The first few hours and days after giving birth are a shock to your emotions, your sleep cycle and your body. One of the biggest post-pregnancy surprises is the bleeding.
The first time around, it could remind you of a horror movie…or of middle school (or the horror of middle school) since you’re not allowed to use tampons for at least a few weeks and you’ll revisit the oversized diaper-like pads you probably haven’t seen the likes of since your first few periods.
Only this isn’t even a period. This post-labor bleeding, called lochia, can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks and every postpartum mom can expect it whether she delivers vaginally or via Caesarean section. Sometimes lochia seems to have stopped…only to start back up with a vengeance so it can be confusing whether it is, in fact, lochia or the return of your period.
“Lochia contains a lot of blood, and can look like a period but it comes out in gushes or flows and may contain tissue from lining of uterus,” says women’s health expert, Dr. Jennifer Wider, MD, but she adds that, “as time goes on, it should thin out, become more watery and lightens in color to look less like a period.”
Once you’re confident that lochia has come and gone, when you expect your first post-pregnancy period varies from woman to woman and “Whether or not you are breastfeeding is probably the most crucial factor in figuring out when your period will return after you have a baby,” says Wider, “Women are not breastfeeding get their period 6-8 weeks after delivery, on average.”
If you are nursing, Wider says that usually means a longer delay in the return of your period but, again, every woman is different. Keep those pads around until your 4 or 6-week follow-up appointment when, as long as you don’t have an infection, your doctor will likely clear you to use tampons (or your other favorite non-pad options) again.
In addition to your new found appreciation for pads and your back stock of pre-pregnancy tampons, keep a variety of options on hand, with varying levels of absorbency. Your period could return heavier than ever for a the first few months or lighter than you experienced in the past. You really won’t know until you get there and the first few cycles could be irregular until your body regulates and, perhaps, until you return to birth control.
If you get a prescription at your follow-up, you might find your cycles return to your norm pretty quickly but if you delay your return to birth control, think back to your periods sans birth control. After the first few (likely unusual) cycles, your periods might resemble those you had years ago, before you ever went on the pill for the first time or the time you spent off birth control while trying to get pregnant.
Yet again, Wider says this can be unpredictable and anything goes as far as your post-pregnancy period so, just like with your new baby, be prepared for surprises!