The wild and amazing experience of pregnancy comes with quite a few changes – some emotional, some physical, and some just downright mysterious! One glorious change you’ve probably enjoyed is going 10 months without having a period. So, when can you expect its return? Let’s walk through the various postpartum phases and see what differences you may experience moving forward (this is especially important info if you haven’t learned about the “fourth trimester” – a phase often left out of prenatal visit discussions!)
Congratulations! You made it through labor and delivery which is no picnic, and now have a precious little one. Now begins the “fourth trimester” – a new phase for both you and your baby to navigate. Your body will now start shifting into a sort of recovery mode, first shedding some leftover blood and tissue from your uterus so it can start shrinking back to normal size. It will start out pretty bright red and may have clumps of tissue, but should get lighter in color and less volume after a few weeks. This “shrinking and shedding” may also cause some mild cramping, but if the pain is severe, and accompanied by nausea or heavy bleeding (more than a normal period), call your healthcare provider right away. If you aren’t breastfeeding, you can expect your period to return in about 6-8 weeks. If you are breastfeeding, it will likely take several months, but you should talk to your doctor about birth control options, because the absence of a period each month doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t fertile. In an act of what I can only see as deft trickery, Mother Nature has allowed you to still be ovulating even if you aren’t getting a period.
Alright – you made it through the first few months! You probably feel like you are starting to get into a routine, nursing doesn’t make you want to cry out in pain anymore, and you may even have a freezer stash of breastmilk ready for mom’s nights out. Now what does this mean for your menstrual cycle? Chances are it will stay away for a little bit longer. For centuries, cultures around the world have used breastfeeding as a form of spacing out births and family planning, since the act of breastfeeding inhibits your body from ovulating. It’s actually pretty amazing. The act of baby suckling simultaneously stimulates milk production and reduces the hormone that stimulates ovulation. But, as many have found, it’s not entirely reliable when it comes to birth control past a certain point. For the first six months, if you are not feeding your baby any other food and your period has not returned, the use of breastfeeding as a contraceptive (sometimes called lactational amenorrhea method, or LAM) is thought to be 98% effective against pregnancy. However, once your baby is going more than a few hours without nursing (like at night), and is six months old, you are more likely to start ovulating. Most breastfeeding mothers can expect their periods to return 9-18 months after having their baby, even if they haven’t completely weaned yet.
Motherhood and Beyond
So you’ve weaned your little one, transitioned to milk or formula, and have stashed your pump in a dark corner never to see the light of day again (ok, at least for a couple years). Now begins the waiting game to see when your body kicks back into normal gear. While you might want to continue this blissful existence without Aunt Flow, it’s probably best to restock your supplies and carry a few with you, just in case it returns when you least expect it. Even once you get your first period, it may take several months for your cycle to become more normal. At first it may fluctuate in terms of length, frequency, or intensity. You may go more than 35 days between cycles, or you find you only bleed for 4 days instead of 6 (hooray!) – but this variability is totally normal after pregnancy. Most women will eventually find their way back to whatever “normal” was for them prior to becoming pregnant. Some may even notice that their periods improve since pregnancy and childbirth have stretched the uterus and dilated the cervix. However, some will unfortunately have heavier or more painful periods after childbirth, which could be due to the larger uterus having more lining to shed. There are plenty of other reasons more painful or heavier periods can develop which have nothing to do with pregnancy or childbirth, so always be sure to check in with your doc.
Not surprisingly, after 9 months of changes to create a new life, your body will take some time to recover from the process and get back to your pre-pregnancy state. In addition to the changes in your cycle, you will likely also experience some physical changes such as uterine cramping, hair loss, and some stretch marks on your skin. Thanks to the hormones, you also might endure some heavy duty night sweating and mood changes. Give yourself lots of patience as you adjust to this new stage (in fact, in China, one might “sit the month” after childbirth in order to recover) and as time goes on your body will get back to the state you remember, or at least very close.
Our herbal bends are not meant to be consumed during pregnancy or breastfeeding, but they can help to balance hormones and restore your cycle once these stages are complete.