Let’s face it: Giving birth is a messy business. The first six weeks postpartum are dominated by getting to know your adorable newborn, of course (as well as learning to breastfeed and adjusting to sleep deprivation) but the various fluids and leaking body parts you will need to manage are also a recurring theme in the fourth trimester, sorry to say. (Bleeding, leaky boobs, night sweats, peeing when you sneeze—ah, motherhood.)
The technical term for postpartum bleeding is lochia (it literally means “relating to childbirth”), and it includes blood as well as bits of tissue and mucus that your body sheds. For the first few days after you’ve had your baby, lochia is usually bright red as it contains quite a bit of blood, due to the placenta separating from the uterus, mixed with bacteria and tissue.
You’ll want to stock up on heavy-flow maxi-pads ahead of time (yup, the ones that are the size of phonebooks) for the first few weeks, and then you might be able to switch to thinner pads or panty-liners as time goes on. (Tampons are not recommended after childbirth.) For the heavier-flow days, some women prefer Depends (disposable underwear normally used for incontinence), and others swear by the mesh panties given out by some hospitals. (Bring home a few extra pairs if you can.)
Heavy bleeding is completely normal as long as it’s manageable.
“If you’re soaking more than a pad an hour, or if you’re dizzy, have a fever or purulent (yellowish) discharge, seek immediate medical help,” says Noor Ladhani, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. “These symptoms could indicate that you have an infection, or that you may be hemorrhaging.”
For most women, lochia lasts for two to six weeks, but it’s not uncommon for some women to bleed for up to eight weeks. (If you’ve had any tearing or stitches, they may also bleed as they heal.)
Wearing black granny panties is a good way to spend more time bonding with your baby and less time scrubbing stains out of your nicest underwear. Try a perineal squirt bottle with warm water when you pee, or consider buying a Sitz bath (about $20 from a drug store). Simply settling in for a soothing bath—with either Epsom salts or witch hazel added to the water—while someone else holds the baby for a while may also help you feel a little more like yourself.