Motherhood unveils a plethora of surprises, some delightful, others not so much.
Postpartum discharge falls somewhere in between.
And the topic often sails under the radar due to its intimate nature.
We’re demystifying vaginal discharge after birth, shedding light on signs of infection, and giving you clearcut guidance for when to seek medical attention.
Let’s unravel the mystery together.
In this article: 📝
- What does healthy postpartum discharge look like?
- What are the 3 types of lochia?
- How long does lochia last?
- What does infected lochia look like?
- How do you flush out lochia?
What does healthy postpartum discharge look like?
First, with the basics: Postpartum discharge (lochia) is your body’s way of shedding the uterine lining and bacteria after childbirth.
It’s a mix of blood, mucus, and uterine tissues that can be surprising or even concerning to see (understandably).
Don’t worry, it’s a healthy part of the postpartum process.
But it also lends a powerful insight into any potential postpartum complications like postpartum hemorrhage or infection.
The problems arise when new moms are not educated on what normal postpartum discharge looks like.
Let’s change that.
So, what does lochia look like?
You might even notice a few small clots.
As days progress, it lightens in color and volume—changing from red to pink or even brown.
Eventually, your postpartum discharge will start to look more cream or yellowish in color, and this can last up until about four to six weeks post-delivery.
Still, it’s vital to remember that every woman’s body is unique.
You may experience a lighter or heavier flow, a quicker or slower transition through the stages, or even a longer or shorter overall duration of lochia.
The lochia amount and consistency can vary day by day and week by week.
We delve into the different stages of lochia further below.
Does lochia have a smell?
Normal postpartum discharge does have a distinct odor, similar to that of a regular menstrual flow.
So, if your lochial discharge smells like metal, know you’re body is on the right track.
The same goes for a sour or musty scent.
What postpartum discharge smell should not be is foul or offensive—think unpleasantly strong or similar to fish.
This could be a sign of infection and a good reason to contact your healthcare provider.
Doubly so if you’re experiencing green discharge postpartum.
What are the 3 types of lochia?
Lochia goes through three distinct stages as it helps cleanse the uterus following childbirth.
And each stage comes with a change in color and consistency, offering a sneak peek into the healing process within your uterus.
Pretty fascinating, no?
Here’s a closer look at the trio of types:
1. Lochia rubra
This stage kicks off immediately after childbirth and usually lasts about three to four days.
Lochia rubra is known for its bright red color, a clear sign of fresh blood and uterine lining being expelled from the body.
It primarily consists of blood, parts of fetal membranes, and tissue from the placenta and uterus lining, and is the most substantial phase of lochia in terms of volume.
It’s the very reason for those well-needed postpartum pads.
You may even experience it as a gush of blood when you sit up after lying down for a few hours—again, in the first two days, that’s to be expected.
And it’s worth mentioning, lochia after c-section is no different.
2. Lochia serosa
This type of discharge tends to show up around day three to day four postpartum.
Here, the color morphs into pink or brown as fresh blood gives way to older blood and tissue.
As for composition, it’s a blend of old blood, cervical mucus, and tissue debris from the uterus.
3. Lochia alba
The final stage can begin around day 10 and may extend up to six weeks postpartum.
This is when your postpartum discharge color will lighten to a whitish or yellowish hue.
Each woman’s experience with lochia may vary slightly in terms of duration, volume, and color transition.
‘Normal’ is a loose term when it comes to our bodies.
However, any sign of abnormal lochia discharge, like a fishy smell postpartum or a green appearance, should prompt a conversation with your healthcare provider.
The same goes for symptoms like fever and chills.
How long does lochia last?
Typically, lochia lasts for about four to six weeks post-delivery.
But as we mentioned above, the flow and what it looks like can change quite a bit during this time.
Plus, every woman’s body marches to its own beat.
Some might wave goodbye to lochia sooner, while others might have a longer rendezvous.
It’s all within the realm of normal.
But what if it’s past the six-week mark, and lochia is still making a daily appearance?
Or if your postpartum discharge suddenly decides to go back to its early-stage red hue?
Those are times you’d want to have a little chat with your healthcare provider to make sure everything’s on track.
Can lochia stop and start again?
Lochia can have a stop-and-start pattern.
It’s not unusual for the flow to slow down or even pause for a brief period, only to resume later.
However, if the restart is accompanied by heavy bleeding, large clots, or an unpleasant vaginal smell postpartum, it’s wise to check in with your healthcare provider to ensure everything is progressing smoothly.
What does infected lochia look like?
OK, so we’ve circled around the topic, but what does postpartum infection discharge look like?
It’s a topic no one fancies, but it’s essential to know the signs, especially when it comes to lochia.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Foul lochia smell: If your postpartum vaginal odor is smelling more rotten than musty, it’s your cue to call your doctor.
- Abnormal discharge color: While we’ve talked about the color transition from red to yellow discharge postpartum, infected lochia might decide to go rogue and turn greenish or have a yellowish-green tint. Definitely not the color change we want.
- Sharp change in consistency: It’s absolutely normal to see some small clots in the early days postpartum, but the presence of large clots or a sudden increase in the amount of lochia later in your recovery could be a sign of infection.
- Sudden increase in flow: If your discharge lightens and then suddenly becomes heavy again, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor.
- Prolonged lochia duration: If lochia continues heavily beyond six weeks or doesn’t seem to be lessening, it’s worth a discussion with your healthcare provider.
- Unusually late transition to lochia alba: Similarly, if the transition to the whitish or yellowish lochia alba stage is significantly delayed, it might warrant a check.
When should I be worried about discharge after giving birth?
Abnormal lochia isn’t the only red flag to watch out for.
Postpartum complications can show up in a myriad of ways—all of which deserve to be flagged and treated.
Recovering after giving birth is a challenging journey, but debilitating discomfort or pain is not the price of admission.
Here are eight other postpartum symptoms worth a trip to the doctor’s office:
- Heavy bleeding: As in, you’re soaking through one or more pads every hour for several consecutive hours.
- Large blood clots: Yes, a few small clots are normal, but if you’re passing clots larger than a quarter, you’re right to be concerned.
- Fever and chills: Postpartum fever is often a clear indicator of infection like endometritis or urinary tract infection, especially when paired with other concerning symptoms like smelly lochia with an alarming color.
- Severe pelvic pain: Some discomfort is expected, but severe pain is a red flag. Always. Period or not.
- Long-lasting bright red blood: If your lochia stays bright red and heavy beyond the first week, it’s worth a call to your healthcare provider. This could be a sign of delayed healing because of infection or a retained piece of placenta.
- Feeling dizzy or faint: Excessive bleeding can lead to anemia, which may make you feel dizzy or faint.
- Breast pain (with fever): This combo could be a sign of mastitis, a common postpartum breast infection.
- Vaginal swelling or pain: Some inflammation and swelling are common for the first few days to six weeks after vaginal delivery—especially with a vaginal tear. But if you’re past this stage or experiencing any other abnormal symptoms, it may be a vaginal infection afoot.
How do you flush out lochia?
Postpartum discharge is not something to ‘flush out’ or treat necessarily.
Healing from pregnancy and childbirth takes weeks, and your body needs (read: deserves) to do it at its pace.
Really, treatment for lochia is about managing it—maintaining cleanliness and comfort while your body navigates through the postpartum healing process.
Here are some practical steps you can take:
- Opt for absorbent maternity pads: Specially designed maternity pads are best for handling postpartum discharge—especially for the first week. You can then switch to regular menstrual pads when needed.
- Regular pad changes: Change your pads every two to four hours (or when they become soaked) to keep the area clean and minimize the risk of infection. Remember, if you need to change once or more every hour, call your doctor immediately.
- Maintain perineal hygiene: Caring for your perineum postpartum is key to helping healing and preventing infection—that that sensitive patch between your vaginal opening and anus. You can start by gently cleansing the perineal area with warm water during showers and pat dry with a clean towel to prevent irritation (and infection).
- Avoid internal sanitary products: As much as you may prefer them to pads, stay away from tampons and menstrual cups during this time to prevent infection. You can ask your doctor when it’s safe to return to these products.
- Wear comfortable clothing: Loose, comfortable clothing that allows your body to breathe and facilitates easy pad changes is a must. Your body will thank you.
- Rest up: Rest is crucial for postpartum recovery. It’s what helps manage postpartum discharge and boosts the healing process. If you find you’re increasing in lochia after a decrease, it could be a sign you’re overdoing it.
Lochia’s tenure is your body’s way of healing and resetting the uterine environment after the grand performance of childbirth.
It’s like the cleanup crew after a big event, making sure everything’s back in order.
And while it is a natural part of the postpartum journey, it’s always good to keep an open line of communication with your healthcare provider if anything seems amiss.
Being informed and proactive is a big part of embracing motherhood, and what better place to start than honoring your body’s signals.
You’ve got this.