Most new moms are not really sure what to expect from postpartum bleeding. It is important to know what is normal and when you should worry or call a doctor.
Bleeding may be expected if you deliver your baby vaginally, but many women are shocked to learn that post-delivery bleeding is also a big concern for women who have a c-section. The medical term for this bleeding is lochia, and it’s your body’s way of eliminating tissue, mucus, and blood that is no longer needed. The human body produces a lot of amazing stuff to support your baby in the womb, but it’s time to clean up before your body can return to normal.
Bleeding After Delivery – What to Expect
Once your baby comes screaming into the world, the placenta will separate from the uterine wall, and you will deliver what is known as afterbirth. You may not even be aware of this happening because your medical team will handle this final delivery while you’re oohing and aahhing over the newest addition to your family. Many women consider this the final purge, but you still have some mucus and blood that needs to make it’s way out.
You can use this timeline as a general guide to postpartum bleeding, but remember that each body is different. Your schedule may differ from this slightly, but we’ll cover some signs of potential trouble in a minute so that you know what is not normal.
- The First Week. You will experience your heaviest postpartum blood flow during the first week, and it will start out bright red. You will need your heaviest pads to keep the bleeding under control and can look forward to changing your pad every two to three hours for at least the first day or two. The blood will slow down gradually while starting to transition to a light pink color.
- The Second Week. By day 10 of your baby’s life, that fresh, bright red blood should transition to pink with a more reasonable rate of flow. You’re still experiencing normal lochia, but you may get by with slightly thinner pads during the second week. You should continue changing your pad regularly, even if they aren’t as full as they were during the first week.
- The Third & Fourth Weeks. Some women will stop bleeding completely by this point while others continue to experience a light flow. It’s common for the blood to become light brown, white, or yellowish before stopping completely.
- Beyond the First Month. If you continue to bleed beyond week four, it doesn’t necessarily mean trouble. The flow should be light, or you may just have occasional spotting that requires you to wear a pantyliner. You can start looking forward to the end of lochia very soon.
How Long Will Postpartum Bleeding Last?
Lochia can last between three and six weeks, but every woman is different. You’re likely to notice a rush of blood when you stand up, especially after a prolonged period of sitting or lying down. Your body holds the blood much like a cup when you’re in those relaxed positions, and it empties quickly when you stand. This may make it seem like you’re suddenly bleeding heavily, but don’t panic. The biggest sign of trouble comes with heavy bleeding that continues even when you’re lying down.
The key to managing lochia is to give your body the rest it needs to heal. Accept as much help as you can get. Avoid any activity that requires a lot of bending, twisting, or time on your feet within the first week of postpartum recovery. If your bedroom is upstairs, set up a recovery area on the main floor of your home because going up and down stairs too soon can result in heavier bleeding. If you need to lift something heavy, find someone to do it for you.
If your bleeding continues beyond the six-week mark, you may want to check in with your doctor. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem, but a checkup is in order.
The Best Postpartum Pads
You may prefer tampons over pads, but keep them in the cabinet for at least another month or two. Inserting anything into your vaginal opening right after having a baby could introduce bacteria that easily leads to an infection. You also have stitches, swelling, and tenderness from childbirth, and it’s important to give your body time to heal. Both of these reasons are why you also can’t resume your sex life right away, so put your “do not enter” sign up for now.
You will likely use hospital-grade pads issued by the hospital for the first day or two, but then you will need thick pads to keep the bleeding under control at home. Here are some of our favorites that should protect against leaking without feeling uncomfortable:
- Always Maxi Overnight Pads. You may know these as the Always pads in the purple wrapper. They’re readily available in most local stores, but it’s also easy to have them delivered to your doorstep if you’re stocking up online while pregnant. You can use these day and night while your heaviest postpartum flow is happening.
- Poise Overnight Pads. If you can ignore the fact that these pads are marketed to women suffering from incontinence, they are your alternative if you don’t find the Always pads suitable. You can use them day and night during your heaviest postpartum period.
- Maximum Absorbency Depend Briefs. Adult diapers may seem like overkill, but many women find the Depend Silhouette briefs more comfortable than a thick pad in the first few days of recovery. These briefs are soft and may allow you to relax without worrying so much about leaking onto furniture or your bedding. The heavier your flow, the more likely you are to reach for the diapers.
Red Flags that Should Cause Concern
Excessive bleeding is one of the most common concerns that women have after delivering a baby. You haven’t had a period in months, and you’ve probably never seen such a large amount of blood flowing from your body. Your medical team should monitor your bleeding and the size of any clots while you’re in the hospital, and you should voice your concerns immediately if you see blood clots larger than a golf ball or presenting any other signs of abnormality.
You will likely continue to experience postpartum bleeding once you return home, so it’s important to know when to call the doctor or head to the emergency room. Use this checklist of the most common red flags and what you should do if you notice them:
- Excessive Bleeding. If you soak a thick pad in an hour or less, it’s time to pay attention. This can happen if you’re trying to move around too much, so start by putting yourself to bed. If you continue to soak pads in under an hour, contact your doctor.
- Sudden Heavy Bleeding. If your bleeding slows and starts to transition to a lighter color but then suddenly picks back up and/or returns to bright red, you should seek medical attention immediately. Postpartum hemorrhage is a serious medical condition that involves heavy bleeding within the first few months of the postpartum period. Besides heavy bleeding, you may experience blurred vision or feel weak and lightheaded. Some women pass out if their organs aren’t receiving adequate blood flow.
- Foul Smells. It’s normal to smell a faint scent of blood when changing a full pad, just as you might on a routine period. The problem comes when you notice a particularly strong odor that you haven’t experienced during those monthly bleeding sessions. This is often the first sign of an infection that needs medical attention.
- Fever and Chills. If the thermometer says you’re overheating and/or your shaking with chills, there is a good chance that an infection needs prompt medical care.
- There are some aches and minor cramps that you can experience in the first week of recovery, but you shouldn’t experience severe pain. You should seek medical attention if your pain continues to get worse day by day or if you suddenly start experiencing pain, especially if it comes with heavier blood flow.
Make sure to schedule that postpartum checkup with your doctor because that’s a great time to ask questions about your bleeding. If you have an issue but aren’t sure there’s a reason to worry, you can always call your doctor to ask. Most offices will pass a message to the nurse, who should call you back to set your mind at ease.
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