Post-pregnancy periods: What’s “normal” and what isn't?

Creating life, pregnancy, birth, miscarriage - this phase of life is one of the biggest things your body will go through. But what about afterwards, when will periods come back?

No one really prepares you for post-pregnancy. Sure, you know about not getting a lot of sleep, babies cry a lot, lots of dirty nappies and so on. But what no one tells us about is what can happen to our cycle post-pregnancy. 

Why do some women get their periods back within weeks of giving birth, while others can go more than a year before they menstruate again? And what’s with them being so different postpartum, compared to how they were before you fell pregnant?

How long after giving birth will my period come back?

The age-old question and one where there is no real answer. For many women, if you aren’t breastfeeding, they could return in as little as three, but usually around eight weeks post-pregnancy. 

For those who exclusively breastfeed, it could be until you stop exclusively breastfeeding before your period comes back. For many women though, it is somewhere in between, and it’s not something that can be predicted. 

What you do need to be aware of, if you are breastfeeding, whether exclusively or mixed feeding, is that your period may affect your milk supply and your baby may not like the taste of the milk for those few days. It shouldn’t affect your ability to feed, but you might just notice some subtle changes.

A baby is lying on its back, it is holding the finger of an adult. The image is out of focus except for the little hand and finger

What to expect for post-pregnancy periods

This is such an individualised area, and while some women may not take very long to get back into their cycles, for others it can take a little while. 

We need to remember that our body has just had at least a nine-month break and it does need to get used to menstruation again. 

Some things you may experience include:

  • Cramping that might be stronger or might be lighter
  • Small blood clots
  • Heavier flow
  • Blood flow that stops and starts 
  • Increased pain 
  • Irregular cycle lengths 

You should expect that your first period after giving birth is likely to be heavier than normal, and this might continue for the next two to three periods. If you’ve never experienced a lot of pain with your periods before, you may feel the difference in cramping. 

If your bleeding continues to be heavy for each period, more than it normally would be, it's important to make an appointment with your doctor (GP)

Thyroid problems and adenomyosis can cause your bleeding to be a lot heavier, and because adenomyosis is a thickening of the uterine wall, you may notice a lot more pain associated with your cycle.

For those women who have had endometriosis before pregnancy, you might find your body goes the opposite way, and you bleed a lot less than normal. 

It is important that if something doesn’t feel right or seem right, or your cycle has massively changed, to make a booking with your GP or gynecologist. So many things can change in your body during pregnancy and postpartum, that it is better to have any issues checked out and worries looked at. 

Lochia or period?

However you gave birth, naturally or cesarean, you can expect some bleeding to happen in the weeks following. This is your body shedding the blood and tissue that lined your uterus while pregnant, so it’s normal for this bleeding to be heavy and clotty - although those clots shouldn’t be too large. 

The bleeding will then give way to lochia which is a body fluid that can be creamy white to red. This bleeding and discharge after birth can hang around for up to six weeks. If it stops for a period of time, and then you start bleeding again, this is likely your period starting. 

Post-pregnancy symptoms to look out for that aren’t right

We know our body changes with pregnancy, so what kind of symptoms should we be looking out for when it comes to your first periods and cycle back after giving birth that isn’t quite right? 

This list isn’t exhaustive but it will give you an idea:

  • soaking through more than one pad every hour
  • bleeding that’s accompanied by sudden and severe pain
  • fever
  • bleeding continuously for more than seven days
  • blood clots that are bigger than a softball
  • foul-smelling discharge
  • severe headache
  • trouble breathing
  • pain while urinating

These symptoms may indicate that something more is going on, like retained placenta, mastitis or another type of infection. These issues can turn really bad if left for too long, so a quick phone call to the maternity unit (if within the first few weeks after giving birth), a trip to your GP, or if after hours a trip to the emergency room, is important. 

Following birth it can take some time for your cycle to regulate again, so you may notice irregular periods, or bleeding that fluctuates in length or intensity of bleeding. You may have one period and then skip another, or you may have one, and then a second one follows closely. Your body has just spent nine months growing a baby, it will take some time to even itself out again. 

If something does seem off following birth, or you’re just not sure if everything is as it should be, don't hesitate to contact your GP.

Want to discover more?

Explore our database of everyone working towards menstrual equality in Australia.

Inclusivity note

Within this article, we may use the terms she, her, woman, girl or daughter. We understand that not all people with uteruses who are assigned female at birth menstruate, and not everyone who menstruates identifies as a female, girl or woman. For more information on this, please see our article about the importance of gender inclusivity when discussing periods and menstruation.

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