After delivery, most women are curious and concerned about when they will get their periods, if it will be any different from menstruation before childbirth, or whether there will be any changes in their periods if they are breastfeeding. A lot of changes take place in a woman’s body following pregnancy, childbirth and during lactation, but these changes are by no means the same in every woman.
Bloody Discharge after Childbirth
The blood stained vaginal discharge continuing after delivery is mistaken by some women as menstruation. This discharge is known as “lochia” and consists of blood mixed with mucus and endometrial tissue lining the uterus. The lochia will gradually diminish in amount in a week or two but may continue for up to 6 weeks after delivery.
Changes in Periods after Childbirth and Breastfeeding
Periods may become unpredictable after birth of your baby. You cannot know for sure when you will get your first period after childbirth – it may be within 6 to 8 weeks of delivery or as late as after 6 months or more. It is normal to find the menstrual cycle becoming irregular and the bleeding heavier than before. The cycles may be of shorter or longer duration and you may even skip a period. The length of the period can be longer or shorter too.
Menstruation may become painful (dysmenorrhea) even though you may not have had such complaints previously, or they may be accompanied by symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) such as swelling of the body, nausea, dizziness or emotional changes a few days before periods. Always differentiate between abdominal pain and menstrual pain when pregnant or after giving birth – refer to Abdominal Pain and Menstrual Cramps.
The single most important factor determining how soon after childbirth a woman will get her periods is whether she is breastfeeding or not. Usually, a woman who is breastfeeding her baby exclusively without any supplementary feeding will not get her periods as long as she is breastfeeding. This rule is not absolute and you can get your periods even while breastfeeding. However, it is most likely that you will get your periods within 6 months after stopping breastfeeding.
If you are breastfeeding your baby intermittently with bottle-feeding, you may get your periods 3 to 4 months after childbirth, which may initially start as spotting. As you can see, there is no hard and fast rule.
Causes of Changed Periods
Hormonal changes in the body following childbirth and breastfeeding are mainly responsible for the changes in the period occurring around this time. During breastfeeding, the pituitary gland secretes the hormone prolactin which helps in the secretion of breast milk and also suppresses ovulation, which is the reason why lactation is a natural means of contraception (though by no means a fool-proof one). Prolactin also suppresses estrogen, resulting in lactational amenorrhea (cessation of periods during breastfeeding), or it may cause irregular periods.
It should not be assumed that a woman cannot get pregnant if she has not had a period after childbirth. It is possible for a woman to ovulate even without menstruation. As a rule, it is safer to use some form of contraception once you start your periods after childbirth.