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For many pregnant women, the anticipation of seeing and holding their new baby makes it difficult to spend too much time on details like postpartum supplies.

But after your baby is born, you’ll have more to deal with than tiny diapers. In fact, thanks to postpartum bleeding, you’ll be using something similar yourself.

During a pregnancy, the volume of blood in a woman’s body will increase by 30 to 50 percent. The extra blood circulating in your body nourishes your growing baby, and prepares your body for postpartum bleeding. This vaginal discharge shares certain similarities with your monthly period.

After having no period for the last 10 months, it may seem like the heaviest period of your life. Unlike a period, however, postpartum bleeding will last for weeks. Here’s what you should know about postpartum bleeding and how to manage it.

The bleeding you experience after delivery is called lochia. Just like a period, this bleeding is a result of your body shedding the lining of your uterus, which has been home to your baby for the last 10 months.

As your uterus moves through the process of involution, which is when it shrinks back to its prepregnancy size, you’ll experience postpartum bleeding. It doesn’t matter if you deliver vaginally or via cesarean, postpartum bleeding will happen either way.

Lochia is a mix of mucus, blood, and tissue from the spot where the placenta was attached to the uterine wall. You may notice clots in the lochia as well, which can be similar in size to cherries or even small plums. Postpartum bleeding may last anywhere from two to six weeks. You’ll notice a change in color, consistency, and amount as time goes by.

Immediately after delivery, postpartum bleeding is heavy and bright red or brownish-red. This can continue for three to 10 days postpartum. After that, the bleeding should begin to lighten. It will also begin changing from red to pink or brown, and finally to a light yellow or cream color.

While the progression of your postpartum bleeding should begin to slow and then taper off, you may notice that certain activities and even positions can temporarily increase blood flow. These might include:

  • getting out of bed, or standing upright from a reclined position
  • any kind of moderate physical activity
  • breast-feeding, which releases the hormone oxytocin and stimulates uterine contractions
  • straining during a bowel movement or during urination

During the first six weeks postpartum, nothing should be inserted into the vagina until you’ve seen your doctor and been given the all clear. That means that during postpartum bleeding, you’ll have to use maxi pads instead of tampons.

If you’ve given birth in a hospital or birthing center, you’ve likely been supplied with giant, heavy duty sanitary pads and mesh underpants. When you go home, stock up on maxi pads.

As postpartum bleeding slows, you can switch to thinner pads and then to panty liners. Remember, no tampons!

Postpartum bleeding may be inconvenient, but it’s a normal part of the postpartum experience. Certain symptoms, however, can be sign of a problem. These symptoms might include:

  • a fever over 100.4° F, or chills
  • a strong, unpleasant odor from your postpartum bleeding
  • lochia starts to lighten in color, before suddenly becoming dark red again
  • large clots or very heavy bleeding that soaks a maxi pad within an hour
  • bleeding is still bright red and heavy more than four days after you’ve given birth, even when you’re resting
  • bad cramps or severe pain in your abdomen
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • irregular heartbeat

Symptoms like these can indicate an infection or postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). PPH is defined as excessive bleeding after a baby is delivered. While most cases of PPH happen right after delivery, it can happen later as well.

Most instances of PPH occur when the uterus doesn’t contract strongly enough to adequately compress the bleeding vessels in the spot where the placenta was attached. Another cause of this excessive bleeding can be when small pieces of the placenta remain attached to the uterine wall.

As you recover from your delivery, take care to change your pads regularly. Keep your hands clean and pay attention to the progression to your postpartum bleeding. If you notice anything that concerns you, speak with your doctor.