What to expect when you get your first postpartum period
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Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who is a first-time mom about her first period after baby. I’ve done this pregnancy and breastfeeding thing three times now and I have to admit that I kind of forgot how things have changed (especially since the first time was six years ago). If you’re like me and you breastfeed for a year or more, you may be exempt from a monthly menstrual cycle up until you’re finished breastfeeding. You could also breastfeed for a year only to have your period return to becoming a monthly visitor around the time your baby starts taking in more solids. Every baby is different and every mother is different; that being said, every period is different too!
The Breastfeeding Mother
I exclusively breastfed both of my daughters a little past a year. During that time I never had my period. I’m not going to lie it was glorious! During Kendall’s first year my husband and I did take precautionary measures to ensure that we would not conceive while I was nursing. The absence of your period (otherwise known as Lactation Amenorrhea Method or LAM) does not always equal the absence of ovulating to proceed with caution unless you want Irish twins!
For the breastfeeding mother, menstruation after pregnancy can begin as soon as 11 weeks and as late as 24 months. You’ll hear this lot when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and certainly breastfeeding, but it’s all a hormones thing. Changes in frequency of breastfeeding, the introduction of solid food, using a bottle more often, and sleeping through the night all have an effect on milk production. The more your baby nurses the more milk is produced and for some, like myself, this means that menstruation takes a backseat. In most cases, six feedings a day will equal enough milk production to keep Auntie Flo at bay! (Do you like how I made that rhyme? I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it!)
The Exclusively Pumping Mother
Exclusively pumping is similar to breastfeeding so most moms have the same experience of their menstrual cycle returning when the frequency of pumping is decreased. Again, this isn’t the case for everyone, and some mothers will welcome dear old Aunt Flo only 11 weeks after baby is born, but some women will find that their period doesn’t return until their pumping frequency has changed.
The Formula Mother
Because the body is not creating breast milk when a baby is formula-fed, the hormone Prolactin, which is the hormone that suppresses ovulation, is not released. Menstruation can return between three to ten weeks after baby’s birth day for mama.
What to expect? How will my period be different?
Some people notice a big difference with their period before pregnancy and after pregnancy. My own personal experience is that the length of my cycle was significantly shortened once I had my first child and finished breastfeeding him. When I first got my period I had a very short cycle (we’re talking two weeks – it was miserable) and because of that I was put on birth control pills to help establish longer time in-between cycles. After my son (he’s my first born, remember?) was weaned my cycle went from being extremely regular and predictable (28 days on the dot) to becoming short and unpredictable. Some cycles would be 23 days, some would be 25 days, it felt like my period was like Monica in FRIENDS when she says to Richard, “I’m breezy,” indicating that she’s relaxed and cool with it all. The one thing that was consistent about the length in-between cycles for me after the baby was that they were never 28 days; it was always less than 28 days. *Sigh.*
The reason this happens again is….you guessed it! Everyone say it with me – HORMONES!! Hey, your body has just grown and supported the beginning of another human being’s life for nine months. If you’re breastfeeding or pumping then your body is sustaining that same human being by providing nourishment. It’s a lot for your body to do but you know what? It was made to do this and it’s fascinating how intricately the female body is designed.
Some periods come back onto the scene like Miley Cyrus swinging on that wrecking ball – full throttle and taking no prisoners. Sometimes periods come back and it’s like nothing has changed at all. “What? We were pregnant? Oh I just thought I was sleeping for a bit,” Aunt Flo says. And sometimes the return of dear Aunt Flo is a kinder and happier period; one with less cramping (because the uterus is a little stretched now) and shorter lengths. The bottom line (and I wish there was more to this than what I’m about to write) is that hormones dictate everything and it certainly is the case when it comes to menstruating after baby.
Take Laura and me for example, I didn’t get my periods until I had been finished breastfeeding or had significantly dropped in the frequency of breastfeeding. Laura nursed her son, Triple A, well past a year yet her period returned once he started eating solids. We’re from the same gene pool, however, our menstrual cycles are completely different. You just never know and like I have been reiterating to you in this post-hormones a the key players in this game. Everyone is…wait for it….DIFFERENT!
When should you become concerned?
Like with most menstruation concerns, it’s usually related to the amount of blood that is being lost as well as the severity of cramping. If the camping is so painful that you cannot resume your normal activity it may be wise to enlist the counsel of your general practitioner.
The bottom line is that yes, your first menstrual cycle after you’ve had a baby will be different than the ones you had prior to pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum recovery and breastfeeding/exclusively pumping (if you make those choices). Think about all that your body has gone through and be kind. Things will get back to “normal” or they may change a little bit. Those first few periods may be heavier and longer, particularly if you’ve been breastfeeding exclusively (six times or more a day) for the past six months to a year. Then again maybe your period will change and become lighter than it was before. We’re in the season of our life where change is inevitable and the same goes for your body. As always contact your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns but for the most part sit back and relax.