What is lochia?
Lochia is the vaginal discharge you have after giving birth. It contains a mix of blood, mucus and uterine tissue. It has a stale, musty odor like menstrual period discharge and can last several weeks. Lochia is heavy at first but gradually subsides to a lighter flow until it goes away. This can last for a few weeks. Lochia is a normal part of the postpartum healing process and doesn’t usually cause complications.
What does lochia look like?
Every person is different, but generally, lochia follows a similar progression in color and volume. It begins as blood before tapering to a whiteish mucus.
Lochia is dark or bright red for at least three or four days. The flow is heavy, and you may also pass small clots. You can expect to soak one thick maxi pad every two to three hours.
After about a week, lochia is more watery and transitions to a pinkish brown color. The flow is lighter, and you may not fill pads as quickly.
Finally, after about 10 to 14 days, lochia changes to a creamy, yellowish-white color. At this point, some people can wear thin panty liners in their underwear.
What are the three stages of lochia?
Lochia has three stages. The duration of each stage and the way lochia looks can vary.
Lochia is postpartum bleeding and vaginal discharge. It has three stages and lasts up to six weeks.
Lochia rubra is the first stage of lochia. You can expect:
- Dark or bright red blood.
- Lasts for three to four days.
- Flows like a heavy period.
- Small clots are normal.
- Mild, period-like cramping.
Lochia serosa is the term for the second stage of lochia. You can expect:
- Pinkish brown discharge that’s less bloody looking.
- Thinner and more watery than lochia rubra.
- Lasts for four to 12 days.
- Flow is moderate.
- Less clotting or no clots.
Lochia alba is the last stage of lochia. You can expect:
- Yellowish white discharge.
- Little to no blood.
- Light flow or spotting.
- Lasts from about 12 days to six weeks.
- No clots.
What is lochia made of?
Lochia is postpartum bleeding and discharge. Your uterus is essentially “starting fresh” and shedding any blood, tissue and other materials from months of pregnancy. Lochia is made up of:
- The tissue lining of your uterus.
- Amniotic fluid.
- Bacteria and microorganisms.
- Any leftover fetal membranes.
- Cervical mucus.
Lochia will smell like menstrual blood. Some describe it as musty, metallic, sour or stale. However, it shouldn’t smell fishy or foul. This could mean bacteria has gotten into your vagina and caused an infection.
Why does my vaginal discharge smell postpartum?
Lochia consists of all the contents in your uterus from nine months of pregnancy. There will be an odor to the blood and discharge like a typical menstrual period. The best thing you can do is practice good hygiene. Contact your healthcare provider if your discharge is extremely foul or fishy, as it could indicate an infection.
How long does lochia last?
It can vary between people, but lochia typically lasts about six weeks. However, some people have traces of lochia for up to eight weeks.
How is lochia different than period blood?
There are some similarities between menstrual period blood and lochia. They both have a distinct smell and begin as a dark red, heavy discharge. Lochia and menstrual blood are similar in that the bleeding subsides before going away.
The biggest difference between the two types of discharge is that lochia lasts much longer. A typical period lasts about one week. Lochia lasts about six weeks in most people.
What can make lochia worse?
Lochia is different for everyone. The color, consistency, and duration vary, but some factors impact how much lochia you see. You may see more lochia:
- During or after physical activity like walking or climbing stairs.
- While breastfeeding (chestfeeding).
- When you stand up out of bed in the morning.
Care and Treatment
What do I do to treat lochia at home?
Healing after childbirth takes several weeks. Take it easy and get as much rest as possible during this time. Here are some tips on how to treat postpartum bleeding:
- Use only sanitary maxi pads for the first six weeks postpartum. Plan on going through several large, thick pads per day for at least a week.
- Don’t use tampons or insert anything into your vagina until after you’ve seen your healthcare provider. This can introduce bacteria to your uterus and cause infection.
- Wear underwear and pants you don’t mind ruining. Lochia may stain your clothes.
Give your body time to heal. As exciting as it might sound to bounce back and start with your usual activities, this can prevent you from healing. It can also cause your bleeding to start again or get heavier.
To avoid infection, change your maxi pad every few hours and don’t insert anything into your vagina for at least six weeks.
How do I know if my lochia is infected?
The biggest sign of infection is foul-smelling or greenish-colored vaginal discharge. Contact your healthcare provider as they may want to check for infection.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call my doctor?
Lochia doesn’t typically cause complications. The amount of bloody discharge should taper off on its own until it’s completely done. However, there are signs of abnormal bleeding or discharge you should watch for.
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience the following symptoms in the weeks after giving birth:
- Greenish vaginal discharge.
- Foul-smelling odor (worse smelling than your usual period).
- Excessive bleeding or discharge (soaking a pad every hour).
- Large, golf-ball-sized clots or excessive clotting.
- Fever, chills or flu-like symptoms.
- Swelling or pain around your vaginal area.
- Dizziness or feeling like you may faint.
- Excessive cramping or pelvic pain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get pregnant when you have lochia discharge?
It’s best to avoid sexual intercourse for at least six weeks after giving birth. Your healthcare provider will give you the OK for intercourse after your postpartum check-up. Introducing bacteria and objects into your vagina before it has healed can cause infection. When it’s OK to have sex again, use contraception because you can still become pregnant even if your menstrual period hasn’t returned.
Do you bleed less if you have a C-section?
If you’ve had a cesarean delivery (c-section), you will still bleed for several weeks, but it might be less than if you had delivered vaginally. You should still expect dark red blood that gradually changes from brown to yellow to white over several weeks.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Lochia is a normal part of the healing process after giving birth. For most people, it gradually subsides over several weeks without causing any problems. Stock up on sanitary pads and don’t use tampons during this time. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice signs of infection like foul-smelling discharge or if your vaginal bleeding gets worse. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest. Your body is healing from a pretty significant event. Giving it the downtime it needs is the best way to ensure a successful recovery.
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