Asides from expecting a beautiful baby, one of the other things most women will say they enjoy about pregnancy is not having their period. Nine whole months without bleeding – YAY. The bad news is that once your bundle of joy arrives, there is going to be some bleeding.
Here’s what you need to know about postpartum bleeding.
What is postpartum bleeding?
Postpartum bleeding is referred to medically as lochia. Don’t stress, you’re not launching straight back into a monthly cycle. This is just another part of the recovery process. Regardless of whether you deliver vaginally or via caesarian section, you will experience bleeding after delivery.
It will look pretty similar to normal menstrual blood but can also contain pieces of uterine lining, mucus and white blood cells.
What causes it?
As a part of your monthly cycle, your uterus built up a lining, ready to accept and nourish a baby. If you don’t fall pregnant, you have a period and this lining is shed. When you’re pregnant, however, this lining stays and grows a whole myriad of connecting tissue and blood vessels between you, your placenta, and your baby. After you’ve delivered bub, and the placenta, your uterus begins working pretty much straight away to start getting things back to normal.
Birth is beautiful, but it’s also quite traumatic on your body. Bleeding could also be coming from a birth-related injury to your cervix, vagina or perineum (the bit between your vagina and your bottom). The delivery of the placenta also leaves quite a considerable internal wound, so your body is in overdrive trying to heal that too.
But I have cramps too?
Yes, also totally normal. This is your uterus contracting. If you’ve made it to full term, your uterus was around the size of a watermelon. That’s 25 times its usual size, so it’s got a LOT of shrinking to do. This shrinking process is known as involution.
Initially, these cramps can be extremely uncomfortable and are called afterbirth pains. Many women report that these can be very intense while breastfeeding. This is because your baby suckling triggers your body to produce a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin actually encourages the placenta to separate from the uterine wall. It then goes on to tell the uterus to shrink and simultaneously clamps off blood vessels.
How clever is our body right?
How long will it last?
The entire process usually takes around 6 weeks. This is why your obstetrician or midwife will usually see you for a check-up around this time. The worst of the bleeding is usually in the first few days. You may also see a bit of an increase when you first bring baby home. This is because any kind of activity tends to trigger more bleeding.
Listen to your body in this first 1-2 weeks, as any increased bleeding in this time is usually a pretty good indication that you need to take it easy on yourself. After the two week mark, you should see the bleeding really start to ease up and become more mucous-y.
Light bleeding and/or spotting will probably stay with you for 4-6 weeks.
How much blood are we talking here?
Just like your period, it really varies from person to person. Straight after delivery, you can probably expect to see quite a bit of blood, and maybe even a few clots. Your delivery team will likely monitor this, particularly in the first 24 hours, just to make sure everything is ok.
Once things settle down, it’s quite normal for things like getting up after resting, light exercise, or going to the toilet to cause an increase in the flow. As long as the increase is temporary, don’t worry.
It’s also quite normal for bleeding to stop and start a bit, so don’t be surprised if this happens.
When should I worry?
If your bleeding is heavy enough to soak through a heavy absorbency pad in less than an hour, call your doctor straight away.
Other things to look out for include:
- Bleeding that is heavy for a number of days without easing
- Any bad-smelling discharge
- A fever
- You start to feel dizzy, weak or breathless
- Blurry vision
- Feeling like your heart is racing
- Passing a blood clot any bigger than an egg
Occasionally, women can suffer from a condition known as postpartum haemorrhage. This rare condition is usually caused by your uterus not contracting correctly after birth. There are a few risk factors that your doctor will monitor you for, but it can happen to anyone. It’s most common in the 24 hours immediately after birth but can also happen up to 6-12 weeks postpartum.
If you experience any of the above symptoms or are worried about your bleeding for any reason, it’s vital to get in touch with a doctor as soon as possible.
The most important takeaway from all of this is that postpartum bleeding, while unpleasant, is very normal. Your body has just been through an incredible transformation. Enjoy your beautiful new baby, and try to take the time to rest and recover. Most importantly, give yourself a huge mental hug – you just grew a tiny human and you’re now a mum!
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