Postpartum: Normal bleeding and discharge (lochia)

Postpartum: Normal bleeding and discharge (lochia)

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Is it normal to bleed after delivery?

Yes. All women lose some blood during and after delivery. For a few days after you give birth, you'll seem to have a very heavy period. Because the amount of blood in your body rises by about 50 percent during pregnancy, your body is well prepared for this normal blood loss.

Here's what happens: When the placenta separates from the uterus, there are open blood vessels in the area where it was attached, and they begin to bleed into the uterus. After the placenta is delivered, the uterus continues to contract, which closes off those blood vessels, dramatically reducing the bleeding. If you had an episiotomy or tear during birth, you may bleed from that site as well until it's stitched up.

Your caregiver may massage your uterus and give you synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to help it contract. Breastfeeding, which prompts your body to release natural oxytocin, also helps your uterus contract. (That's why you may feel cramps, or afterpains, when you nurse.)

Occasionally, the uterus doesn't contract well after delivery, resulting in excessive blood loss called a postpartum hemorrhage.

What is lochia?

Lochia is vaginal discharge during the postpartum period. (The term comes from a Greek word that means "relating to childbirth.") It consists of blood, tissue shed from the lining of the uterus, and bacteria.

For the first few days after birth, lochia contains a fair amount of blood, so it'll be bright red and look like a heavy period. It may come out intermittently in small gushes or flow more evenly. If you've been lying down for a while and blood has collected in your vagina, you may see some small clots when you get up.

You should have a little less discharge each day, lightening in color. By two to four days after you've given birth, the lochia will be more watery and pinkish. By about ten days after the birth, you should have only a small amount of white or yellow-white discharge. At this point, the lochia is mostly white blood cells and cells from the lining of the uterus.

The lochia will taper off before it stops in another two to four weeks, though a small number of women continue to have scant lochia or intermittent spotting for a few more weeks.

If you've started on the progestin-only birth control pill (the "minipill") or gotten the birth control shot (Depo-Provera), you're likely to have spotting for a month or more, and that's perfectly normal.

How should I manage lochia?

In the beginning, use heavy-duty sanitary pads. The hospital will send you home with some, and you can stock up on more if you need to. As your lochia tapers off, you can switch to minipads.

Don't use tampons for at least six weeks, because they make it more likely that you'll get an infection in your healing vagina and uterus.

Pee often, even if you don't feel the urge to go. In the first few days after you give birth, your bladder may be less sensitive than usual, so you may not feel the need to urinate even when your bladder is quite full. In addition to causing urinary problems, a full bladder makes it harder for your uterus to contract, leading to more afterpains and bleeding.

Get as much rest as you can. If you're doing too much, you may bleed longer or start bleeding again after your lochia has already lightened or gone away.

How can I tell if I'm bleeding too much?

If bright red spotting reappears after your lochia has already lightened, it may just be a sign that you need to slow down. But if you continue to spot after taking it easy for a few days, check in with your midwife or doctor.

Call your midwife or doctor if your bleeding is getting heavier or:

  • Your lochia is still bright red four days after your baby's birth.
  • Your lochia has a foul smell or you come down with fever or chills, which can be a sign of a postpartum infection.
  • You have abnormally heavy bleeding (saturating a sanitary pad in an hour or having blood clots bigger than a golf ball). This is a sign of a late postpartum hemorrhage and requires immediate attention.

Note: If you're bleeding very heavily or feeling faint, call 911.

Learn more

Find out when you'll get your period again after having a baby

Watch for these warning signs during your postpartum recovery

Learn how a postpartum doula can help

Get tips on how to get the help you need as you adjust to life with a newborn

Watch the video: What can I expect with postpartum bleeding? (June 2022).