Postpartum Bleeding (Lochia): Everything You Need to Know

Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Bleeding

February 27, 2019

Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Bleeding

Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Bleeding
Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Bleeding

Bet you never thought a nurse would instruct you on how to attach three super-heavy-flow pads to your undies at the same time, but after you give birth, that just might be your reality. After you have a baby, there will be blood—but it’s important to know how much is postpartum bleeding normal, how long it goes on for and how to handle this part of the new mama experience.

What is Lochia?

Lochia is normal, period-like discharge women have after giving birth (a.k.a. postpartum bleeding). It’s made up of the mucous membrane that lined the uterus during pregnancy, as well as blood. Both vaginal birth and c-section moms experience lochia.

How Long Does Postpartum Bleeding Last?

Postpartum bleeding usually lasts for up to four to six weeks after the birth. The bleeding is heavier and more intense in the first few days after you’ve had your baby, but you should notice the lochia gradually decrease as time goes on.

Be aware that postpartum bleeding is totally different from a postpartum hemorrhage, which is heavy bleeding that starts during or right after childbirth, and is much more than the half-quart to quart of blood that’s usually lost during birth. Postpartum hemorrhage is a serious condition that happens in 1% to 5% of births.

What’s Normal Postpartum Bleeding?

Normal postpartum bleeding looks like a heavy period at first—it will be dark red and have a similar, musty smell as period blood has. But it will gradually change as the days and weeks go one. It will probably go something like this:

  • 0 to 5 days after birth: Postpartum bleeding is dark red, heavy and may contain some clots (no bigger than the size of a plum).
  • 5 to 10 days after birth: Lochia may be pinkish or brownish and thinner than it was before. You may still experience a few small clots earlier during this time.
  • 10 days after birth until up to 6 weeks postpartum: The discharge becomes whitish or yellowish and eventually tapers off. No more clots should appear.

You might notice that you have more postpartum bleeding when you’ve been active, or when you’re breastfeeding. It also might be a little heavier at certain times of day, like in the morning.

When to Call the Doctor About Postpartum Bleeding

Keep an eye on your postpartum bleeding because changes in it could signal a problem. Call your doctor if you have any concerning symptoms, including:

  • Large clots: If your clots are larger than plum-sized, your doctor will want to watch you closely.
  • Foul smell: If the discharge doesn’t smell quite right, it could signal an infection.
  • Severe pain or fever: These are also signs of infection, and you’d need treatment ASAP.
  • Heavy bleeding: If your postpartum bleeding increases, doesn’t lessen over time or soaks through more than one pad per hour, it could be a sign of a problem with the uterus, a bleeding disorder or late postpartum hemorrhage—all of which would need to be treated by a doctor right away.

How to Deal with Postpartum Bleeding

When dealing with postpartum bleeding, you’re first going to want to go for absorbency. Stock up on adult underwear like Depends or heavy pads—or snag some of the super-thick ones from the hospital before you go home. (Feel free to triple up if need be.)

As time goes on and the flow lessens, you can switch to a thinner pad or absorbent underwear, like Thinx, and eventually pantiliners. But avoid tampons for the first six weeks postpartum, since they can cause infection.

Other tips for dealing with postpartum bleeding:

  • Take it easy when possible: Overexertion can slow the process of the lochia lightening up.
  • Pee often: Go the bathroom often, even when your bladder doesn’t seem totally full. Having an empty bladder helps the uterus contract and expel everything it needs to.
  • Make friends with your Peri bottle: Your sitz bath too. Rinsing with these can help you gently keep your sensitive parts clean, especially if you’ve had a vaginal birth.

Postpartum bleeding is another one of those facts of pregnancy you don’t think about until you experience it. Hopefully this helps you feel prepared about what’s to come!

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