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 menstruation 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 vaginal bleeding, called lochia, that typically lasts for several weeks after delivery. Then, once menstruation finally returns, it will likely be 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 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 turn dark brown/yellow before tapering off.

Although lochia resembles a period—and you'll need to wear a pad to control the blood flow—it's not the same thing as menstruation. (Don't wear a tampon during this phase, as doing so puts 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 that 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, you'll likely get your period much later, since prolactin (a hormone for breast milk production) tends to suppress ovulation. Menstruation may take weeks or months to return. However, don't count on breastfeeding to serve as birth control. Even if 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 about irregular periods after birth as your hormones return to normal. So don't worry if your cycle switches from 24 days to 35 days between months—your body is simply regulating itself and it will take time for your periods to resume a regular schedule.

Tell your doctor 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 begins, or if you have spotting between periods. These symptoms may indicate infection, fibroids, polyps, a thyroid dysfunction, or other issues.

Can I Get Pregnant with Irregular Periods After Birth?

It's important to remember that a person can ovulate without having a period since ovulation occurs mid-way through a cycle. This puts a person at risk of getting pregnant soon after delivery. Any unprotected intercourse could result in pregnancy—even if you're having irregular periods. In fact, it's possible to get pregnant in the first weeks after delivery and discover you're expecting during a postpartum visit.

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