How long does postpartum bleeding last?

You probably haven’t been this shocked about blood in your panties since your first ever period. And that, by comparison, was just a light splash. Postpartum bleeding is like a period on steroids, as if your smug, non-menstruating pregnant body saved it up for nine months.

95% of the time, postpartum bleeding is normal and harmless during the postpartum period – as long as you’ve got industrial-sized pads at hand to protect your bedsheets and clothing. But it’s good to be aware of what isn’t typical when it comes to postpartum bleeding. The most important thing to do is check in with your doctor if anything feels off.

In this article, we’ll delve into all the juicy details of postpartum bleeding: how long it lasts, why it happens, and what is and isn’t normal.

Why does postpartum bleeding happen?

After contributing to the incredible feat of labor and childbirth, your uterus will start contracting back to its normal size – like it’s no big deal that it just carried a baby inside it for nine months. What up? Routine uterus stuff.

First, it will push your placenta out (which is technically the third stage of labor). Then, it’ll begin shedding a bunch of mucus, tissue and blood as the womb begins to replace its lining. 

This bleeding is known as ‘lochia’ and yes, it’s totally normal for it to be HEAVY AF at first. Because of all the bodily gunk your uterus is expelling, there may be some clots in the blood too. Don’t stress unless those clots are regular and bigger than the size of a golf ball. Over time, the bleeding will taper off and eventually go away altogether.

When does postpartum bleeding stop?

It’s common to bleed from the vagina for a few weeks after giving birth, regardless of whether you had a vaginal birth or a c-section birth. You may bleed slightly more when recovering from a vaginal birth, although a c-section carries the additional bleed risk of a surgical wound too. 

Bleeding is all a part of your recovery process, and while it might feel scary and uncomfortable at times, it’s just your body doing its thing! If you’re looking for how to stop postpartum bleeding faster, unfortunately it’s mostly a matter of waiting it out. Taking it easy and restoring your body with nutritious foods can be a good way to heal up more quickly.

So how long does this bloody thing last? Postpartum bleeding typically sticks around for between 24 and 36 days, but it’s not unusual to continue experiencing light bleeding six weeks postpartum and beyond. It will start out heavy and bright red right after birth, but will reduce and change color over several weeks.

The three postpartum bleeding stages

A handy postpartum bleeding chart

For those who can’t be f*cked reading the full explanation below (you’re welcome).

Stage 1: Lochia rubraBright or dark red3–4 days postpartum
Stage 2: Lochia serosaPinkish2 weeks postpartum
Stage 3: Lochia albaYellowish-white3–6 weeks postpartum

Stage 1: Lochia rubra

The first stage of postpartum bleeding lasts up until about four days after giving birth. Blood will be bright red or dark in color and very heavy (more than a normal period). You might feel crampy during this stage too as your uterus continues to contract. Contraction-like pains might be afterbirth pains (which are as fun as they sound). But unlike actual contractions, you can take ibuprofen to manage these.

Stage 2: Lochia serosa

During the second stage, your flow will reduce and change to a pinkish color. This can last for about two weeks after delivery.

Stage 3: Lochia alba

The final stage commonly lasts three to four weeks after giving birth, and the discharge will turn to a whitish-yellow color. This is mostly the white blood cells leaving your body, having healed up your womb. Thanks for the amazing work, guys! 

It’s not out of the question to see four weeks postpartum bleeding bright red in color. Breastfeeding or physical activity could produce redder blood, and you may see this more often in the morning after laying down all night (if your newborn gives you much opportunity, that is).

What’s normal and what’s not with postpartum bleeding?

The return of the bleed

Don’t worry if your postpartum bleeding has stopped and started again at some point. You may have a few days where the bleeding seems to go away and then SURPRISE! – it’s back. This could be due to overexerting yourself, breastfeeding hormones, or even getting your actual period back (jerk!). 

Bleeding after sex in postpartum is common, too, even if you’ve waited the recommended six weeks or more before getting jiggy.

Signs you should see a doctor

It’s important to keep an eye on your postpartum bleeding in the weeks after birth, as some things aren’t normal and need medical attention ASAP. 

Here are some things to watch out for:

  • If you’re losing more than a pint of blood per day (not that you’ll be bleeding into a measuring cup, we guess), OR filling a maternity pad in an hour or less.
  • If your bleeding becomes heavier over time and doesn’t ease up.
  • If you’re feeling pains in your lower abdomen that aren’t afterbirth pains.
  • If you’re feeling shaky, feverish or unwell.
  • If your postpartum bleeding smells rank! It should smell similar to a normal period – not that it exactly screams ‘field of daisies’ anyway. But if the smell is particularly offensive, get it checked out.

What might be wrong?

About one to five women per 100 may experience postpartum hemorrhage. This is what it’s called when you lose too much blood, and it can be dangerous so isn’t something to ignore. 

Postpartum hemorrhage usually happens during or straight after delivery. However, a secondary hemorrhage could happen up to 12 weeks after giving birth. If it happens later on, it’s usually caused by infection, so it’s important to keep a watchful eye out for that happening. Take your postpartum care advice seriously, change your maternity pads regularly, and wash your hands frequently during your postpartum period to ward off infection.

Bleeding is never a fun time. But as your body does miraculous work to heal after giving birth, it’s to be expected. Take it as a reminder to slow down and allow that healing to take place. Plus, more rest equals more time spent connecting with other postpartum moms on Mumli – download the app now!

Read next: How long does postpartum hair loss last?

NCT First 1,000 Days, Bleeding after birth: 10 things you need to know

VeryWell Health, What is Lochia?

March of Dimes, Postpartum hemorrhage

Stanford Children’s Health, Postpartum Hemorrhage

Flo Health App, Abnormal Postpartum Bleeding: How to Recognize and Treat It

Women’s Health Specialists of CentraState, When Does Your Body Go Back to ‘Normal’ After Pregnancy

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