For lots of women, PMS can get worse postpartum. PMS is triggered when chemicals in the brain respond to fluctuations in hormones – and your hormones are all over the place after you give birth.
Even if a woman hasn’t previously had much trouble with PMS, being a tired, tense new mom might make those symptoms seem even worse. To help improve PMS symptoms:
- Try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and magnesium; it’s thought these nutrients can help alleviate PMS symptoms.
- Get out and exercise! Endorphins released during physical activity can help reduce PMS symptoms. You could probably use the fresh air, too!
- Take a break. The stress and fatigue that you feel can make your symptoms worse.
- Discuss possible medications with your doctor. Some birth control pills help women manage their PMS symptoms because they stabilize the hormones.
9 Periods Can Be Irregular For Awhile
If you’re lucky, your menstrual cycle will return to the regularly scheduled program shortly after it starts again. Some women may find that their menstrual cycles come back like clockwork after having a baby, but others discover that their cycles have become more erratic – coming for a few days at a time, disappearing for a month or two, lasting for what seems like forever. If this is the case, it could just be that their hormones are still returning to their previous normal levels.
Other factors like thyroid conditions, weight loss, and weight gain can also be possible causes for messed-up menstrual cycles. Stress can cause menstrual cycles to become irregular too, and what new mom doesn’t feel tired and stressed out at some point?
One other thing: though it usually begins in a woman’s mid-40s, some women may enter perimenopause as early as their mid-30s. During perimenopause, a woman’s estrogen levels will rise and fall unevenly, causing her menstrual cycles to act a little wonky.
8 Irregular Periods Mean You Can Get Pregnant
Dealing with irregular periods is already annoying, especially when you’re caught off guard and don’t exactly know when that time of the month will be. Another problem with irregular periods is that it’s actually possible to get pregnant before your first postpartum period even shows up! Remember, you ovulate up to two weeks before your period, so it’s possible to release an egg and get pregnant again if you’re not careful. And if you’re not sure when your period is going to show up, it’s really hard to attempt to predict when you’re going to ovulate!
Some women consider breastfeeding to be a natural form of birth control because it can suppress the menstrual cycle; however, some women DO get periods while nursing. This means they’re ovulating, which means it’s possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. If you’re not planning on getting pregnant again, then you need to consider some form of birth control. Talk to your health care provider about what birth control methods are safe to use while breastfeeding.
7 Birth Control
Speaking of birth control, you’re going to need to think about how your birth control needs may change after pregnancy and childbirth. Some women may just go back to using whatever birth control method they used in the past, or they may decide it’s time to try something else.
It’s usually suggested that you wait four to six weeks after delivery to start using any birth control methods that contain estrogen (like some birth control pills, the ring, and the patch) because estrogen can increase the risk of blood clots during the early postpartum period. Estrogen-based birth control isn’t recommended for nursing moms because estrogen may affect breast milk.
It is recommended to wait awhile before using other forms of birth control as well. It’s best to wait three or four weeks before having a birth control implant inserted. It’s also suggested to wait as long as ten weeks before using a cervical cap. If you used a diaphragm before pregnancy, you may need to be refitted to ensure a proper fit.
Other birth control methods can be used right away. Some doctors will insert an IUD right after delivery. And of course, condoms, both male and female, can be used as soon as the woman is ready for intercourse.
6 Breakthrough Bleeding With Birth Control
One downside to resuming some forms of birth control is that you may have to deal with breakthrough bleeding. Breakthrough bleeding is spotting or bleeding in between periods. What causes it? Breakthrough bleeding is more likely to occur when the birth control method you use has very little or no estrogen. Estrogen helps stabilize the lining of the uterus; when there’s not enough of it, the uterine lining can shed in small amounts, causing spotting. If you just started a new birth control method, it may be a few months before your body settles into a new schedule. Though it may be frustrating, try to stick it out for awhile to see if things regulate.
If it’s been three or four cycles and you’re still experiencing spotting in between periods, at least you have some options. You can switch to a different type of birth control pill; you may need more estrogen, or one that gives you a dose of estrogen during a different part of your cycle. If you’re on a progestin-only birth control pill, you may need to take low-dose estrogen pills for awhile until things get straightened out.
5 Breastfeeding Doesn't Always Stop Periods
As we mentioned, breastfeeding doesn’t always stop a woman’s periods. Every woman’s body is different, so there’s really no reliable way to predict when your period will show up. It’s thought that the less a woman nurses, the sooner her period may return. So if your baby starts sleeping through the night and nursing less often when they’re young, you may get your period back sooner.
The most important thing to remember is that ovulation occurs before the return of menstruation, which makes it possible for a woman to get pregnant again before she even has a period. The chance that a woman will ovulate in the first six weeks after delivery is kind of low, but it could still happen.
The exact time when a woman starts ovulating again is hard to pinpoint, so if you’re not considering getting pregnant again right away, then plan on discussing a birth control plan with your health care provider at your postpartum checkup.
4 But When You Stop Breastfeeding, Periods Will Probably Return
Usually, women who are breastfeeding don’t get their periods as quickly after giving birth. This is, of course, due to hormones. The hormone prolactin, which helps produce breast milk, can suppress the reproductive hormones. As a result, women don’t ovulate or release an egg for fertilization. Without releasing an egg, a woman won’t have a period.
It’s believed that menstruation can resume a few months after delivery if the mom does not breastfeed. Menstruation can also return a month or so after weaning from the breast, decreasing the amount of time spent nursing, or switching from nursing to pumping. Pumping doesn’t stimulate hormone production the way contact with your baby during a nursing session does.
If you’re not nursing and you don’t get your period back after a few months postpartum, you should talk to your healthcare provider. The doctor may want to check for secondary amenorrhea, (when a woman with previously normal cycles stops getting her period), pregnancy, or other issues.
3 Causes For Concern
While irregular periods may be annoying, they’re rarely harmful in any way. However, if clots or very heavy bleeding occurs suddenly a few weeks after delivery, part of the placenta or uterine lining may not have passed normally, or uterine infection could be present. If your periods don't become more regular after a few months, or if you've had very heavy periods for more than two or three cycles (meaning you're soaking through a pad or tampon every hour for several hours in a row), let your healthcare provider know. She may want to check for uterine or hormonal issues.
Women may experience prolonged and heavier bleeding after a long or difficult labor, giving birth to a large baby, or delivery multiples. Complications such as a placental abruption (when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall before delivery) may also cause heavier postpartum bleeding.
If anything seems out of the ordinary about that first period after pregnancy, or if the bleeding is still continuous six weeks postpartum, contact the doctor. Excess bleeding can be an indication of infection or other health problems.
2 Help For Period Problems
Besides preventing pregnancy, birth control pills can regulate your period, and some women even end up having lighter periods. The hormones contained in birth control pills prevent ovulation and thin out the lining of the uterus so that there’s less blood to shed each month. There are also some types of birth control pills that allow you to only have a period four times a year. Some IUDs also help suppress the menstrual cycle, as well, and are good if you’re in the market for some long-term birth control.
If you don’t want to mess with contraceptives, you might actually have something in the medicine cabinet that can help with your heavy flow. Medicines like Advil, Motrin, and Aleve can help lighten your flow because they lower the level of prostaglandins – a compound that increases blood flow. The only thing is, you’ll need to take higher-than-normal doses, so talk to your health care provider before attempting this fix.
1 Some Women Get Lucky
Some women get really lucky and end up having easier periods after pregnancy and childbirth. Some women report having shorter and/or lighter periods after giving birth. These lucky ladies may have fewer cramps and might even find that they have no monthly pain whatsoever. One theory is that after pregnancy, the uterus is stretched out and no longer contracts as hard as it once did, causing those painful cramps. Another theory is that childbirth gets rid of prostaglandin receptor sites in the uterus. In other words, fewer pain receptor sites, fewer cramps and less pain!
You could also look at it like this: your body just went through pregnancy and childbirth – that’s no easy feat! Menstrual cramps are a walk in the park compared to labor.
One thing to keep in mind is that changes in cycles can vary from woman to woman, and pregnancy to pregnancy! If you eventually plan on having another baby, things could be completely different the next time!