Post-Natal Bleeding (Nifas)
From the beginning of her pregnancy, a woman wonders what her labour and delivery will feel like. She learns the signs to active labour, such as the baby dropping, the dilation of the cervix and her water breaking. Contractions, which can feel like waves of intense pressure, will increase in frequency and intensity. As a woman goes through this experience, she also has to know what is expected of her in regards to her ritual prayer (salat).
It is important to remember that whatever exits from the vagina during pregnancy is considered an impurity (najasah), including water breaking, losing the mucus plug, and seeing a watery red discharge (bloody show). These situations all invalidate ablution (wudu) and any impurity on the body/clothing must be removed prior to praying. However, they do not indicate the onset of nifas. Hence, a woman in labour is obligated to offer her prescribed (fard) prayers. If she cannot perform wudu (even with assistance), or there is no access to water, she will perform dry ablution (tayammum). If a woman is unable to stand or fears for the safety of the baby, she can perform salat sitting or even lying down. (Radd al-Muhtar 134-6/1, 233/1, 98/2)
The Fiqh of It
Technically, the start of nifas is when “most of the baby” has been delivered. If the baby is born head-first, “most” means after the chest comes out, and if the baby is breech, then after the navel comes out (Al-Bahr al-Ra’iq 129/1). With the onset of nifas, a woman cannot fast, pray salat, or have sexual intercourse until the bleeding ends, or up to 40 days, whichever comes first. If a woman does not have any post-natal blood, she is required to take a ritual bath (ghusl) and begin praying immediately.
A cultural misunderstanding is that a post-natal mother will wait for the full 40 days to pray even if her bleeding ends earlier. This is incorrect, as 40 days is given as a maximum. Many women will stop much earlier. If this is the case, they should purify themselves with ghusl and begin praying. (Manhal al-Waridin pp.200-1)
If the mother’s bleeding, coloured discharge, or spotting extends beyond 40 days, she will resort to her previous nifas habit, i.e. the number of days she bled after her last delivery. If it is her first pregnancy, she will count 40 days as her nifas, and any blood seen thereafter will be treated as istihada until her habit before the pregnancy is applied. (Manhal al-Waridin p.181)
For example, if a woman had 30 days of bleeding after her first baby, and with her second delivery she bleeds beyond 40 days, her nifas will be 30 days. She will make up the prayers she missed from days 31-40, as these are istihada. If her bleeding ends before the 40-day maximum, she will have a new nifas habit.
All the bleeding within the first 40 days after childbirth is considered part of nifas, even if the bleeding is intermittent or stops for some time (Al-Muhit al-Burhani 264/1). For example, a woman sees a spot of blood on the first day, then the bleeding stops. Thereafter, she sees blood again on day 39. She will consider herself to be bleeding for the entire duration, as it is within the 40-day time-frame.
For multiple births, nifas will begin when more than half of the first baby exits the mother if vaginal, or from the birth of the first baby, if cesarean. This applies if the babies are born less than 6 months apart (Tabyin al-Haqa’iq 68/1). In our contemporary time, most multiple births are born within the same day, so nifas will begin after the first birth.
If a baby is born from a cesarean section, only the blood that exits the vagina is considered nifas. If blood exits from her incision, and not from the vagina, she will perform ghusl and begin praying immediately. (Manhal al-Waridin p.160)
Note: The Sacred Law rulings apply equally to menstruation (hayd) and nifas.