After having a baby, basically every aspect of life changes. Your daily routine, sleep, and body are different, and you may even notice that certain menstrual cycle symptoms change after pregnancy, sometimes becoming a lot more obvious than they were before. These changes aren't necessarily more painful or bothersome, but just might stick around for the long haul.
Part of adjusting to life after a baby is accepting that just about everything, especially your body, will never be exactly as it was before. "One thing I always like to share with women postpartum is that the goal is not to 'get your old body back' but instead establish and adapt to a new normal," certified midwife Betsy Arreguin, DNP, CNM, tells Romper. This is true in a lot of aspects, but especially with your menstrual cycle. It's not only your anatomy that contributes to these changes, though. Kathryn Sullivan, FNP, a nurse practitioner with Marshall Medical Center's OB-GYN department, notes that some changes in menstrual cycle symptoms "may be physical and some may be a result of the change in environment, now that it includes an infant."
Your body and mind went through a major transformation when you gave birth, and you will likely be reminded of that every month in one way or another. In time, you'll adjust to your new normal. But for now, you might want to prepare yourself to deal with the following symptoms.
1. Cycle Regularity
If you had a regular cycle prior to pregnancy, that may not be the case postpartum. This is especially true for women who breastfeed. Arreguin says, "Cycles can also be variable if you’re breastfeeding... [but] once you are done breastfeeding is when your cycles should become more predictable." Additionally, she notes that women who use progesterone birth control (like the IUD) may also notice irregularities in their cylcle. She advises women to track their cycle "to tune in and become aware of your norms so you can easily recognize changes."
While few things can compare to the pain of labor contractions, menstrual cramps post-pregnancy try their best to compete. There is a valid reason for the increased cramping, says Arreguin. It's because "the uterine cavity can be slightly different in size post-baby [which causes] changes in flow and crampiness." Since this is such a frequent complaint among postpartum women, Sullivan says clinicians at her practice often "implant a progesterone IUD which reduces flow and cramps."
Another thing many moms notice post-baby is a change in their menstrual flow. Sullivan says, "This happens in about 50% of women." The reason for this change actually has to do with the placenta rather than the baby. She says during pregnancy the placenta "[digs] into the wall of uterus for many months," which results in "the uterine lining [being] more reactive during periods" after pregnancy. Sullivan explains that this intensified symptom "can last for several years before subsiding."
4. Mood Swings (Sort Of)
Both Sullivan and Arreguin say mood swings/symptoms tend to change after pregnancy, but there isn't one single reason for this. Sullivan explains that "mood symptoms are more difficult to assess because not only is a woman experiencing the physical symptoms of a change in hormones, but they also are now dealing with the stress and challenges of having a child and becoming a parent." Arreguin points out that if mood swings are truly caused by a woman's menstrual cycle, they will be predictive. "Worsening or ongoing mood swings post-baby can also be a sign of postpartum depression or anxiety," says Arreguin, "It’s important to check in with yourself [because] if you’re feeling moody or on edge more often than not, something more than just PMS may be going on," at which point she suggests talking to your health care provider.
Just like parenting gets a little easier over time, the changes in your menstrual cycle will become less intense. "As women get into their 40s, we see symptoms start to fade," Sullivan says. Additionally, she says, "if mood swings are related to changes in life [as opposed to] physiological, that will get better as the kids grow up." If any of your symptoms are getting in the way of daily living, consult with your health care provider, and otherwise, just lean into the change like you are with all the others going on in your life.
Kathryn Sullivan, FNP, of Marshall OB-GYN