Why Do I Have Irregular Periods After Birth?

If you're experiencing irregular periods after pregnancy, you're not alone. Read about the causes of this common condition, and learn when your menstrual cycle should return to normal.

Preparing Girls for First Period: Menstruation supplies
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Arguably one of the best parts of pregnancy: Your period disappears for nine whole months! However, after childbirth, people are often surprised by the postpartum vaginal bleeding that can last for several weeks after delivery. Then, once menstruation finally returns, it's often confusing and unpredictable—and that's totally normal. Here's everything you need to know about irregular periods after birth.

When Will I Get My Period After Birth?

In the early postpartum phase, you'll experience lochia, a vaginal discharge of blood, mucus, and uterine tissue. This discharge starts off very heavy and bright red. Within the next five to eight weeks, it will lighten, become more irregular, and eventually turn dark brown to yellow before tapering off.

Although lochia can resemble a period—and you'll need to wear a pad to manage the blood flow—it's not the same thing as menstruation. (You should avoid using any internal period products like tampons or menstrual cups during this phase as they can put you at risk for infection.) Your actual period won't return for a few weeks or months after giving birth. The timeline largely depends on whether or not you're breastfeeding.

If you're not breastfeeding

For those who aren't breastfeeding, your period will probably return four to eight weeks after childbirth, according to Amina White, M.D., clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

If you are breastfeeding

If you breastfeed, your period will likely return much later, since prolactin (a hormone for breast milk production) tends to suppress ovulation. Menstruation may take weeks or months to return.

That said, it's still best not to count on breastfeeding to serve as birth control. Even though it's less likely, you can still begin ovulating (and get pregnant) while breastfeeding, especially if you're not exclusively breastfeeding. Irregular periods while breastfeeding are especially common if you're doing a combination of formula feeding and breastfeeding.

Irregular Periods After Pregnancy

When menstruation does return, it might not look the same as before. Your cycle could be shorter, longer, lighter, heavier, or more crampy—and all of these changes are normal, says Dr. White. One of the most common complaints, though, is irregular periods as your hormones return to normal.

So don't worry if your cycle length varies (changing from 24 days one cycle to 35 days the next, for example). Your body is simply regulating itself. and it will take time for your periods to resume a regular schedule. If, however, you experienced irregular periods prior to getting pregnant, there is a high likelihood that you'll continue to experience irregular periods after pregnancy unless the underlying cause is treated.

Tell your health care provider if your period becomes super heavy (you need to change your pad once an hour), lasts longer than seven days, or contains clots larger than a quarter. Also let them know if you skip a period after menstruation returns or have spotting between periods. These symptoms may indicate concerns like infection, fibroids, polyps, thyroid dysfunction, among others.

Can I Get Pregnant With Irregular Periods After Birth?

The general rule: If you're ovulating, you can get pregnant. And it's important to remember that ovulation will occur before your first postpartum period arrives since ovulation occurs mid-way through a cycle.

Any sex that results in semen being introduced in or around the vagina can potentially result in pregnancy—even if you haven't gotten your period back or you're experiencing irregular periods after giving birth. (In fact, it's possible to get pregnant in the first weeks after delivery and discover you're expecting during a postpartum visit.)

Though it's certainly possible to have healthy back-to-back pregnancies, experts typically recommend waiting at least six months between pregnancies (though ideally longer) to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and other health concerns. If avoiding another pregnancy soon after you give birth is a priority for you, be sure to have a contraception plan in place.

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