Anyone who has given birth has experienced the postpartum hormone changes. Shifts in your mood and menstrual cycle can be expected after having a baby, but when might you be experiencing a hormonal imbalance?
In this post we focus on the timeline of normal hormonal changes and when you might want to seek out help from a care provider.
The information in this post came from the conversation I had with Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND on my podcast Bringing Up Baby. Dr. Ashley is a naturopathic doctor at Cornerstone Naturopathic in Tantallon as well as Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She specializes in burnout and hormone health. She also hosts The Superwoman Code Podcast.
How Long Is Postpartum?
The postpartum period is actually 18 months long.
To consider the full postpartum period, we have to take into account the hormonal shifts, the first three to six months of the return of your period and your baby’s growth patterns.
Postpartum Hormonal Changes Timeline
The hormonal changes that happen postpartum are usually very predictable and universal, just like the milestones that your baby experiences. Knowing this, it can be easy to tell what is a normal hormone “blip” (as Dr. Ashley calls them) or what is abnormal and should be investigated.
What Are Postpartum Hormone Blips?
Hormone blips happen because of predictable hormone cycles. The dates mentioned below can vary a bit, just like our menstrual cycles.
Your hormones turn over every 3 cycles, so if your cycle is 28 days or 35 days, that will change how long your “months” are postpartum.
Running On Adrenaline
Within the first few months postpartum you are likely running on adrenaline. With the lack of sleep and stress, your body finds a way to survive. However you can only run on adrenaline for approximately 11.5 weeks.
With proper nutrition you can help your body stop using adrenaline and kick in to a normal cortisol response, which will help stabilize your estrogen and progesterone production.
First Week After Birth
Within the first week after giving birth you have a drop in progesterone, since it is produced by the placenta. Your estrogen levels will drop as well, but not as quickly.
You also have a spike in oxytocin which is so important for bonding between you and your baby.
With all the hormone changes, you are at the highest risk for postpartum psychosis in the first 5-7 days postpartum.
For most women, they get past this blip quickly, or get the help they need since you are still being seen by your healthcare professionals on a regular basis.
4 Weeks Postpartum
At about 4 weeks postpartum, you should expect a blip that lasts about 2 -3 days. You may feel “off”, you may feel like you are grieving your past life, or more anxious than normal.
6 Weeks Postpartum
At about 6 weeks postpartum you can expect another blip that lasts 24-48 hours. It may feel more like anxiety.
8 Weeks Postpartum
Expect another blip around 8 weeks that lasts for 2-3 days.
12 Weeks (3 Months) Postpartum
Around 12 weeks, you’ll experience another blip.
6 Months Postpartum
You have another little blip at the six month mark.
9 Months Postpartum
And again you’ll experience a blip around the 9 month mark.
12 Months Postpartum
Coming up to your baby’s first birthday, you can expect another blip, however this time it could last upwards of a week.
Usually around this time you’re feeling a lot of emotions about your baby’s birthday, however if you took maternity leave, you may also be going back to work and your baby starting daycare. It can be stressful and hard emotionally, but you’re also experiencing a hormone and neurological turnover.
Read more about preparing your baby for daycare
12 - 18 Months Postpartum
Because of everything that is happening around the 12 month mark, you’re likely in an adjustment phase of going back to work and having more on your plate.
Around 18 months your hormones tend to stabilize.
What Does a Blip Feel Like?
So what does a blip feel like? For most people it means just feeling “off”. You may feel a bit more anxious or sad. You’ll likely feel a drop in energy as well.
When we know when and what to expect, it makes it easier to recognize and know that we need to take care of ourselves!
Does Breastfeeding Make A Difference?
When you breastfeed, the hormone prolactin is higher, which typically means your period comes back later. It can also suppress estrogen and progesterone, but breastfeeding, or not breastfeeding doesn’t tend to change the hormone blips.
How To Support Your Postpartum Hormones
So now that we know about the blips, what can we do about them?
Recognise The Blips
Talk to your partner or support people about the blips and what might be helpful during this time. It’s also 100% okay to say no to any commitments!
Food is one of the most important things you can focus on, especially during the first 3 months postpartum as your body is recovering from birth.
A lot of us decrease our nutrition because it’s the last thing on our plates (pun intended), but focus on getting enough protein, and nutrient dense food like fruits and vegetables.
Obviously you are going to lose sleep when you have a baby, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rest!
On blip days, focus on rest when possible. Chores and other commitments can wait! This is a great time to ask your partner and/or support people for help.
Putting It All Together
We know that these blips exist, but what if you’re still unsure whether or not what you’re feeling is normal or something you should see your healthcare provider about?
First, talk to your partner or close support people. Ask them how they think you are handling things. Chat with them about what support you need.
Assemble a team of professionals like a Naturopath (like Dr. Ashley), New Parent Educator and a Maternal Mental Health Professional (like me) and your family doctor to bring your concerns to.
Know that you don’t have to do this alone!
Both Lindsey and Ashley contribute to the blog! Sometimes also with guests and sometimes from conversations with guests :)