Postpartum hemorrhage is excessive blood loss in a woman after childbirth. It is called primary when it is within the first 24 hours after childbirth. Secondary (or delayed) postpartum hemorrhage occurs between 24 hours-6 weeks after childbirth.
Some blood loss is normal. However, postpartum hemorrhage is a potentially serious condition that often goes unrecognized. Any excessive blood loss can put a woman at considerable risk. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns about blood loss after giving birth.
Postpartum hemorrhage can be caused by:
In rare cases, uterine inversion or uterine rupture may also cause postpartum hemorrhage.
Postpartum hemorrhage may be more common in Asian and Hispanic women.
Factors leading up to labor that may increase your chance of postpartum hemorrhage include:
Complications of labor and delivery that may increase your chance of postpartum hemorrhage include:
The most obvious sign of postpartum hemorrhage is heavy vaginal bleeding. If the bleeding is not obvious, other signs may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will check your perineum, vagina, cervix, and uterus for bleeding. Other tests may include:
Imaging tests evaluate internal body structures. These may include:
Treatment is based on the severity of bleeding. Treatment options include:
You may need IV fluids or an oxygen mask. In severe cases, resuscitation or a blood transfusion may be necessary.
A massage technique called bimanual uterine massage can control bleeding. A doctor or nurse will place one hand in your vagina to push on your uterus, while the other hand pushes down on your abdomen. This action will cause a relaxed uterus to contract, thus slowing bleeding.
Bleeding can be caused by a tear in your genital tract or other trauma. The tear will be stitched. In addition, tissue from a retained placenta may need to be removed.
Your doctor may prescribe uterotonics or prostaglandins to stimulate contraction of the uterus.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to stop bleeding. Procedures include:
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Pregnancy Association
Women's Health Matters
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG Practice Bulletin: Clinical Management Guidelines for Obstetrician-Gynecologists Number 76, October 2006: postpartum hemorrhage. Obstet Gynecol. 2006;108(4):1039-1047. Reaffirmed 2013.
Anderson JM, Etches D. Prevention and management of postpartum hemorrhage. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(6):875-882.
Postpartum hemorrhage. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 19, 2013. Accessed August 6, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.