Lochia, the bleeding women experience immediately postpartum, is sometimes joking referred to as "the mother of all periods" for a reason — it is much heavier, involves many more clots, and goes on for a much longer amount of time than a menstrual period.
While if you aren't breastfeeding, your normal menstruating will usually return between three and 10 weeks postpartum, if you do breastfeed exclusively for a longer period of time, you're likely to be "rewarded" for that nasty lochia by not having a period for... well, ages. Women who breastfeed for two years may not have a period for two years. Many women consider that to be an extremely nice side effect of breastfeeding!
What do you need to know about lactational amenorrhea, this "breastfeeding-induced period-free period"?
Can I Rely On Lactational Amenorrhea As A Form Of Birth Control?
Many people will tell you that you can't rely on lactational amenorrhea as a form of birth control, often going as far as to offer you stories of how they or someone they knew got pregnant unintentionally during this time. However, as long as your baby is less than six months old, breastfeeding exclusively, and you haven't had your period back yet, lactational amenorrhea is approximately 98 to 99.5 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Those odds are as good as those you'd have if you were on oral contraceptives! The conditions I mentioned are important though — fail to meet any of them, and you'll need another form of birth control if you don't want to get pregnant.
Note that the more often you breastfeed, the more likely you are to keep your period away. Expressing milk and offering it to your baby in a bottle doesn't have the same effect, unfortunately, however night nursing is thought to delay a woman's return to fertility.
So, When Can I Get Pregnant Again?
Some lucky women actually catch that first postpartum ovulation and conceive again without ever having had a period! They can then start the whole cycle again, enabling them to literally go without menstrual periods for years.
That is very rare though: most women will have anovulatory cycles as they before they return to fertility, meaning you are likely to be "warned" or "notified" (depending on whether or not you would like another pregnancy) that you will soon be able to get pregnant again by their menstrual periods. Even after a woman starts ovulating again, the uterine lining will often not be ready to support a pregnancy yet.
In other words, broadly speaking, you will know that you can soon get pregnant again when you start experiencing periods again. This is when you will need to go on birth control if you are hoping to prevent conception.
Did I Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Many women ask whether their cycles will immediately be regular after their periods return, some because they had one or two periods and then no more for a while, something that can lead them to wonder if they are pregnant. The short answer is that, just like your cycles are likely to be irregular as a young girl who recently started menstruating or as a woman who is approaching the menopause, your cycles are prone to unpredictability postpartum as well.
If your period returned and then "went into hiding" again, the only clues you'll have as to whether you are pregnant again or not are pregnancy symptoms and a pregnancy test result. When your periods are irregular, and you've not recently had menstrual cycles at all, it can be extremely hard to know when to take a pregnancy test, however. While a positive test points to pregnancy, negative tests do not necessarily mean you are not pregnant if you have no idea when you might have conceived. Repeating the test again a week from the last negative test is always a good idea, if your period has still not arrived (and you are not on any form of birth control).
If, however, you are on a (breastfeeding-compatible) progestin-only contraceptive and take it exactly as prescribed (that bit is important!), then you are highly unlikely to be pregnant, and a negative test result will only confirm that.
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