Your period after baby
After its months-long hiatus, your postpartum period might return with a vengeance—or a whisper—and stay that way for years. Here’s what’s going on.
The easiest way to tell that Liz Grey* has her period is to check out the size of her purse. When Aunt Flo arrives for her brutal, stormy visits, Liz switches to a tote bag to lug around her box of super-plus tampons. For those five days a month, life gets tricky: Her commute causes panic if she gets stuck in traffic, and long meetings have her nipping out to the washroom with her purse for her tampons’ hourly change. “My periods have always been heavy and crampy,” she says. But after two kids, now seven and two, it’s gotten gorier than an episode of The Walking Dead.
Then there’s Nicole Forrest*, 37. Before she had her baby, her periods were hellish, thanks to endometriosis (a condition that causes uterine cells to grow outside of the uterus), with excruciating pain and violent diarrhea. But when she got her first postpartum period seven months after giving birth, she was delighted to find that the pain had all but vanished. “It’s still heavy, but I have none of the other symptoms. It’s such a huge relief!”
And for Lillian Brown, 37, a mom of two kids ages three and six, trying to track her post-kids period is futile. “Between the spotting and the actual period, I’m seeing some form of blood half of the month.”
So why do some women’s periods worsen, other’s improve, and some just go haywire, after having kids?
In theory, the period you had pre-pregnancy is the period you should have post-pregnancy. If you’re not breastfeeding, you can expect your period to return about 10 weeks postpartum (some women might not get it until much later, though), and at about 20 weeks if you are, though that, too, ranges wildly. The delayed onset of menstruation for breastfeeding moms is thanks to prolactin, a hormone that encourages milk production and can inhibit ovulation. Don’t be alarmed if it takes longer than the 20-week mark—some women’s periods won’t return for a year after they stop breastfeeding. And afterward? Well, all bets are off.
Worse than before
For Lillian and Liz, whose periods changed dramatically post-baby, it’s important to note a common factor: Both women had been on the pill from when they became sexually active teens until they decided to conceive in their 30s. And since the “period” you have when you’re on the pill isn’t a natural period, but rather withdrawal bleeding from the 21 days of synthetic hormones, discovering your real cycle can be a shock. “Any form of hormonal contraception, whether it’s the pill or an intrauterine device (IUD), can cause lighter periods,” says Stephanie Rhone, an OB/GYN at BC’s Women’s Hospital and Health Centre in Vancouver. Your newly heavy period might just be your natural, unsuppressed cycle.
There are other factors than can cause heavy, painful periods that have nothing to do with childbirth, and everything to do with just being a woman, including uterine fibroids or polyps, and weight gain.
“If you put on weight, you produce more of your own estrogen in the fat cells of your body, and this can influence how long and heavy your periods are,” says Doug Black, formerly an…