And I’m not just talking a little heavier than before. I’m talking the final series of Game of Thrones, carnage on the battlefield at King’s Landing, heavy. Constant toilet checks, leaking through jeans, changing tampons hourly.
Super plus, extra heavy. Who even knew those purple boxes existed? Not me. Not until I had two children.
After I finished breastfeeding, my periods came back with a vengeance. And still now, those really heavy days may only last 48 hours in the middle of my cycle, but during that time it can be hard to think about anything else.
Yet seemingly, and somewhat reassuringly, I’m not alone. Many of my closest friends are now shopping for the type of tampons I used to imagine were only useful to plug a leak or hole in the wall – because they’re massive.
[Read more: 1 In 5 Young Women Has Been Period-Shamed]
One friend told me she’d had relatively normal periods before having children, but experienced much heavier blood loss since having her second. She visited her GP and was booked in for a hysteroscopy – a procedure used to examine the inside of the womb. “Everything was fine, which was a relief,” she said.
She was told she had a low platelet count, which meant her blood couldn’t form clots, and was prescribed Vitamin K. She chose to have a hormonal IUD (coil) fitted, which after two months, she says, stopped her heavy bleeding. “It 100% worked for me,” she said. “The amount I was bleeding has improved massively.”
Another friend told me she didn’t notice any change in her menstrual cycle after having her first child, but since having the second they’re in “another realm of heavy”. She’s also a lot more irregular than before – her periods last longer, and stop-and-start.
“It’s really inconvenient because it’s not practical when you have two children to go to the toilet at least every two hours,” she said. “I’d never even heard of the heavy absorbency products before, and now I’m using them. Otherwise, I’ll leak.” After a series of blood tests at the doctors, she was told she had low iron. “They gave me supplements and told me different contraceptive devices might help,” she added.
So, what’s causing our heavy periods after childbirth? Of course, this may not happen to everyone, and some women may go back to regular periods soon after welcoming their child. As with many medical scenarios, it can vary depending on the individual – but these are some possible causes:
The body takes time to recover after giving birth, and may not settle into a regular ‘routine’ for many months postpartum.
If you’re breastfeeding, the hormones that support that can delay ovulation, cause irregular periods, or stop them altogether. (But don’t be fooled if you’re not bleeding, you can still get pregnant.)
If you’ve suffered with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, you may have had irregular periods since before giving birth. Or, you may not ever have known you had these conditions. “Often the mother is totally unaware that she has a gynaecological problem because she’s been able to get pregnant and have a baby,” says reproductive medicine specialist Dr Andrew Orr.
It Might Not Be A ‘Period’
If you’ve only very recently given birth, you may be concerned about a type of heavy bleeding called lochia. This isn’t a period, but a natural discharge after childbirth that can be dark red. You may also pass clots. The bleeding should get lighter over days or weeks, until it turns clear.
Although there are many contraceptive options that help to regulate periods, copper IUDs (the ‘copper coil’) do not contain any hormones and can cause periods to become heavier, particularly in the first three months after insertion.
[Read More: Is My Period Normal? How To Know When To See A GP]
What To Do
See your GP if you have any concerns or notice significant changes in your menstrual cycle. According to Dr Diane Young, it’s essential to seek medical advice if you’re experiencing any of the following:
Very heavy bleeding that soaks through more than a pad per hour, for more than two hours
Bleeding with a fever
Passing clots that are larger than a golf ball.