The postpartum period can be a weird and wonderful time- and never more so than when it comes to your cycle! One of the most common questions new mums ask is when will their period return after postpartum bleeding has finished, and what will it be like? Like with most things in life, the answer is invariably: it depends. So many factors can affect your period after you give birth, and especially if you breastfeed too.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BREASTFEED?
The human body truly is amazing. Not only is it capable of producing an egg each month, but it can take that egg and turn it into a brand new person. And while it’s literally creating a new human life, your body is also producing food for that new life behind the scenes too.
Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, your body will make milk that’s specifically tailored to be everything that your new baby needs to survive nutritionally. And the whole process actually starts around week 16 of pregnancy- probably without you even realising- as colostrum begins to be produced.
Once your baby arrives, the milk production steps up a gear, and the hormone prolactin, which is responsible for the creation of the colostrum, starts to rise. At the same time, levels of estrogen and progesterone drop, and this shift in hormones means that your body is now ready to start feeding your baby.
When your baby suckles at the breast, your body also releases a hormone called oxytocin, which helps you feel calm and relaxed, and this helps to stimulate milk supply too. And the more your baby feeds, the more milk you produce- and the more prolactin remains the ‘hormone in charge’.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR PERIOD WHEN YOU BREASTFEED?
It can take a while for your cycle to regulate after having a baby, and some people find that their period in general is a lot different to how it was before they had their baby. For some, estrogen and progesterone start to settle down quite quickly and periods can return anywhere from three weeks post birth. Others might take a little longer, and according to the NHS, it can vary from person to person.
When you breastfeed, it can take a little longer for things to return to normal, as Dr. Ayanthi Gunasekera, Senior Obs and Gynae Registrar and Medical Information Lead at London Gynaecology told us:
“Periods stopping during breast feeding is known as lactational amenorrhea. It is caused partly by the hormone that causes you to make milk, prolactin, and the disruptive effect suckling has on the secretion of another hormone- known as gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH). These effects lead to ovulation and periods seizing for several months. It can take up to a year before your period returns depending on your breastfeeding pattern.”
So it’s common to not get a period for at least as long as you breastfeed your baby- but again, this can vary, and some women find that their period returns a lot sooner than this.
According to baby charity, Tommy’s, you might experience spotting if you breastfeed your baby less than three times per day. So if you choose to combine breast with bottle, your period could return at any time, as levels of prolactin will be lower. If you exclusively breastfeed, you’re more likely to experience a longer delay before your period returns.
If you're experiencing spotting while breastfeeding, make sure you have a pair of period pants to hand to absorb your flow.
CAN I GET PREGNANT IF I’M BREASTFEEDING?
The short answer is yes, you can still get pregnant while you breastfeed. Even though prolactin keeps oestrogen and progesterone low, you can still ovulate before your period returns. So while breastfeeding does delay your period and makes it harder to conceive, it is still a possibility.
WHEN WILL MY PERIOD RETURN?
Your period could return as soon as three weeks post birth, but if you’re exclusively breastfeeding it’s likely to take a little longer than that. Most people find that as their baby begins to take less milk, they start to spot the signs that their period is on the way. You might notice some spotting or an increase in vaginal discharge, along with abdominal cramps and other PMS symptoms.
If you're not sure whether or not your period is on the way, we recommend having a pair of period pants ready just in case- the last thing you need while you're dealing with a new baby is extra laundry with blood stains and leaks! WUKA Postpartum collection is ideal for this time. Go for a high waisted pair if you had a c-section, as this will support your tummy and cover your scar, avoiding irritation or rubbing.
From around the age of six months, your baby will need more than just milk to eat, so moving on to solid food is often the trigger for another shift in hormone levels that is enough to bring your menstrual cycle back. But again, as we all vary from person to person, it could take longer than that. And as your baby is a unique human being and not a robot, there’s no way of knowing exactly when they will start to drop enough feeds to lower prolactin levels enough or estrogen and progesterone to take over again.
Listen to your body, and if you’re concerned about your period, make an appointment to chat things through with your doctor.
WHAT WILL MY PERIOD BE LIKE IF I’M STILL BREASTFEEDING?
If your period does return before you stop breastfeeding, it might be a little different to how it was before you had your baby- but the same stands for anyone who doesn’t choose to breastfeed too.
As you start reducing the amount of feeds your baby takes, you might notice some spotting before your period returns properly. If your period is irregular while you’re breastfeeding, its a good idea to track one or two cycles and if it’s still erratic after a month or two make an appointment to discuss this with your doctor.
Your period shouldn’t affect your milk supply, and there’s no reason why you should stop breastfeeding just because your cycle has resumed.