Have you ever had a heavy period that feels like it is never-ending? That has dragged on and on while you have been impatient to just get on with your period-product-free life? Cue postpartum bleeding.
Postpartum bleeding is a term used to describe the period of time during which you are bleeding after you have had a baby. The NHS noncommittally states that this bleeding could last for “a few weeks”, so we are going to dive a little deeper into the specifics of what it is, how long it can last, and how you can tell it is coming to an end.
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM BLEEDING?
Postpartum bleeding, which is also called lochia, (who knew?!) is the period of vaginal bleeding that occurs after you have had a baby. Lochia is made up of several components. As well as menstrual blood, it also includes parts of your uterine lining which is being shed (like during a “normal” menstrual period) and mucus. Like your regular menstrual period, lochia can be accompanied by cramping (a sign of your uterus contracting, especially when breastfeeding), even though thankfully this cramping doesn’t tend to last for the whole duration of the bleeding. Breastfeeding can in many cases also keep your period at bay until you stop, but this is not the case for everyone.
HOW LONG WILL I BLEED AFTER HAVING A BABY?
A review from 2012 found that lochia can last anywhere from 2 to 90 days – truly the longest period you’ll have ever had! Across all studies the authors looked at, the average reported duration of postpartum bleeding ranged from 4.4 to 9 weeks.
WHAT ARE THE PHASES OF POSTPARTUM BLEEDING?
Most people will have very heavy red bleeding with some clotting in the first 24 hours after giving birth. While passing some blood clots is normal, it is important to take pictures of any clots that are larger than a coin and mention them to your midwife or GP. After that, the colour of the lochia should change to either brownish or a lighter pink and the intensity of the bleeding should slowly decrease to what a heavy period would feel like around day 6. After that, the bleeding should continue to become less severe and the lochia should continue to get lighter until it is very light pink or brown, which signifies that your postpartum bleeding has almost come to an end (hurrah!).
Important aside: while postpartum bleeding is very normal, it is important to be aware that there is a complication called postpartum haemorrhage in which you bleed a lot more than normal so if you are feeling very faint, passing very large blood clots or your bleeding is increasing rather than decreasing over time, please check in with a health professional immediately.
WHAT PERIOD PRODUCTS CAN I USE TO MANAGE POSTPARTUM BLEEDING?
Given most of us are used to having complete freedom in what period products we choose to use, the advice given postpartum can come as a bit of a surprise. The NHS recommends using maternity pads, which are a more absorbent version of normal period pads (even though heavy-duty period underwear would probably be okay too). They strongly advise against using period products that have to be inserted into the vagina such as tampons or menstrual cups. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that you are likely to have suffered from some internal vaginal or perineal tearing or gotten some minor tears on your labia and the use of maternity pads is thought to prevent infection and allow any tears to heal. Right after giving birth, it is considered normal to have to change your maternity pad every 2 hours, so make sure you have enough of them (and of course enough Fab Little Bags if you are using them) at home before having your baby!
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