Immediately following the birth of your baby, your blood loss will be bright red and slightly heavier than a normal period – though it shouldn’t exceed what can be managed with a sanitary pad every four hours. If it does, please refer to your midwife or doctor. The loss and blood flow will decrease over the next week, and the colour will alter to a paler red, then a brownish-red colour.
The discharge (also known as lochia) can become yellow-white in colour before it ceases. You will notice an odour, which is strong but not offensive. The blood flow should stop after a week or so, but light blood loss might last for about 6 weeks after the birth and is not a cause for concern – it differs for each woman. If you’re worried, contact your midwife or doctor for advice.
It's important that you use sanitary pads and not tampons after the birth of your baby. Tampons obstruct the blood flow and can encourage the growth of bacteria, which could lead to infection. Make sure you change your pad every four hours (or more often, if required) as bacteria can build up quite quickly, particularly in lochia.
Some women prefer to use the thicker maternity pads initially, as they are more padded and protective. When you are ready, you can always switch to ultra thin pads.
You should see your doctor if you notice any of the following:
- A persistent red discharge
- Large blood clots
- Sudden bright blood loss
- Offensive discharge or odour
- A tender uterus
The Return Of Your Period After Giving Birth
Of women who choose not to breastfeed, approximately 80% find their period has returned within 10 weeks. Breastfeeding can delay menstruation and ovulation for 20 weeks or more, but it is not uncommon to find your period returning sooner, or much later, than 20 weeks.
There are differences among individual women and their hormone levels, so it’s difficult to say when a period will recommence after childbirth. Some women find their period returns the very next month after the birth and at the other end of the scale, some women don’t menstruate until well after twelve months. For me it was even longer than that! I breastfed my first born until she was a little over two and then fell pregnant with baby number two. I didn’t have my period until my second born was 20 months old, when all overnight feeds had stopped.
When periods resume, it’s common for them to be heavier and/or more irregular than normal – often for months. Some women find that their first periods after baby are so heavy that they need to use both pads and tampons. This happened to me after my second born, so I saw a good friend of mine who is an acupuncturist, and I was blown away when he was able to regulate my cycle in one month – no more heavy bleeding. Acupuncture is a great, natural and safe option for cycle regulation. If you go down this path, make sure you find an acupuncturist who has a special interest in this area. It’s not essential, but when I approached my old osteopath, who also does acupuncture, I asked about cycle regulation and he looked uncomfortable. It’s usually a sports clinic and I guess he didn’t get many requests like that!
Find out HERE when BellyBelly members’ periods returned post-natally. There’s a poll as well as a discussion. Please bear in mind that the results are based on both breastfeeding mothers and bottle-feeding mothers, feeding at various intervals – so the results include a mix of all these scenarios.
It’s important to note that ovulation and menstruation don’t necessarily start up again at the same time. You might have your period without ovulation or you could ovulate and THEN get your first period shortly after. This means you might not know that you are ovulating yet, which is how some women get caught out, falling pregnant by surprise!
When Will I Ovulate Again After Giving Birth?
The chance that you will ovulate in the first six weeks post-birth is extremely slight. When you see your obstetrician or midwife for your six week post-birth appointment, it’s a good time to discuss starting contraceptives, if that’s what you want to do.
When a baby breastfeeds, the sucking sends signals to your pituitary to release prolactin. If you breastfeed frequently enough to produce high enough levels of prolactin (the threshold is unique for each woman), ovulation can be suppressed.
Exactly when you resume ovulating is hard to estimate. The longer you continue to breastfeed and the fewer feeds your baby has (as baby becomes older), the greater your chance of ovulation. Some women might not ovulate until they stop breastfeeding altogether.
A good way to find out if you might be ovulating – while breastfeeding or in general – is by observing your cervical mucus. See this article about cervical mucus observations. When my first born was two and still occasionally breastfed, I learned about cervical mucus observations. One day soon after that, I noticed that I had highly fertile mucus, so I was able to spot that I was ovulating again. As a result, I was able to fall pregnant with my second child on that cycle. Of course, mucus observation can be used as a tool to avoid conception as well as achieve it. You can use other tools to confirm ovulation; for example, when you have fertile mucus, try using an ovulation prediction test kit or charting your temperatures.
Breastfeeding can be a good contraceptive (approximately 2% failure rate), as long as all of the following apply to you:
- Your baby is exclusively breastfed
- Baby is less than six months old
- You have not yet had a normal menstrual period since the birth
- Breastfeeds are no longer than 4-6 hours apart
- You avoid using dummies/pacifiers
Signs Of Fertility Returning After Giving Birth
It can be very tricky to pin point when you’re fertile again. Signs that your fertility is returning include:
- An increased sex drive – read why your libido is lower when breastfeeding
- Increased cervical mucus. Right after a normal period you are most infertile, and you might have noticed you are pretty dry. The mucus changes, depending on the stage of cycle you are in and how fertile you are – ‘dry’ is infertile, ‘sticky’ mucus is also infertile, ‘wet’ means slightly fertile, but ‘egg white' cervical mucus is fertile mucus (not to be confused with semen after having sex!). Read more about cervical mucus and fertility.