What You Should Expect For Your First Period Back Postpartum

First-time motherhood is pretty much like not knowing how to swim and immediately being thrown in the deep end of the pool. Not only do you have another human you’re now responsible for, but you have to take care of yourself too.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
shutterstock 2115102434 (1)

Even in the midst of cluster feedings, visits from friends and family, and online debates on whether to co-sleep or bed share – and making sure you’re rested, bathed, and fed – you’ll probably notice your body going back to its pre-pregnancy self.

The postpartum period, or fourth trimester as some like to call it, is a new and unprecedented time in your life, but that doesn’t mean you get to stave off your body’s basic functions anymore, nor should you want to. As nice and convenient as it was to go without a period for nine months, it’s good to remember that your period is the perfect indication that your body’s functioning as it should and that you’re recovering from pregnancy effectively. Still, like many things after having a baby, the first time after delivery can be an unpredictable one. Here’s what you should expect for your first postpartum period.

Knowing the Signs

Whether you had a C-section or a vaginal birth, you will bleed after delivering your baby, but this is not the same thing as having a period.

Bleeding in the few days or even weeks after delivering is what’s known as lochia. Lochia is composed of blood, mucus, and tissue, and it’s your body’s way of shedding these materials now that you no longer need them to sustain your pregnancy. Lochia after birth is usually accompanied by clots, but the clots shouldn’t be bigger than a quarter. Women who do deliver via cesarean have less lochia than those who gave birth vaginally, but in each case, lochia is usually bright red and decreases both in color and amount as the days pass.

Wearing a pad or postpartum underwear is probably the easiest way to keep your downstairs area clean and sanitary. However, if you notice that your bleeding is soaking through pads quickly, in addition to symptoms like abnormally large clots, nausea, blurry vision, lightheadedness, chills, and an increased heartbeat, you should seek medical attention immediately. These could be signs of a postpartum hemorrhage, which can happen up to 12 weeks postpartum. 

Bleeding in the few days or even weeks after delivering is what’s known as lochia.

The majority of postpartum hemorrhages usually occur when post-delivery contractions (called the third stage of labor) aren’t strong enough to compress blood vessels and stop vaginal bleeding, and it can lead to complications and even death.

When To Expect Your Period

Your first period postpartum, like pregnancy, really depends on the woman. If you aren’t breastfeeding, you should expect your period normally around six to eight weeks after birth. This means you should definitely hang on to your postpartum pads and expect it to return sooner rather than later.

For breastfeeding women, the return of your period is a little difficult to pinpoint exactly. But there are a few factors that can either speed up or delay its appearance. 

Strangely enough, the same hormones that dictate breastfeeding also govern your period. Prolactin is the hormone the female body uses to produce breast milk, and it also staves off other hormones which are normally in charge of ovulation and menstruation. Basically, the longer you breastfeed for, the longer you’re expected to go without your period returning. Prolactin essentially suppresses your period since your body has to dedicate all of its energy to producing breast milk for your baby, in what’s known as lactational amenorrhea.

However, you can’t avoid your monthly visit forever, and even if you’re breastfeeding, your baby is really who gets to decide when your period comes back. When babies become less interested in breast milk and more interested in solid foods, or when they feed less and less frequently (especially during the nighttime), you can expect your period to be imminent. When babies nurse less during the night, your prolactin levels decrease, and they do the same thing when baby starts to eat more food and nurse less. 

What’s more, you can also expect your period to be irregular after your fourth trimester, but that’s pretty common – your body’s just getting back into the swing of things after being out of commission for nine months. You might notice your period come and go especially when your baby hits certain leaps or developmental milestones, like the four month sleep regression, when they’re awake more and your body subsequently produces more prolactin to feed them.

Prolactin is the hormone your body uses to produce breast milk and stave off menstruation.

Many women are under the impression that they won’t have a period at all while breastfeeding, and may even use that misconception for contraceptive purposes – but every woman is different, so even if your friend didn’t get hers until a year after birth, that doesn’t mean the same for you.

What To Expect for Your First Period Postpartum

The main event postpartum may look a little different than it has before, but again, irregularities in your cycle are pretty common (unless you’re bleeding through pads hourly, then it’s time to be concerned).

For one thing, the basics of your period might change. If you’ve always been a regular four day, light flow kind of girl, you might all of a sudden notice that your period’s gone on for much longer and is much heavier. Your cycle might also be shorter or longer, so don’t count on everything being exactly the same as it was before. You might also notice clots or increased cramping, bloating, and spotting.

Symptom-wise, unexplained headaches, moodiness or PMS, decreased milk production (and a baby who isn’t interested in nursing) as well as breast tenderness or irritation unrelated to breastfeeding are all signs that Aunt Flo is back again. During your first postpartum period, you might notice a decrease in your milk supply due to hormonal changes, but this is also common and will fluctuate according to your cycle. In the event of a milk supply decrease, La Leche League International recommends supplementing with magnesium and calcium.

Closing Thoughts

Our periods are, objectively, an inconvenience, but how amazing is it that your body knows how and when to return to normal? And not only that, but that your baby gets to play a part in that process as well?

As women, we don’t really get to pick the good and bad parts of our biology, however much we might want to. This means taking the bad or even just annoying with the good, and in this case, that means a brand new menstrual cycle alongside your brand new bundle of joy.

Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!