Lochea vs. Menstruation
For the first month or two after childbirth, you may experience discharge from the uterus that looks just like a period, although the discharge may be much stronger than a period during right after childbirth. This is similar to menstruation, and is called “lochea.” Lochea is made up of blood and necrotic tissue, and it may have a fishy smell.This discharge exists in women who have a c-section as well.
Women who have had a premature baby may experience less lochia, and women who have had twins may experience more lochia. In any of these cases, the lochia is not considered “the first menstruation after childbirth,” although it does occur because the uterus is discharging the material that lined the uterus during childbirth.
When Should Menstruation Return?
After having a baby, many women wonder when their menstruation will return. The timing of the first menstruation after childbirth depends on several factors, the most essential of which is whether the mother is breastfeeding her baby. Women who do not breastfeed may experience their first period within a month after delivery, with about 80 percent of them getting their period within twelve weeks after delivery.
Although some women who do breastfeed menstruate this early as well, most of them experience delayed menstruation until at least six months after delivery. For as long as the baby is exclusively breastfeeding, the chance of the mother’s periods returning is relatively low, but once the baby starts eating solid foods or sleeping for longer stretches at night without breastfeeding, the chances of the mother “nursing clean” (without a period) decreases. Surprisingly, however, there are some mothers who are still nursing older toddlers and do not get their periods until they stop nursing completely.
Return of Ovulation
For women who are used to ovulating every month, it may surprise them to realize that ovulation does not necessarily return with the first menstrual cycle after childbirth. Some women may have anovulatory periods (menstruation without ovulation) until they stop breastfeeding completely. Others may ovulate before they even get their first period after childbirth. In fact, women can even have ovulatory cycles some months and anovulatory cycles other months.
Time Between Periods
The time between your periods can also seem to go haywire after childbirth, especially if you are breastfeeding. Because breastfeeding affects your body’s ability to ovulate, it may cause you to get your period more or less often than usual. In fact, some people may get their first period and then not get another for six months or more, if they are still breastfeeding.
Periods After Childbirth
The first menstruation after childbirth can be extremely painful, basically because your body isn’t used to ovulation and menstruation anymore. The period may also have a very heavy flow during the first menstrual cycle. After this cycle, some women have the same amount of pain and the same type of flow that they experienced before pregnancy. Others continue to have heavier and more painful periods for several more cycles.
At some point, however, the flow should return to its normal rate. Not only that, but most women say that after the first few cycles, their menstrual cramping is considerably more tolerable after childbirth than it was before pregnancy, possibly due to the fact that the uterus and cervix stretched during pregnancy and labor. Some women who had extremely irregular cycles (such as those with PCOS) may discover that their cycles regulate themselves after childbirth as well.
This post is part of the series: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Breastfeeding
Geared towards new and expecting mothers, this series of articles discusses various aspects of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.