In the first week to several weeks after delivery, it’s normal to experience vaginal postpartum bleeding. If this is your first child, the amount of bleeding might alarm you.
Although bleeding after birth can be quite heavy and even include blood clots, it’s important to know what’s normal and when you should call your doctor.
Keep reading to find out about the postpartum bleeding stages, what to look for in postpartum blood clots, danger signs, and what to expect in the weeks after giving birth.
What’s postpartum bleeding and is it normal?
First off, postpartum bleeding is completely normal, whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a cesarean. It’s your body’s way of shedding and repairing the uterus after giving birth.
Your body is designed to naturally push out the placenta and then clear the uterus of old tissue.
When you breastfeed, your body produces oxytocin, which among other things, causes your uterus to contract and go back to its original size. It also squeezes the uterus to stop blood flow to the placenta.
The bloody discharge is called lochia. Lochia isn’t just blood. It’s also a combination of mucus, parts of the uterine lining, and white blood cells. That’s why it’s normal to see blood clots after birth ranging from the size of a grape to the size of a prune.
When you have bleeding after birth, it’s like having an extremely heavy and much longer-lasting period. In fact, the smell should be like that of your period, but the consistency of lochia will be thicker and heavier.
How long does postpartum bleeding last?
Postpartum bleeding could last as little as a week or as long as six weeks. The important thing is that the bloody discharge becomes less with each passing day rather than more.
Although each woman is different, the next section gives a general outline of the stages of postpartum bleeding.
Your experience may be different in terms of length of time, but this will give you an idea of what to look for and indicators if something isn’t right.
Postpartum Bleeding Stages
Bleeding after birth will last longer than a menstrual period and will be much heavier. The bloody discharge will be thicker, as well, with a prevalence of postpartum clots.
In the first roughly 3-10 days, lochia will be a bright to deep red color, and you’ll likely see blood clots after birth ranging from the size of a grape to a prune.
As the postpartum bleeding tapers off, the color of the bloody discharge will also change. It should go from red to more of pink color, then to brown, and finally to a yellowish cream color. You’ll also see fewer and smaller clots as time goes on.
It’s not unusual to experience random spotting in the weeks following delivery, even up to six weeks. You might stop bleeding entirely for a few days and then suddenly have some brown spots. This is nothing to worry about.
The difference in bleeding between vaginal and cesarean delivery
Whether you’ve had a cesarean or vaginal birth, you will still experience postpartum bleeding, and there won’t be a big difference in the appearance of lochia.
This is because, no matter which way you delivered your baby, your body still needs to clean and repair your uterus after carrying and growing the baby.
However, with cesarean delivery, bleeding after birth might subside more quickly than with vaginal delivery.
You might also have a lower quantity of lochia and see mostly blood for up to a few weeks. The color should still go from red to brown to eventually clear, though, and you should follow any indications of more serious problems just as you would with a vaginal birth.
When to call a doctor
Postpartum bleeding is normal, and quantity and duration vary from woman to woman. However, there are some warning signs that could indicate a more serious issue that requires medical attention.
If you have any of the following symptoms, call your doctor right away:
- Fever or fever-like symptoms including body shakes, chills, and clammy skin
- Racing or irregular heartbeat
- Feeling dizzy or like you’re going to faint
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Pain or tenderness in one or both sides of your abdomen
- Weakness, blurred vision, or confusion
- Bright red blood after the first week
- Increasing amounts of blood rather than decreasing
- Blood clots that are larger than a plum
- Heavy bleeding that soaks a hospital pad within an hour and doesn’t seem to be letting up
Any of these symptoms can signal you may be experiencing postpartum complications, so it’s crucial to let your doctor know as soon as it happens.
Treatment for postpartum bleeding
For normal postpartum bleeding, you’ll likely need to use hospital pads for the first few days and then gradually taper off to regular menstrual pads and then pantyliners. You can decide this at your own discretion. The important thing is that you use pads only. Do not use tampons or menstrual cups until your body is completely healed and your doctor gives you the okay to do so.
You might experience more bleeding when you’re up moving around a lot.
You may also notice that after sitting for a long period of time, or when you first get up in the morning, you’ll feel a sudden rush of a large quantity of blood.
Due to the shape of your vagina, the blood pools inside your body and then drains when you get up. If you find that you’re bleeding more when you’re up moving around, try to stay off your feet and rest more.
Using internal sanitary products like tampons and menstrual cups before the 6-week mark when the wound has healed could increase your chance of getting an infection.
–Your body after the birth, NHS
If you’re bleeding more than is normal, or you’re experiencing abdominal pain, your doctor may give you one or more of the following treatments:
- Abdominal massage to stimulate the uterus to contract
- Drugs to contract the uterus
- An injection to stop the bleeding
- Possible need to remove pieces of the placenta that remained in the uterus after childbirth
- In more serious cases, you might even need medical procedures like surgery or other methods to stop the bleeding.
If you have more serious bleeding after birth, like postpartum hemorrhage, then you’ll need urgent medical treatment as this can quickly decrease your blood pressure and cause your body to go into shock, even resulting in death.
So if something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to get medical help.
Postpartum Fact Sheet
Bringing a tiny human into the world is nothing short of miraculous, and your body goes through myriad changes as your baby grows inside of you.
Although it would be great to be done with all those changes after delivery, your body continues to do amazing things as it naturally cleans and repairs itself.
Postpartum bleeding is just one of the many marvels of the human body, and although it can seem scary and confusing, you can relax in knowing what’s normal and embracing it as a part of motherhood.