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The Menstrual Cycle: Postpartum edition. Advice for you & Holly's personal postpartum journey.

The postpartum period is a remarkable phase in a woman's life, marked by various adjustments and transformations. Among these changes, the return of the menstrual cycle holds significant importance. This journey isn't uniform for everyone; it's influenced by an array of factors, including breastfeeding, hormonal fluctuations, stress, sleep patterns, potential nutrient deficiencies, and health conditions like postpartum thyroiditis.

What is a normal period postpartum ?

For breastfeeding women, the reoccurrence of menstruation follows diverse paths. It might make its appearance as early as 4-6 weeks post childbirth, depending on the combination of breastfeeding and bottle feeding, or it could hold off until breastfeeding ceases altogether. Postpartum periods may deviate from the pre-pregnancy norm. Irregular cycles, changes in flow intensity, and alterations in blood color can all be part of the picture. If you're breastfeeding you may notice a temporary dip in milk supply just before or during the initial days of your bleed.

In my case, my period returned at the 3 months postpartum mark while exclusively breastfeeding. My first period that came was lighter, browner in colour and lasted longer than before, both in the length of my bleed and the duration of my cycle. I had also began experiencing brown discharge during ovulation along with heightened emotions. At the time I was going through a lot of changes, bub was experiencing gut issues, which was impacting his sleep and thus impacting mine. I have now had three periods since and with each menstruation noticing more normality and regularity.

Typically, it can take 6 months for your hormones to start to balance out and normalise to what they were pre-pregnancy. However, this is not always the case, women who are exclusively breastfeeding produce higher prolactin levels to stimulate milk production which can interfere with oestrogen and progesterone levels which prolongs hormone balancing. It is normal for out hormones to fluctuate during postpartum periods, however there are ways in which we can support and regulate them.

The importance of nutritional support

As always, nutrition has a critical role in supporting our hormones postpartum. The nutritional demands during breastfeeding are considerable, and replenishing these stores benefits both mother and bub. There are some specific foods can play a pivotal role in supporting hormone health:

1. Fats and a focus on omega-3 fatty acids: Incorporating healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids provides the essential building blocks for hormone production and inflammation regulation.

Food sources include;

- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)

- Oysters

- Chia, flax and hemp seeds

- Walnuts

- Seaweed

2. Protein: Adequate protein intake provides amino acids that are necessary to support hormone synthesis and balance, while also contributing to stable blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 25 grams per serving, food sources include;

- Lean meat and fish (Beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, salmon).

- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)

- Dairy products (Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese and ricotta)

- Eggs

- Tofu

- Quinoa

- Green peas

- Chia & hemp seeds

3. Fibre: A diet rich in fibre from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes aids in blood sugar regulation, promotes gut health, and assists in the elimination of excess oestrogen through regular bowel motions. Some food sources include;

- Wholegrain (such as oats, brown rice, quinoa, wholewheat)

- Fruits (berries, apples, pears and oranges)

- Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, leafy greens)

- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)

- Nuts & seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, almonds)

Additional considerations when balancing hormones postpartum

Beyond nutritional choices, certain practices can significantly contribute to nurturing hormonal balance during the postpartum phase:

1. Foundational Supplements: Supplementation during postpartum period can help establish and regulate hormone production and support the nervous system. These include:

  • High quality prenatal

  • Omega 3's

  • Iron

  • Magnesium

  • Probiotics

  • Vitamin D

Of course when thinking about supplementation, it is important to find high quality supplements with the guidance of a practitioner, if you need support book in a consultation with one of our practitioners here.

2. Supporting Stress levels

High stress and anxiety levels can disrupt hormone regulation. Prolonged stress can increase cortisol levels which can impact the production of sex hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone which impacts the menstrual cycle and ovulation.

Supporting stress levels can be challenging when we have a new baby. Simple strategies that we can implement include;

  • Going for a walk or sitting outside in the fresh air

  • Enjoying your favourite meal without distractions

  • A long shower and pampering yourself with washing your hair.

  • Legs up the wall or meditation before bed.

  • Call on your support network and get out of the house for even an hour.

3. Sleep

Sleep deprivation or lack of sleep can have significant impact on your hormones postpartum. Lack of sleep can disrupt oestrogen and progesterone levels exacerbating hormonal shifts leading to irregular menstrual cycles, vaginal dryness and altered moods. Sleep deprivation can lead to elevated cortisol levels and as mentioned above can impact the production of our sex hormones. Now unfortunately we cannot control how much sleep we have however there are simple ways in which we can support ourselves to achieve as much restful sleep as possible.

  • Establishing a bedtime routine: Avoiding blue lights before bed, meditation or stretching to help our body switch to parasympathetic nervous system activation.

  • Supplementation such as magnesium, or adaptogen herbs to help support the nervous system and promote a restful sleep.

  • Resting during the day while your baby is sleeping. This is easier said than done however if you have had a rough night sleep, trying to prioritise at least one restful period during the day. This could look like having a cup of tea on the couch or laying outside for 5 minutes.

  • Leaning on your partner for support in the middle of the night, asking them to do a resettle, change a nappy or bottle feed, to give you some extra rest.

4. Gentle Exercise

Gentle exercise postpartum (once you have been cleared by your healthcare physician) can be beneficial in balancing your hormones. Engaging in gentle exercises like brisk walks, yoga, pilates, or strength training can regulate cortisol, support insulin levels, promote thyroid function, and trigger the release of endorphins – all vital for hormone health. Finding places with a crèche may be easier to commit to regular movement.

The postpartum period is a major life transition marked by adaptation and transformation. As your body finds its rhythm once again, embracing the changes in menstruation with understanding and care can lead to a more harmonious experience. Remember that each person's journey is individual; the key is to support your body's requirements and honour the transformations it undergoes.

If you feel like you need some nurturing or 1:1 support during this phase of life, get in touch with us.

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