Reviewed by

Uwe Porters - Mid-wife/Pregnancy & Postpartum Expert


How Long Does Postpartum Bleeding Last?

Reviewed by

Uwe Porters - Mid-wife/Pregnancy & Postpartum Expert

Postpartum bleeding is a normal part of recovery after having a baby. Most women aren’t given a lot of detail about postpartum bleeding or what to expect after birth so we’re here to lay it all out for you. 

You've just had a baby, and on top of your new job as a mother, feeling like you’re having a multi-week long period can seem like a lot to manage. But be assured that bleeding is normal. In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about postpartum bleeding including how long it typically lasts and how to manage it. 

What is postpartum bleeding?

Postpartum bleeding has its own name. It’s called lochia. And while it may just seem like a suuuuuper long period, lochia actually contains a mix of blood, mucus and uterine tissue. It can smell a bit musty, similar to menstrual blood. However, if it smells bad or fishy, talk to your midwife or doctor. This could be a sign of an infection. 

Lochia can last up to several weeks. It usually starts heavy and gradually starts to get lighter and lighter until it goes away completely. This is a completely normal part of your post-birth healing process and it doesn’t usually cause any pain or complications. 

What does it look like?

Everyone is different but generally lochia follows a similar pattern to your period. It begins as dark or bright red blood and then gradually gets lighter and lighter eventually ending up as a white-coloured mucus. 

At the beginning, it may seem like a really heavy period. You could also pass small clots. Most women can manage the flow with a pad for heavy flow or a special maternity pad. They aren’t very glamorous but they’ll do the trick! And trust us, in those early days of motherhuud, you won’t care that much! Expect to soak through one thick pad every 2-3 hours. 

After about a week, lochia will start to turn more pinkish/brown in colour and the flow will be lighter and more manageable. You may not need to change your pad as often, but make sure you have lots with you all the time, anyway. 

After about 10-14 days, lochia will change to a creamy, yellowish colour. The timeframe is based on averages so it will be different for everyone. At this point, you can probably switch a less diaper-like pad as the flow will be a lot lighter. For some women a thin panty liner will be fine at this stage. 

What is it made of?

After you have a baby, your uterus is basically starting fresh. It’s getting rid of any blood, tissue or other materials from many months of pregnancy. Lochia may just look like blood, but it is actually made up of a lot of different things like: 

  • The lining of your uterus
  • Amniotic fluid
  • Bacteria and microorganisms
  • Cervical mucus
  • Any leftover fetal membranes, 
  • And of course, there is some blood in there too! 

How is lochia different from period blood?

There are some similarities between your menstrual blood and lochia and for many women, postpartum bleeding will just seem like a really long period. The biggest difference is that lochia can last many weeks, whereas your period is usually only 5-7 days. 

How long does it last?

While it varies, lochia can last up to six weeks or longer. Some women will even have traces of lochia up to eight weeks postpartum. That’s right, you could be celebrating your little nugget’s 2 month birthday and still experiencing postpartum bleeding. While this can feel like an eternity, remember it is a normal part of your recovery and it will stop eventually. 

The 3 stages of postpartum bleeding

There are actually three lochia stages. The length of each stage and the way your lochia looks can vary but these postpartum bleeding stages usually last around six weeks in total. We suspect that between all the feeding, diaper changing and interrupted sleep schedule, you may not care that much about the three specific stages of your postpartum bleeding, but we’re here to educate you so here’s the deal: 

Stage 1: Lochia rubra

The first lochia stage is called lochia rubra and it refers to your discharge that will be dark or bright red blood. This stage lasts for about 3-5 days and it will seem like a mega heavy period. If your periods are normally quite light, this could feel overwhelming, but remember it’s normal. You could also pass small clots and experience some mild, period-like cramps. 

Stage 2: Lochia serosa 

Stage 2 is known as lochia serosa. (Sounds kind of exotic, doesn’t it?!) Your discharge will be pinkish brown in colour and generally less bloody looking. This will still feel like a moderate period and it could last 4-12 days. There’s not likely to be any clots at this stage. 

Stage 3: Lochia alba

The final stage is lochia alba. By stage 3, the finish line is in sight and you will only be experiencing some yellowish white discharge. There’s not likely to be any blood or clots either. You can expect this stage to last about 12 days to up to six weeks. 

When to call your doctor

If you’re bleeding heavily in the first few days after having a baby, it can seem alarming, but remember this is normal. Each day, it should get lighter and more manageable but if you continue to experience heavy blood loss that’s changing or getting worse, talk to your midwife or doctor.  

Also, if you notice any of the following things after giving birth, it’s a good idea to get yourself checked out: 

  • Stinky discharge that smells fishy or foul 
  • A fever of 38C or higher
  • Feeling very tender in one or both sides of your stomach 
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Racing heart rate 
  • If you have really large clots or a high number of them (anything larger than your own fist is considered a large clot). This could mean that your uterus is struggling to shrink back to its original size

Don’t try to tough it out. If you’re feeling really poorly, get to your doctor right away. 

How to manage postpartum bleeding

Even if you’re a devout tampon or menstrual cup user, you should stick to pads or menstrual/postpartum underwear for the first six weeks after giving birth. Tampons or other products can cause an infection so as ugly as they are, you’re going to need to reach for some pads that are about the same thickness as your baby’s diapers! 

Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and consider adding a supplement to replenish vitamin stores you lost during childbirth. Making sure you have a good balance of the right vitamins and minerals will also help get your natural cycle back on track more quickly. Try to stock up on iron-rich foods like meat and green leafy vegetables or a supplement containing iron. Iron helps in the normal formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin, and contributes to infant brain development (for when you are breastfeeding).

Also, DHA which is an omega-3 fatty acid, is a good thing to add to your diet. Good sources include salmon, sardines, fortified eggs and dairy. You can also find DHA in high-quality supplements. DHA is an important building block for the brain, and, taken by the mother, it is an important building block for the brain of fœtus and breastfed infants. It also contributes to the normal visual development of infants.

Getting back to normal

Everything might feel a little chaotic and overwhelming at first, but over time, you’ll fall into a new rhythm and routine with your baby. Just get through the first few weeks and don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself time to adjust and don’t try to reach unrealistic expectations with your life or your body. Remove the phrase “bouncing back” from your vocabulary right now.  It will take time to get used to the changes happening in your mind and body after having a baby.

Have you just had a baby? Congratulations! If you’re looking for expert advice to help manage any postpartum symptoms, talk to our experts.

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