A stale, menstrual blood smell is the main attribute of lochia, otherwise known as postpartum vaginal discharge. Women are likely to pass dark to bright red blood with small clots. It is also heavier than normal menstrual blood and lasts a bit longer. However, the duration of lochia is not definitive since some women can bleed for four to six weeks at maximum. Lochia should not smell foul. But if it does, it may indicate infection and needs immediate medical attention.
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What is lochia?
Lochia is a bloody vaginal discharge, but it does not constitute the normal menstrual period.
It is bleeding that occurs right after delivery and may last up to four weeks. Some mothers may experience prolonged lochia for up to six weeks.
Although it is inconvenient, lochia is actually an essential body process for moms.
For all those months the uterus housed your baby, it also pooled up excess blood and tissues.
For that duration, you were not getting your monthly period. All those fluids, blood, and uterine lining were shed up once the baby was born.
Thus, lochia plays an important part in shrinking the uterus down to its normal size.
Should lochia smell?
Lochia is similar to menstrual bleeding, only heavier and longer. Its appearance changes such that you will be getting either pink, red, brown discharges, or mucus some days.
But regardless of its flow, color, or duration, lochia should not emit a foul odor.
It does smell stale, musty, and rusty as what deoxygenated blood in menstruation smells like. But if it secretes a fishy and foul odor, it may suggest a possible infection.
Uterine infections can happen after giving birth. It occurs when bacteria infect the uterus and its surrounding area.
Women with prolonged labor, repeated cervical examinations, bacterial vaginosis, and other underlying health conditions will likely contract a uterine infection.
A foul-smelling lochia and vaginal discharge are always an indication of infection and need necessary medical treatment.
Doctors may prescribe an oral antibiotic depending on the type of bacteria that causes the infection.
Stages of lochia
If you are a new mom, the presence of blood that lasts for a few weeks can be a scary sight.
But, there is no need to freak out over bleeding that does not leak odor or overly saturate a pad.
The body’s release of impurities such as postpartum materials undergoes some phases.
Lochia has three stages:
- lochia rubra
- lochia alba
- lochia serosa
Each type varies in characteristics and duration. The duration of lochia differs and may last shorter or longer in some mothers.
To better compare their differences, refer to the table below:
|2 to 5 days after delivery
|Starts at day 4
|Starts at week 2
|Dark-red to reddish-brown
|Pinkish to brownish
|Pink to yellow or white
|1 to 3 days
|Until 6 weeks
|Blood and discharge
|Mainly white blood cells
How to tell if you have an infection?
Heavy bleeding with small clots does not generally warrant an emergency.
Sometimes, lochia can last longer than six weeks in some mothers but is nothing to worry about.
What is worrisome is if you experience the following symptoms beyond the normal:
- Fishy and foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Clots the size of a golf ball
- Soaking of sanitary pads every hour
- Greenish discharge
- Breathlessness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- Blurred vision
- Pelvic pain
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal swelling and pain
- Increasing blood flow
Getting rid of the lochia smell
Lochia is a normal part of the healing process after childbirth. It will eventually go away without treatment unless there is an infection.
If you do strenuous physical activity and breastfeed, you may experience a temporary increase in lochia. It is also naturally heavier when you get up in the morning.
Once your uterus returns to normal, you will stop passing lochia. But for the meantime you are experiencing it, here are a few coping techniques and ways of avoiding infection:
1. Use a peri bottle
Cleaning your delicate area after birth is a literal sore job.
Using squirt bottles like the Peri bottle or pocket bidet is a great help for your hygiene care.
Just fill the bottle with warm water and gently squirt it on the vulva.
It will not only clean the area but will also relieve swelling and vaginal inflammation.
2. Sanitary night pads
Managing lochia gets better if you are using large sanitary pads.
It provides better absorbency and gives a lot of coverage to avoid leakage.
As the amount of bleeding decreases, you can switch to regular-flow pads. You should always remember to change the pad every four hours to ward off infections.
Tampons are not advisable in all three stages of lochia since it is a risk for an infection to develop.
3. Wear cotton panties
The friction against your skin and clothing can only add to postpartum discomfort.
Wear cotton underwear to lessen your distress. You should also wear ones that you won’t mind getting stained.
4. Relaxing sitz bath
A postpartum sitz bath, or warm-water bath, soaks the genital area to relieve soreness.
It can also promote healing while relaxing tired muscles after the whole ordeal of childbirth. A sitz bath is only advisable three days after birth.
You may also add Epsom salt or other herbs but only upon the advice of your doctor to avoid irritations.
Can I have lochia even if I had a C-section?
Possibly, but lesser than vaginal birth.
Doctors clean the uterine after the C-section to remove the placenta and the membranes – the rest pass on as lochia.
Is it possible for lochia to stop and start again?
Yes. Some women may stop bleeding for a day or two, then start again. It particularly becomes heavier after strenuous physical activity.
When the placental site scab comes off, there will also be additional spotting for a few more days.
When will the period start after lochia?
The first postpartum period will occur a couple of weeks after lochia has stopped.
If you are breastfeeding, it may take a while to return.
Lochia is the body’s normal process of getting rid of excess fluids and blood from the uterus. It is naturally heavier in the first few days after birth, then it gradually decreases.
The bleeding will go away without treatment after the uterus shrinks to its normal size.
A fishy and foul-smelling lochia is a red flag that warrants medical help. It may need oral antibiotics to cure the infection that causes the smelly discharge.