Postpartum Bleeding: What's Normal, What's Not

A physician talks to a woman holding a baby

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After delivering a baby, you might feel pretty relieved that you’re not pregnant anymore. But even so, it’ll take your body some time to recover. Your uterus will begin to shrink down from its expanded state and return to its normal size.

As part of that recovery, you’ll experience some postpartum bleeding and discharge for a few weeks. For most people, the bleeding is heavy right after childbirth and eventually lightens up before disappearing altogether.

Ahead, learn more about postpartum bleeding, why it occurs, how to cope, and when you might want to give your healthcare provider a call.

Why Does Postpartum Bleeding Happen?

The blood and vaginal discharge that you experience in the postpartum period is known as lochia, and it’s a typical part of the postpartum healing process. You’ll experience this type of bleeding regardless of whether you delivered vaginally or via C-section

“You need the contents of the uterus to be cleared out, so the bleeding is normal,” says Mimi Niles, PhD, MPH, a certified nurse midwife and assistant professor and faculty fellow at the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. 

In other words, your body needs to dispel the blood and remaining tissue that lined your uterus while you were pregnant. The area where the placenta was attached to the uterine wall will need to heal, too.

The amount of postpartum bleeding should diminish each day, but you may nevertheless find the quantity of blood surprising.

What Is "Normal" Postpartum Bleeding?

Every individual body is different, so the time frame for postpartum bleeding will differ, too. 

“There is a huge variation in postpartum bleeding patterns from woman to woman,” says Cynthia Flynn, MD, an OB/GYN in Florida who consults with JustAnswer. “Lochia can occur on and off for as long as eight weeks.” 

What’s generally considered “normal” also changes over time after the delivery, explains Susan Lipinski, MD, an OB/GYN with Obstetrix of Colorado, part of Pediatrix Medical Group.

The first stage of normal postpartum bleeding is known as lochia rubra. During this stage, the bleeding is fairly heavy, and the bloody discharge is typically a bright red color.

“In the first few days, it can be like a heavy period,” says Dr. Lipinski. “Over the next few days, it is [still] like a heavy period but quickly tapers off and may stop and start again.”

You might lose as much as 500 mL of blood after a vaginal delivery and up to 1,000 mL of blood in the first 24 hours after a C-section delivery, says Dr. Lipinski. If you lose more than that, you’re entering into the realm of postpartum hemorrhage, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and such circumstances would warrant a call to your healthcare provider. 

Over time, the bleeding will get thinner and change color, usually lightening from red to a pinkish or even a brownish shade. This is the second stage, or lochia serosa, and it might last two to six weeks.

Finally, the bleeding will taper off, signifying that you’ve entered the third and final stage, lochia alba. Many people continue to experience some white or yellowish discharge during this stage.

One note: if you’re breastfeeding, you may bleed or experience spotting a little longer than someone who’s not, according to Dr. Flynn. 

How to Cope With Postpartum Bleeding

While you’re stocking up on diapers for your new baby, purchase some pads to absorb the bleeding–because you’re definitely going to need them. (Or send a friend or family member out to buy some for you, so you can rest up.)

“The best strategy is to have plenty of pads in different sizes—maxi, mini, pantyliners– and to change as needed,” says Dr. Lipinski. “How often a woman changes [a pad] is a matter of personal preference.” 

Dr. Flynn suggests checking out the long, overnight pads that cover more of your underwear for the heaviest days (and nights) of postpartum bleeding. “Some women use bed pads to lay on as an extra protection,” she adds. “Many women will need to get up in the middle of the night to change the pad at least once.”

There are a number of different brands of pads that can be used for postpartum bleeding, so you may want to try a few kinds to see what works best for you. Consider looking for products that are fragrance-free to avoid any unnecessary irritation. Some people also prefer using disposable underwear, such as incontinence underwear, until the heaviest bleeding lets up.

However, skip the tampons and the menstrual cups. Your uterus needs to heal, and inserting those objects into your vagina isn’t recommended because of the risk of infection. Wait until at least the six-week mark before you start trying to use tampons, says Dr. Flynn, and be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider as well.

While you’re recovering and still bleeding, especially in those early weeks after delivery, be judicious about exercise and activity, as that can affect the bleeding. “If the bleeding gets heavier after activity, then a woman might be overdoing her activity level as well and she needs to see her physician,” says Brynna Connor, MD, a family medicine physician and healthcare ambassador at NorthWestPharmacy.com.

Another tip: wear dark-colored clothing just in case you experience any leakage. And if you’re planning on leaving your home, you might even want to stash an extra pair of pants for yourself in your purse or baby’s diaper bag, just in case.

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

Knowing when your situation warrants a call to your healthcare provider is key. For example, if you’re experiencing excessive bleeding, that might justify a call. “Bleeding is not normal if it is heavy enough to saturate a maxi pad in less than one hour, for more than two to three hours in a row,” says Dr. Lipinski. 

You may also want to watch out for any big clots. “Clots are normal, but clots larger than a golf ball are not,” says Dr. Lipinski. 

Also, if you’re bleeding heavily and you develop a fever, that also warrants a call, according to Dr. Lipinski. That could be a sign of a developing infection.

A foul odor is another red flag. Along with fever and uterine tenderness, bad-smelling lochia is one of the signs of an infection called endometritis, which is an inflammation of the inner lining of the uterus. If you notice that your lochia has an unpleasant, strong odor, be sure to reach out to your OB/GYN or healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Postpartum bleeding is a natural conclusion to the childbirth experience. It is messy, and it certainly can be a hassle, but it’s temporary. The time frame will vary from person to person, but generally, most people can expect to have some bleeding and discharge for up to six weeks after giving birth. If you’re concerned about any abnormal symptoms, or worried that you may be developing an infection, please contact your OB/GYN, midwife, or healthcare provider.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. ACOG. 3 Conditions to Watch for After Childbirth

  2. Fletcher S, Grotegut CA, James AH. Lochia patterns among normal women: a systematic reviewJ Womens Health (Larchmt). 2012 Dec;21(12):1290-4. doi:10.1089/jwh.2012.3668

  3. ACOG. Postpartum Hemorrhage.

  4. NHS. How Soon Can I Use Tampons After Giving Birth?

  5. ACOG and AAP. Guidelines for Perinatal Care

By Jennifer Larson
Jennifer Larson is a seasoned journalist who regularly writes about hard-hitting issues like Covid-19 and the nation's ongoing mental health crisis, as well as healthy lifestyle issues like nutrition and exercise. She has more than 20 years' of professional experience and hopes to log many more.

Originally written by
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.
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