Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects people with female reproductive organs. Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can cause enlarged ovaries, abnormally long menstrual cycles, intense pelvic pain, excess hair growth, and loss of fertility. This syndrome affects about 10 million people worldwide, but the exact cause is unknown.

What is PCOS?

People are usually diagnosed with PCOS after puberty or when they are young adults—once their reproductive organs are up and running. PCOS is caused by an imbalance in androgens, insulin, and progesterone, but the exact cause of this imbalance is unknown. Doctors believe PCOS can be hereditary, can be caused by excess insulin in the body, low-grade inflammation, and excess androgens. This hormonal imbalance affects the ovaries and menstrual cycle, among other things. 

All people have a certain level of androgens (known as “male hormones”), but people with PCOS can have higher levels of androgens than the average person, which causes some of the symptoms of PCOS like acne, unwanted hair, and irregular menstrual cycles. Insulin also affects this syndome. If someone produces too much insulin, this causes an excess of androgens, which causes problems in the ovaries. And finally, if someone isn’t producing enough progesterone, this can also lead to problems with your menstrual cycle because progesterone is a hormone essential for your period. Even though this condition affects your ovaries, many people with PCOS don’t actually have cysts on their ovaries but do indeed have complications with this part of their body. Cysts on the ovaries are possible, however, and are caused by follicles or fluids on the ovaries that enlarge them and restrict their function.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Unfortunately, PCOS has a lot of symptoms, but fortunately, they can be managed in a number of ways. Many people with the syndrome experience long last periods with pelvic pain that is present even when they’re not menstruating. Excess hair growth known as hirsutism is another symptom due to the increased androgen levels. This excess hair can be on the face, back, chest, and other parts of the body. Infertility is also a big symptom of PCOS, although people can undergo hormone therapy if they have trouble conceiving, and many women with the syndrome can still conceive naturally. Other symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, thinning hair, acne, mood changes, headaches caused by hormonal changes, and sleep problems. 

How can I treat my PCOS?

Because of the varying insulin levels and weight gain that can accompany PCOS, doctors recommend weight loss and a healthy diet to help treat it and avoid diabetes and high blood pressure. The varying hormone levels do make it hard to lose weight and keep it off with PCOS, but doctors say even a five percent weight loss will help treat the syndrome and manage insulin levels. Additionally, doctors may treat PCOS with hormonal birth control to help regulate your period and lower your androgen levels which will help with the excess hair growth.

A drug called metformin can also be used to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. Metformin isn’t approved by the FDA for treating this syndrome, but it is often prescribed to help lower insulin and androgen levels. This drug can also improve menstrual cycles and help with weight management. It won’t treat the excess hair growth though. Because this drug isn’t approved by the FDA, it’s important to have an in-depth discussion with your doctor about taking metformin. Another drug called clomiphene is also used to treat PCOS because it helps induce ovulation, which can help with fertility issues. There are also many products specifically made to treat excess hair growth. 

Getting support for your diagnosis

Although PCOS is a serious syndrome with many symptoms, there are many options for treating it and managing it. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor and they can help diagnose you with a blood test to check your hormones, as well as a pelvic exam and ultrasound. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects a lot of women and can cause serious problems such as infertility and diabetes if untreated. The PCOS Awareness Association has a bunch of wonderful resources on their website such as in-depth information on each PCOS symptom, as well as specialists who treat PCOS. Although there is no cure for this syndrome, there are many ways to treat it and manage the symptoms. If you have PCOS, talk to your doctor about ways to manage it and know that you are not alone.

We often hear about the way someone’s body will change during pregnancy, but we don’t really talk much about how bodies change after pregnancy. For example, Chrissy Teigen’s Twitter page taught me that she had to wash herself with a little syringe after peeing when she first gave birth because patting herself dry with toilet paper would be too irritating. And apparently, that’s a common thing people do after giving birth. My limited knowledge on how someone’s body changes after birth made me wonder: between breastfeeding and fluctuating hormones, what happens to a person’s post-baby period after giving birth?

Breastfeeding Hormones Can Affect Your Post-Baby Period

The short answer is it depends — each person’s body is different. I was surprised to find that whether you have a C-Section or vaginal delivery does not affect your periods after giving birth. The biggest thing that affects your periods is whether or not you breastfeed. Breastfeeding produces high levels of the hormone prolactin, which will suppress reproductive hormones. If these hormones are suppressed, you won’t have a period. Although you won’t have a period if you are exclusively breastfeeding, this is not an effective birth control method and you could still get pregnant. If you don’t want to get pregnant again immediately after giving birth, talk to your doctor about birth control methods.

Once you stop breastfeeding, your period can return anywhere from six to nine months after giving birth. Experts recommend you see your doctor if your period hasn’t returned within this window of time after weaning off breastfeeding. If you do not breastfeed after giving birth, your period can return anywhere from four to eight weeks after giving birth. If you get your period very shortly after giving birth, it is recommended to avoid using tampons so your body can fully heal.

Post-Baby Vaginal Discharge

Before your period returns, you will have a vaginal discharge called lochia. Lochia will accompany a vaginal birth or a c-section. This discharge will likely be lighter and not last as long with a c-section. Lochia generally occurs for about four to six weeks after delivery and changes color with time. Initially, the discharge is dark red accompanied by small blood clots. After the first few days, it can be watery and pinkish-brown in color. After the first week, it will likely be yellowish in color. The amount of your discharge can change throughout the day and with physical activity as well. This comes before your period even returns.

Your First Post-Baby Period

Your first period after birth will likely be different than pre-pregnancy because your body is readjusting to menstruation. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what your period will be like after pregnancy until you start menstruating again. Your first period after giving birth might be heavier than usual, and you might experience more cramping due to the uterus clearing everything out.

 After the initial first period, some people’s periods will be lighter after giving birth, some might be heavier, some have less severe cramps than before getting pregnant, while some have more severe cramps. The uterine cavity can get larger after giving birth, causing it to have more lining to shed each month, leading to heavier periods. However, this is not the case for everyone. There is truly no sure way to predict how your period specifically might change after giving birth. Most periods should return to how they were before you got pregnant, although some changes can occur due to other factors.

It’s impossible to predict how someone’s period will be after giving birth, so it is important to pay attention to your body. Your first menstrual cycle after giving birth might be different than you period before pregnancy, but if you notice continuous, painful changes, severe increase in bleeding, or other complications, contact your doctor. You know your body best so trust yourself and speak up if something feels off.

Discomfort and pain from your monthly menstrual cycle can range from mild to can’t-get-out-of-bed intense. Perhaps your period is super painful every month, or maybe every once in a while. No matter the intensity of our cramps or the amount we bleed, periods are uncomfortable every time. Exercise can sometimes help relieve pain, and yoga is a fabulous way to do so. Yoga is a great exercise because it combines movement, breath, and stretching. It can also easily be amped up or toned down to give you and your menstruating body the relief it needs. Here are a few yoga poses that will help relieve some of your menstrual pain. These can be done in a sequence as written, or in any order you’d like. 

1. Classic Cat/Cow Yoga Pose

Begin in tabletop position or on all fours. Shoulders should be in line with the wrists and hips in line with the knees. Find a neutral spine by extending the crown of your head forward, feeling a long line of energy from your tail bone to the top of the head. Inhale, lift your chest and tailbone to the sky, letting the belly melt (cow pose). Exhale, round out the spine, tuck the navel in, push the earth away (cat pose). Move through some cows and cats, moving with your inhales and exhales. Add in any other little movements that might feel good, such as some circles of the spine or moving the hips from side to side. 

2. Child’s Pose

Is it ironic that one of the poses to relieve period pain is child’s pose? Perhaps, but it works! You can transition from tabletop into this position, simply sink your hips back so they rest on your heels, reach the arms forward towards the top of the mat, melting the belly towards the earth so it rests gently on your thighs. Feet together, knees together, or feet together with knees apart. Stretch the arms forward, gently move them to the right to feel a stretch in your left side body, and gently move them to the left to feel a stretch on your other side. Arms can also rest gently by your side. Stay here and breathe into your back and hips as long as you’d like. 

3. Forward Fold 

Standing at the top of your mat, inhale the arms up overhead, reaching towards the ceiling. Exhale, hinge at the hips and fold forward over the legs. You can bend your knees here to help maintain length in the low back. Hang out here as long as you’d like, shifting the weight forward and back or side to side. Maybe grab opposite elbows and gently sway from side to side, releasing some tension in the upper back. Nod your head yes and shake your head no. When you’re finished with this pose, release the arms and slowly roll up vertebrae by vertebrae. Repeat as many times as you’d like. 

4. Camel for Intense Yoga Stretching

This can be a more intense stretch, so only do this if it’s not too painful, and make sure to come into the pose slowly and gently. Begin upright on your knees with your chest forward and a soft gaze straight ahead. Inhale the arms up overhead, exhale reach back with the right arm and touch the right ankle for half camel. Inhale arms up overhead, exhale reach back and touch the left arm to the left ankle. Do this as many times as feels good. Maybe this is all you do. When you’re ready for full camel, slowly reach back the right arm to grab the right ankle, then grab the left arm to the left ankle. Feel can be flat on the mat or rest on the toes. Hands can also grab blocks on the outside of each ankle as well. Shine the chest up and forward, creating a mini backbend and big stretch in the low back and hip flexors. Maybe release the head back. Hold here and breathe for as long as it feels good. When you’re ready, gently take your right hand to your low back, then your left, and slowly roll back up to where you began. 

5. Supine Twists

Begin on your back with your legs extended long on the mat. Inhale, draw both knees into the chest and gently squeeze the knees in. Rock gently side to side, giving your low back a massage. Maybe roll slightly forward and back. With the knees still bent, let the knees drop to the right side, extending the arms out to a T, and looking over the left shoulder. Hold here and breathe as long as feels good. When you’re ready, bring the knees back into the center and give yourself a squeeze. Let the knees fall to the left, arms at a T, and looking over your right shoulder. Hold as long as you’d like. Inhale bring the knees back to center and give yourself a final squeeze.