Postnatal Bleeding: Here’s What You Should Know

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Postnatal bleeding is one of those icky parts about postnatal life that not a lot of people talk about. So, if you’re going through it, you’re probably wondering what’s normal…and what’s not. So he’s the deal, according to Tracy Donegan, a midwife, birth doula, and author of GentleBirth“It’s normal for a new mum to bleed for up to six weeks after the baby arrives, even if she’s had a caesarean section.” Every woman’s experience is different, but as the weeks pass you can generally expect the blood to change in colour from red to pink to brownish in hue, and get lighter, too, she adds.

Marie C says that she was surprised how heavy her postnatal bleeding was after she gave birth to her son Devon. “I figured all the blood came out with the baby and that was that,” she says. “Fortunately that first week was the worst and then it was more a light period for the next two weeks.” Theresa K, on the other hand, says that she didn’t experience much postnatal bleeding at all after her c-section — and her doctor confirmed that she was just fine. “I guess I was the lucky one,” she adds.

Because nobody talks about postnatal bleeding, it can seem a bit mysterious. Read on for everything you need to know about it, from why postnatal bleeding occurs to when you should call the doctor.

Why does postnatal bleeding occur?

Postnatal bleeding is your body’s way of shedding the uterine lining that cushioned your baby en utereo. You may also bleed more if you had a lot of tearing during your delivery.

What’s the best way to deal with postnatal bleeding?

In the first few days after delivery, many women experience a bright red heavy flow, so they often wear a hospital-grade sanitary pad, according to the Mayo Clinic. After the bleeding slows, you can use a normal store-bought pad (although it’s probably still good to stick with the overnight maximum coverage pads or pads made especially for ‘maternity’). There might be small blood clots in the bleeding which is normal. It’s also normal if you feel a gush of blood when you stand up after sitting for a while; the blood has been collecting/pooling and then pours out due to gravity. Avoid tampons for six weeks after you give birth, because they may introduce bacteria into your vagina. Also, it’s best to use underwear that you’re okay with throwing away.

Is there anything that makes postnatal bleeding worse?

“Heavy postnatal bleeding can ease off after a week or so but it comes back with a vengeance if mum gets too active too soon,” says Donegan. So if you’re bleeding has slowed down, but then increased after you’ve tried to do too much, it may be your body’s way of telling you to slow down. Additionally, breastfeeding may cause heavier postnatal bleeding, because your hormones are making the uterus contract, she says.  Lastly, for some women the bleeding ends early but they experience what seems to be new red blood loss a few weeks later; Donegan explains that this could be your first period since before becoming pregnant.

When should you call your healthcare provider about postnatal bleeding?

“The first few days’ post-birth bleeding can be heavy, but if you find you’re soaking a pad in an hour then it’s time to call your health care provider,” says Donegan. It may be the result of a serious, but rare condition called Postnatal Haemorrhage (also called PPH). It happens to less than five percent of women after birth, but can be deadly if it goes untreated. It involves a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Symptoms include:

  • Very heavy bleeding that doesn’t slow or stop
  • Signs of low blood pressure and shock including blurry vision; clammy skin; the chills; racing heartrate; feeling confused; feeling dizzy; and feeling like you’re going to faint.
  • Nausea
  • A very pale complexion
  • Pain or swelling in or around your vagina

“You should also call the doctor if you have large clots or if the blood smells offensive.” She explains that in rare cases mums can develop a uterine infection due to pieces of the placenta getting left behind.

Before you leave the hospital after giving birth, you should have booked an appointment for your six-week postnatal check-up with your doctor. However, you should call or see your doctor any time after birth if you feel something isn’t right.

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Image: Getty