Your body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy. And those changes don’t necessarily stop the moment you deliver. Your body needs time to recover, which means you may still have some symptoms for days or even weeks after delivery.

One of those symptoms is postpartum bleeding. But don’t panic. It’s normal to have some vaginal bleeding after delivery.

Here’s what you can expect based on the type of delivery you had, and how to know when you need to call your doctor.

Why Am I Bleeding?

The blood you see after childbirth is called lochia. It’s a type of discharge that’s similar to your menstrual period, and typically lasts for four to six weeks post-delivery. Like a period, it’s caused by the shedding and then restoration of your uterine lining. Lochia contains blood, pieces of the uterine lining, mucus, and white blood cells.

At first, the lochia will be primarily blood. As the days and weeks pass, you’ll likely see more mucus than blood.

Bleeding After a Vaginal Delivery

For the first one to three days after your baby is born, the blood you see will likely be bright or dark red. It may smell like the blood you typically shed during your monthly menstrual period. There might also be a few clots in the blood, ranging from the size of a grape to the size of a prune.

Between days four and seven, the blood should turn a pinkish or brownish color. Clots should get smaller or disappear altogether.

By the end of the first week, the discharge will likely be white or yellow in color. In three to six weeks, it should stop altogether.

Bleeding After a C-Section

If you delivered by cesarean (C-section), you’ll likely have less lochia than you would with a vaginal delivery. Still, you’ll likely see some blood for a few weeks. Just as you would see after a vaginal delivery, the color of the blood will change from red to brown to yellow or clear.

What to Do if You’re Bleeding

At first, the bleeding will probably be heavy enough that you’ll need to wear a hospital (extra large) pad. Your nurse may give you some of these extra-absorbent sanitary pads when you are discharged.

As the bleeding slows, you can transition to a regular sanitary pad. Make sure to change your pads often to prevent infection. Don’t use tampons until your doctor says it’s OK. Once the bleeding is light enough, or you’re only seeing discharge, you can switch to a panty liner. 

Why Your Bleeding Might Increase

Bleeding should slow and then taper off within a few weeks after delivery. But a few things can temporarily increase the blood flow, including:

  • getting out of bed in the morning
  • breastfeeding (your body produces the hormone oxytocin while you nurse, which stimulates uterine contractions and accelerates healing)
  • exercising
  • straining when urinating or defecating

When to Call Your Doctor

If the bleeding gets heavy enough to soak through a hospital pad in less than an hour or doesn’t go away after a few days, call your doctor. Also, tell your doctor if you notice any signs of infection, like foul-smelling discharge, or if you have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. You should also tell your doctor if you have very large clots, or a high number of clots. This could mean that your uterus is having trouble shrinking back to its original size.

Getting Back to Normal

Having a baby is a major transition phase in your life. It will take time for you to get used to your new child, your new role as mother, and the changes that are taking place in your body and mind. Give yourself a chance to adjust. If you still don’t feel right, either physically or emotionally, reach out to your doctor or another health professional for advice.