The body is a pretty amazing machine. When you’re too hot, you sweat. When your body needs to beat an infection, you develop a fever to fight it. And when you give birth, your body takes a bit of time to recover before you can get pregnant again.
Getting pregnant too soon after giving birth is linked to negative outcomes in both birthing parents and babies, so healthcare providers recommend waiting at least 18 months to do so. Your body can help you out with a bit of that, but most folks will notice their period returning before that time. This is why most healthcare providers recommend starting an effective form of birth control during the postpartum period (the weeks after giving birth).
When might my cycle return after giving birth?
Some women notice their menstrual cycles returning as early as 5 or 6 weeks postpartum, while others may not have theirs return for up to 18 months. This length of time is dependent in part on how you feed your little one.
The same hormones that signal your body to start producing milk also prevent ovulation and menstruation. Your body will produce these hormones for up to 18 months after birth if you are exclusively breastfeeding, which means that you probably won’t menstruate (or ovulate) for at least the first few months postpartum, and possibly even as long as you breastfeed exclusively. Your menstrual cycle is more likely to resume if you’re taking long breaks between breastfeeding sessions (such as at night), or when a child starts eating solid foods around 6 months old.
Can I get pregnant before my period returns?
Yes, which is why it’s so important to use contraception (birth control) in the 18 months after giving birth, even if you’re exclusively breastfeeding. When your cycle does return, you may ovulate before your first period. This means that there may be an egg available for fertilization before you even know that your cycle has started again. Using an effective contraceptive method like birth control pills, an IUD, or an implant is the smartest way to make sure that you avoid conceiving again before you’re ready.
The bottom line
While your cycle may return as early as 5 or 6 weeks postpartum, or may not return until 18 months postpartum, it all depends on how you feed your baby. If you’re breastfeeding exclusively, and never taking long breaks, it’s possible that your cycle will hold off for 6 to 9 months or longer. If you bottle-feed exclusively, 6 weeks may be a better bet. However, this is different for every woman.
Either way, because you can be fertile before you notice that your cycle has returned, it’s best to use an effective form of contraception, even if you’re breastfeeding exclusively. You should speak with your healthcare provider if you have any questions about when your cycle might return.
- Jen O’Quinn. “Natural Child Spacing and Breastfeeding.” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, October 14 2007. Web.
- “When will my period start again after pregnancy?” NHS Choices. Gov.UK, March 24 2015. Web.
- “Your body after baby: The first 6 weeks.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes. Web.