What to Expect from Your First Period After Pregnancy

Medically reviewed by Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB on October 27, 2015Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN on October 27, 2015

From glowing skin to a newfound appreciation for your body, there are many things to love about pregnancy. Another is that you’ll have at least nine months of freedom from your period. But after you deliver, you’re probably curious what will happen with your menstrual cycle.

When your period returns often depends if you breast-feed or not. And just like your life after baby, you might find your periods after pregnancy are somewhat different.

When Will My Period Return?

A woman’s period will typically return about six to eight weeks after giving birth, if she is not breast-feeding. If she does breast-feed, the timing for a period to return can vary. Some women might not have a period the entire time they breast-feed. But for others, it might return after a couple of months, whether they’re breast-feeding or not.

If your period does return quickly after giving birth and you had a vaginal delivery, your doctor might recommend that you avoid using tampons during your first menstruation post-baby.

This is because your body is still healing, and tampons could potentially cause trauma. Your doctor will likely advise you whether you can return to using tampons at your six-week postpartum checkup.

Why Don’t Breast-Feeding Women Get Their Periods as Quickly?

Typically, women who are breast-feeding don’t get their periods as quickly after giving birth. This has to do with your body’s hormones. The hormones needed to produce breast milk (known as prolactin) can suppress reproductive hormones. As a result, you don’t ovulate or release an egg for fertilization. Without this process, you most likely won’t menstruate.

What About Birth Control?

Some women use breast-feeding as a natural birth control method. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, fewer than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant annually if they’re engaging in continuous breast-feeding. Even though breast-feeding might be a reliable method of birth control, it’s not an absolute guarantee you won’t get pregnant again.

The key here is continuous breast-feeding. Some of the hallmarks of continuous breast-feeding are:

  • breast-feeding at least once every four hours during the day
  • breast-feeding every six hours
  • nursing your baby only at the breast and not through pumping milk

Breast-feeding that doesn’t fit into these descriptions might not protect against another pregnancy. If you’re breast-feeding and your period does return, you’re no longer protected against getting pregnant.

Note: There are safe and effective birth control methods available for women who are breast-feeding. See your doctor about your options.

How Might My Period Be Different Postpartum?

When you do start your period again, chances are the first period after delivery won’t be like your periods before you got pregnant. Your body is once again adjusting to menstruation. You may experience some of the following differences:

  • cramping that might be stronger or lighter than usual
  • small blood clots
  • heavier flow
  • flow that seems to stop and start

As you continue your cycle, these changes will likely decrease.

What Should I Expect from My First Period Postpartum?

Whether you delivered your baby vaginally or by cesarean delivery, you can expect some bleeding and vaginal discharge after giving birth. Your body continues to shed the blood and tissue that lined your uterus while you were pregnant.

In the first few weeks, blood might be heavier and in clots. As the weeks go by, this blood gives away to vaginal discharge known as lochia. Lochia is bodily fluid that can appear clear to creamy white in color.

This discharge can continue for about six weeks, which is about the time your period may return if you aren’t breast-feeding. If your discharge had the appearance of lochia, then bleeding returned, this is likely due to your period. It’s not pregnancy-related bleeding. Some signs that your bleeding may be cause for concern include:

  • soaking through more than one pad or tampon every hour
  • bleeding that’s accompanied by sudden and severe pain
  • a sudden fever
  • bleeding continuously for more than seven days

Contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms or anything else that concerns you related to your period.

Takeaways

A return to your menstrual cycle is just one of the parts of recovery and returning to your pre-pregnancy body. In some women, menstruation may be delayed due to the hormone increases associated with breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding as a form of contraception is not foolproof. Having a backup method, such as oral contraception or having a partner wear a condom, can help provide further protection.

If anything seems out of the ordinary about your first period after pregnancy, contact your doctor. Excess bleeding or indications of infection are especially concerning for a new mom. Listen to your body and play it safe. 

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