Let's Talk About Postpartum Periods
The Anatomy of a Healthy Period
Many of us in the healthcare community think of the menstrual cycle as a woman’s fifth vital sign. There are many resources available to us to determine what constitutes a normal and healthy menstrual cycle, but nothing that focuses on periods after pregnancy. Therefore, I created a survey last month to help better understand a woman’s experience. While only 41 women responded, the results have been interesting:
- The time at which a woman’s period returned ranged between right away to 24 months
- Many women experienced a return of their period at 3, 6, and 8 months postpartum
- About 70% of women experienced a cycle that was ‘different’ from their normal
- 58% experienced new symptoms, the majority being a heavier flow
- Almost 88% now experience a regular cycle
While every woman’s experience is different, there are certain factors associated with a normal period:
The average cycle lasts between 21 and 35 days. It’s incredibly important to remember that spotting at the beginning of your period does not mark day 1. Day 1 of your cycle occurs in conjunction with a heavy flow. An easy way to track your cycle is through a menstrual cycle app. I’m using Clue right now, but have also used P Tracker Lite in the past.
The average length of flow is between 2-7 days, with a heavy flow denoting the first day. An extremely short period or long period may be indicative of a hormonal imbalance.
Amount of blood lost
The average amount of blood lost during a cycle is 20-60mL. Anything above 80mL is not normal and should be assessed by your medical or naturopathic doctor. Losing an excessive amount of blood per cycle can contribute to iron deficiency anemia, which may result in symptoms including: a lower body temperature, cool hands and feet, hair loss, and restless legs syndrome. Tracking blood loss can be difficult for women using tampons and pads because they have different absorbencies and it can be hard to quantify how much fluid has actually been absorbed. A simpler way to quantify how much blood is being lost is by using a menstrual cup.
Did you know that women shouldn’t be experiencing anything more than a slight cramping on the first day of their cycle? It’s true! If you find yourself skipping a day of work and are curled up in the fetal position, it’s time to see someone and get your hormones assessed! Painful periods can be a sign of hormonal imbalance and can even be due more serious concerns like endometriosis - a condition that sometimes takes over 5 years to diagnose!
Unfortunately not every woman will experience a normal period. Sometimes a period may be abnormal, making it necessary to know what constitutes a normal period. The first step is tracking your period, either with an app or simply on paper. This will provide good insight into what occurred in the last month, and how your body responded. If you’re a postpartum woman who has yet to experience your cycle, sadly there’s no clear idea of when to expect your period or if it will remain the same as the ones prior to pregnancy. That said, if you’re not yet experiencing a healthy period, a Naturopathic Doctor like myself can help support you and your hormones, and optimize your fifth vital sign!
PS. If you’d like to contribute to the postpartum period survey, you can access the link here.
Alexsia Priolo is a Toronto-based naturopath. Fnd out more about what she offers here.