What to Expect From Your First Postpartum Period
Welcome to POPSUGAR Uninhibited, a space where anyone with a period can come for advice, recommendations and support. Here, we’ll tackle topics like PMS, sustainability, post-partum periods and bring you first-person experiences in our period diaries. We also want to raise awareness around period poverty, with the aim to ignite change with the help of our launch partner Modibodi and charity partner Share the Dignity. You can find all of the stories here.
The postpartum journey is different for everyone, but it’s often an incredibly intense time in your life. Between the changes in your body and hormones to the adjustment to parenthood, there is a lot happening in the first weeks and months after birth.
There tends to be a lot of mystery about this time, with people rarely discussing the tough experiences they encounter after having a baby. To help demystify the process, leak-proof underwear brand Modibodi recently partnered with Getty Images to bring Postpartum Unfiltered to the world.
Teaming up with photographers from Getty Images to bring Postpartum Unfiltered to life, this initiative is a library of real and raw images that represent the spectrum of experiences during the postpartum stage. The reality of this time is rarely depicted in the media and Modibodi wanted to right that wrong with this campaign.
In fact, 80 per cent of women Modibodi asked said that “postpartum is not realistically portrayed in the media”, while 90 per cent believe there is still a very real stigma in talking about how you feel postpartum. To get involved in this campaign, you can share your own real postpartum images on social media with the hashtag #PostpartumUnfiltered.
One such experience that occurs after giving birth but isn’t given a lot of airtime in the media is your first postpartum period. After months of period-free pregnancy, the first menstrual cycle after this can be a little different to what you’re used to. In order to help prepare you for what the first postpartum period will look and feel like, we turned to Dr Angela Rassi, a specialist GP and the co-founder of Sydney Perinatal Doctors.
When Does the First Postpartum Period Occur?
This is different for everyone given each body is unique, but generally, you can expect to experience your first period six to eight weeks after giving birth. Although, Dr Rassi notes that there is “a really wide variation in when they return to menstruation will occur.”
“In some instances, breastfeeding will suppress periods, but not always,” Dr Rassi told POPSUGAR Australia. “Periods can return anywhere from about six weeks postpartum for some women, to well after breastfeeding has ceased for others.”
The reason breastfeeding can put a stop to your period returning after birth is thanks to the hormone prolactin. It starts to rise during pregnancy and remains elevated within the body for those who breastfeed, as prolactin helps stimulate milk production.
“Prolactin has the effect of suppressing the hormones associated with regulating the menstrual cycle (luteinising hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone) so the normal hormonal processes required for a period cannot occur,” said Dr Rassi. “The level of prolactin needed to suppress a menstrual cycle will be different for everyone, but because prolactin is higher in breastfeeding women, periods will usually occur later.”
Will the First Postpartum Period Be Different?
Much like when your period returns, the experience of the first postpartum period will also differ. The pain, length and heaviness of the period will vary from person to person, so what you experience won’t be the same as what your friends do.
“Some women will find their periods are just like they were before they were pregnant,” said Dr Rassi. “Some will find they are heavier and shorter in duration. There may be clotting that wasn’t experienced before pregnancy. They can be more or less painful. They may not be regular at first, as hormones are still in the process of regulating. It’s really unpredictable!”
It’s common to experience a more painful first period after giving birth as you have a larger amount of uterine lining that needs to be shed — so if you didn’t experience much period pain before pregnancy, don’t fret if you experience it now.
Dr Rassi explains: “As with all periods, chemical signals called prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract to help expel the lining. These prostaglandins are also involved in pain signalling and inflammation, which is why some periods can be painful.”
How to Make the First Period Easier
Unfortunately, there’s no magic medicine to make the first period after giving birth a more pleasant experience. As stated before, some people won’t find it all that different to pre-pregnancy, while others might find this period far heavier and a bit more painful.
What you can do to make this experience a little easier is to equip yourself with helpful products. For Dr Rassi, that includes the following, “Two words: period undies! The unpredictability of when your period will return makes period undies the perfect choice, plus, it can also be helpful if you have issues with incontinence. Also, know that paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe to use when breastfeeding.”
Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.