It’s normal to experience a bloody vaginal discharge for a while after childbirth. This substance is called lochia – and it’s part of your body’s recovery from birth. It’s important to know what to expect from normal postpartum bleeding and discharge, so you’ll know straight away if there’s anything unusual. Let’s go through the basic on lochia.
What is lochia?
After giving birth, your body starts the work of returning the uterus to its pre-pregnancy state. As it does this, you are going to experience some normal postpartum bleeding and discharge called lochia. Lochia is made up of blood, mucus, and the leftover uterine tissues that supported your baby over your pregnancy.
Now that your baby is in your arms rather than your belly, the womb starts to contract and slough off leftovers like placenta fragments. This is similar to what happens when you have a period, so for the first couple of days after childbirth, lochia may resemble heavy menstrual blood. After this, you may still notice some bleeding or spotting, but it will be lighter flow.
How long does lochia last?
How long your lochia period will last depends on the person, but most moms find that the bloody discharge clears up 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth. However, Moms who have a Caesarean delivery may have a shorter lochia period. This is because some of the uterine contents that make it up are removed during the surgery.
However, the lochia won’t stay the same for the whole time. The lochia on the first few days after childbirth tends to be the heaviest. However, if heavy bleeding lasts longer than 4 days, see a doctor right away.
What to expect from lochia
The length of the lochia phase can vary, but it follows a similar pattern. There are three types of lochia you can expect to see at different points.
The first stage of lochia looks like bright red menstrual blood, and may include clots. The flow may be heavier after standing up or getting out of bed. Lochia rubra should stop within 4 days after giving birth.
Day by day, lochia discharge will lighten in color. The second stage is more watery and pinkish to brownish in color. Lochia serosa contains a smaller proportion of red blood cells, and is mainly composed of white blood cells, cells from the uterine lining, and cervical mucus.
As the days go by, lochia will decrease in amount and lighten in color. It will eventually become yellow to whitish and barely noticeable on a sanitary pad. This final stage of lochia should clear up by approximately 4 to 6 weeks after birth.
When to see a doctor for lochia
Lochia is normal, but it’s important to pay attention for any signs of infection or postpartum hemorrhage. See a doctor immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:
Change in smell
Unpleasant or foul odor to the lochia is a sign of an infection. Normal lochia should smell about the same as a menstrual period. Lochia serosa may smell a bit stronger, particularly if it’s mixed with sweat, but not foul.
Change in bleeding
Once your lochia flow lightens, it should keep lightening. While some slight spotting may occur, it’s not normal for bright red bleeding to return. See your doctor if spotting doesn’t stop, or you have bright red bleeding again.
Very heavy bleeding can indicate a postpartum hemorrhage. Seek medical attention if you’re passing large blood clots bigger than a grape or soaking through a sanitary pad within 1 hour. Don’t hesitate to see a doctor or visit the ER if you’re concerned about postpartum bleeding – especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms like fever or chills.
What to do for lochia
Lochia will stop on its own when your body is finished clearing out the uterus, so it doesn’t need any particular treatment. However, you can ease yourself through it with a few lifestyle adjustments.
Use maternity sanitary pads
It’s very important that you don’t use tampons for at least 6 weeks after giving birth. This could introduce bacteria to the uterus and make you sick. Instead, use heavy-duty sanitary pads, like you would use for a period – or better yet, maternity pads.
These are designed to reduce irritation to the area between the vagina and anus. You can step down the absorbency level as the amount of lochia decreases.
Get enough rest
If you notice an increase in the amount of lochia or bleeding after activity like going up and down stairs, have a rest and take it easy for a while. This could be your body’s way of saying that you’re overdoing things.
Breastfeed your baby
Breastfeeding your baby stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps your uterus shrink back down to its pre-pregnancy size. This can lessen the overall length of the lochia period.
Learn your lochia to understand normal postpartum bleeding
Lochia is one of the less-glamorous parts of being a new mom, but don’t be disturbed by it. This normal postpartum bleeding is part of your body’s remarkable process of recovery from pregnancy.
Pay attention to your lochia, as changes in blood flow, odor or other symptoms could hint at another underlying problem. However, as long as your lochia is following the normal pattern of decreasing in color and amount, rest assured that it will clear up over 4 to 6 weeks after childbirth.