There’s a lot a woman’s body goes through from the moment she conceives up until the time she experiences her first contraction then delivers her baby. While many may focus on the major components of childbirth, there is one area post-delivery that makes us all a little squirmy to talk about. And that subject is lochia.
Lochia is the blood that is released post-birth. Like a period, the flow is heavy and can be quite uncomfortable to deal with much less talk about. Yet and still, there’s a lot to know about lochia that many new mothers may be unaware of.
For a lot of new mothers, preparing the baby's nursery and making sure they have such items like breast pads and nursing pillows is what seems the most important.
The presence of lochia comes as a surprise to some who knew very little about it - after all it's not as simple as 'postpartum bleeding'. The body is cleansing itself of everything else it held onto during pregnancy. So don't be surprised if you see clots mixed in there, too.
I'm here to shed some light on exactly what lochia is, how affects you after birth, and just how important it is for you to care for yourself while you have it.
Yes, blood is the obvious makeup of lochia but lochia is made up with so much more. The human body is amazing and during the time your little one was growing inside of you, your body was facilitating their residency. Now that their residency is over, it’s time for the excess stuff to leave, too.
In addition to blood, lochia is made up of shreds of various membranes including fetal membranes. Lochia also consists of tissue and mucus. The best way to deal with lochia is to let the body rid itself of it naturally. Usually after you have given birth, the hospital will supply you with enough maternity pads to start you off. Invest in those pads before you give birth just so you are prepared leaving less opportunity to deal with the mess lochia can cause.
The arrival of lochia may shock some new mothers who thought they’d finally get their bodies back. Do you remember those months where your monthly cycle was replaced with nausea and kicks from your little one. Well, all those months of your uterine wall not shedding are about to be made up.
Lochia will start a few hours after you have given birth. This is when the flow of lochia will be its heaviest. The reason why this occurs so soon is because the placenta separates from the uterus. Since there are opened blood vessels in that area, those blood vessels begin to bleed into your uterus contributing to the onset of lochia. During this stage of lochia, the blood will be bright red in color.
So, now you’ve been aware that you’ll be dealing with lochia after birth. How long will you have to deal with it? The average amount of time lochia lasts can vary. Typically, lochia lasts for four to six weeks and is present in various stages which we’ll discuss later. Depending on your level of activity, lochia can last longer than expected.
This is why it is important for you to rest whenever you can so your body can heal on schedule. The saying sleep when the baby is sleeping is one you should abide by for a speedy recovery. During this period of time, the amount of lochia flow will vary in color. Four to six weeks is also the amount of time your body will need to resolve all of the changes of pregnancy, labor and delivery allowing it to revert back to the state it was in before your pregnancy.
Quite frankly, lochia is simply a post-partum period. Just like your period, your flow will vary depending on when lochia started. You’ll experience cramping just like a period but with lochia, this will be attributed to your uterus contracting so it can shrink back to its normal size. The presence of lochia is normal and is known as a post-partum period for a reason. During the nine months you were pregnant, you didn’t have a period.
You don’t get a period because of your hormonal response. The response is needed to nourish the growth of your baby so they can develop from an egg to a fetus. So, because you have nothing to shed each month while you are pregnant, once you give birth, it’s time for all that stuff to go since it is no longer needed. Lochia assists with this.
Small clots present in lochia can be a normal thing. Again, because you will be dealing with more than just the expulsion of blood, clots are fairly normal. Small clots the shape of a grape or prune are normal sights to see. But clots should not be ignored if the size is larger than that. Your body is healing so it’s normal for it to go through various changes while releasing lochia.
Experts say that you should see a doctor if your clots are large in size and resemble the mass of golf balls. Clots this large could mean a bigger problem and could sometimes hint that you are experiencing serious complications post-delivery like uterine hemorrhaging.
Lochia will never look the same for the entire four to six weeks. It’s a good idea to monitor these changes to ensure you are healing correctly. There are three stages you will experience with lochia: Lochia Rubra, Lochia Serosa, and Lochia Alba.
Lochia Rubra is dark red and lasts three to four days. This is the first stage of lochia that happens a few days after you’ve delivered. This form of lochia is made up of blood, membranes, meconium, and cervical discharge.
Lochia Serosa is pinkish brown and lasts four to ten days. It’s made up of less red blood cells and more white blood cells, along with wound discharge from the placenta and mucus from your cervix. Lochia Alba is the final stage and is whitish-yellow. This stage of lochia lasts ten to twenty-eight days and is made up mostly of white fluid that consists of mucus, white blood cells and skin tissue.
If you had an episiotomy or tore during pregnancy, it’s totally normal for lochia to drain from there. You’ll realize during the healing process that the pinkish liquid that resembles blood will drain from the wound. This is all apart of the healing process. Because of the location of the incision or tear, it’s typical for lochia to drain from there too.
Again, this is the reason why resting whenever you can after giving birth is important. Many complications can arise after having an episiotomy and while ridding the body of lochia. So while you are caring for your baby, take some time to provide self-care for yourself. Your body will thank you.
Experts suggest urinating often to manage the flow of lochia. They suggest this because the act of getting up and not sitting for long periods of time allows the flow not to build up resulting in a rush of flow when you do stand on your feet.
Also, urinating often helps keep the bladder clear. Since after you give birth your bladder becomes less sensitive it could be hard to realize when you have to use the bathroom even when your bladder is full. Peeing often will allow you to make it easier for your uterus to contract, helping you to avoid serious postpartum bleeding.
You know that moment in your regular cycle where the smell isn’t all that great? Well, just like your period, during certain stage of lochia, you’ll experience a similar stale musty odor. It’s normal for lochia to have this smell, especially the further lochia progresses in stages. Seriously foul odors, however, are something to be concerned about.
You know your body better than anyone else so you’ll be able to identify an odor that smells less than normal. These odors will be strong and when you notice them, you should immediately bring this to the attention of your doctor so that they can check to make sure you are healing properly after birth.
The many benefits of breastfeeding have been touted and here is another one to add to the growing list of why breastfeeding is not only great for baby but for mom, too. Experts say that breastfeeding can help reduce the heavy flow of lochia. The reason for this is because breastfeeding your baby releases the hormone oxytocin.
The release of oxytocin helps the uterus contract which helps with reducing bleeding and the flow of lochia. This is also the reason why experts suggest breastfeeding your baby for at least six weeks just so your baby can get the best of your supply and your body can benefit from the act of breastfeeding.
Think about it. When you are asleep you are off your feet. You’re likely on your back and sleeping for an extended amount of time. Granted you’ll be woken up from sleep by your baby but unless you have already placed your baby in another room, you’ll likely just sit up in bed to care for your baby, give them the essentials and set them back down for sleep in the bassinet beside your bed.
During your resting state, including when your body is performing very little motions, lochia is pooling in your uterus. When you stand up, it will finally pass. This is why lochia is heavier first thing in the morning. The same applies to being active. Exerting more energy can result in lochia flow increasing because blood pools at a faster rate when muscles within your uterus have been activated.
There’s a logical reason for this. Even if you did not have a v-birth, your body will still expel lochia. Lochia simply is the release of all your pregnancy necessities that you no longer need. But lochia will be less if you’ve had a C-section. There isn’t much information out there regarding the confirmed reason for this but many new moms suspect that lochia flow is less and doesn’t last very long because during a cesarean surgery, after the doctor has delivered your baby, they remove most of the stuff that comes out with lochia after a natural birth.
Even though flow may not be as heavy, experts still suggest that you monitor the flow and rest when you can so that lochia doesn’t last longer than it should.
Your body will know exactly what to do after you’ve given birth. And this is more proof that it does, and how it prepares itself to heal. During the release of lochia, your uterus is contracting allowing it to shrink. Releasing all of the stuff that is no longer needed is also lochia’s job.
It’s important for your uterus to shrink back to its normal size. If it doesn’t, this can result in subinvolution – the slower than expected return of the uterus to its normal size. This is usually caused when the uterus fails to rid itself of placental fragments which can result in a pelvic infection. Lochia will help with preventing this. Through lochia, once those things are released, it becomes easier for the uterus to return to its normal shape.
The one thing you want to make sure of is that the flow of lochia is never obstructed. Lochia flow is a lot heavier than a normal period flow so if you choose to use tampons for your lochia flow, the cotton of that tampon will be soaked quicker than it should be.
Because the job of lochia is to remove the stuff from your body that it no longer needs or that could be toxic if it remains, it’s important lochia flows freely. Tampons will not help with that. In fact, tampons will make things worse by introducing bacteria to your sensitive uterus. Maternity pads are best and the only thing you should use while you are dealing with lochia. They are best because they are softer and much more absorbent also minimizing the risk of infection after birth.
The motivation behind your doctor recommending that you refrain from sexual activity after you’ve given birth isn’t them trying to torture you. It’s because this is the ideal time for your body to heal the right way so that you are back to your old self again. Being intimate before lochia stops can put you at risk of developing serious infections.
For the same reason tampons aren’t a good idea to use, the purpose of lochia is to rid the body of the stuff it no longer needs. And if that 'stuff' remains in your body or are reintroduced by way of sex, it could cause serious infection or result in you being hospitalized. Waiting the recommended six weeks is wise. This is enough time to allow your body to heal and to go through all the stages of lochia ensuring that your body has rid itself of what it’s done using.
Sources: Cleveland Clinic.org, Babycenter.com, Womens-health-advice.com, emedicinehealth.com