Warning signs after birth
Your body goes through lots of changes after having your baby. These changes help your body recover from pregnancy and help you get ready to care for your new baby.
It’s normal to feel some discomfort, like soreness and fatigue, as your body heals after giving birth. However, other discomforts and health problems may be a sign that you need medical care.
Chances are that you’ll be healthy after giving birth. But some moms may have some health problems, like:
Call your provider if you have any of theses warning signs:
- Bleeding that’s heavier than your normal menstrual period or that gets worse
- Discharge, pain or redness that doesn’t go away or gets worse. These could be from a c-section incision (cut), episiotomy or perineal tear (a tear that happens between the vagina and rectum).
- Feelings of sadness that last longer than 10 days after giving birth
- Fever higher than 100.4 F
- Pain or burning when you go to the bathroom
- Pain, swelling and tenderness in your legs, especially around your calves
- Red streaks on your breasts or painful lumps in your breast
- Severe pain in your lower belly, feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
- Vaginal discharge that smells bad
Trust your instincts. If you feel like something’s wrong, call your health care provider. Many of these problems can be treated easily. But if you ignore warning signs and they go untreated, they may cause more serious problems. Call your provider or emergency medical services (911) right away if you think your life may be in danger, or if you have any of these warning signs:
- Bleeding that can’t be controlled
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Signs of shock, such as chills, clammy skin, dizziness, fainting or a racing heart
Last reviewed July 2011
See also: Your body after baby: The first 6 weeks, Postpartum depression
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding?
Yes. Breastfeeding may decrease the odds of getting pregnant by delaying the return of a woman's menstrual period. However, breastfeeding does not prevent pregnancy, even if the mother is not getting a period. Many women ovulate before they see their period return. If you want to be certain not to conceive again until you and your partner are ready for another child, talk with your health care provider about when to return to using birth control. Note that some oral contraceptives that contain estrogen may decrease a woman's milk production. If you think this might be a problem for your milk supply, discuss different birth control options with your provider.
I just had a baby. How soon can I get pregnant again?
Most experts recommend that, after the birth of a child, you should wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. This applies both in the case of a vaginal or cesarean birth. Waiting 18 months gives your body the time it needs to fully recover from the last pregnancy. It also helps prevent health risks during your next pregnancy, like premature birth or having a low-birthweight baby. Spacing pregnancies too close together also has been associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Frequent pregnancies can have an impact on the mother's health.
Sometimes it's not possible to wait so long, either because of your age or other reasons. The best thing to do is to talk with your health care provider about what’s best for you.
However, if you're planning to have more than one child, it's best to wait no more than five years between pregnancies.
What is a cesarean wound infection?
A cesarean (c-section) wound infection is caused when bacteria get inside the incision (cut) from a c-section. A c-section is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your health care provider makes in your belly and uterus. Bacteria can cause the cut to get infected.
Signs of infection are fever and painful, red, swollen skin around the incision. Call your health care provider if you have any of these signs. Your provider may drain the incision to release the trapped bacteria.
Most c-section incisions heal without any problems. You’re more likely to get an infection if you:
- Abuse alcohol
- Have type 2 diabetes
- Are obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.
What is deep vein thrombophlebitis (DVT)?
Deep vein thrombophlebitis (DVT) is a blood clot inside a vein. DVT is rare, but it can be a serious health problem if it’s not treated. Without treatment, the blood clot can travel to your heart and lungs and block blood flow. This can cause chest pain, breathing problems and, in rare cases, even death.
Blood clots also can happen in the veins around your pelvic area. This is more common if you’ve had a cesarean birth (c-section). A c-section is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your health care provider makes in your belly and uterus.
Signs of DVT include a high fever and tenderness, pain or swelling in your leg, especially around your calf.
Hormonal changes make all women at risk for DVT after giving birth. Other risks for DVT include:
- Having a c-section—Your chances of having a DVT in your leg is about 3 to 5 times greater after a c-section than after a vaginal birth
- Being obese
- Being older than 35
- Not being able to walk around after surgery as much as your provider wants you to
If you think you may have DVT, call your health care provider immediately. You may need to go to the hospital. Your provider may give you a blood thinner to treat the clot and prevent any new clots.
What is endometritis?
Endometritis is infection of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus (womb). Bacteria that cause endometritis grow in the uterus lining, at the spot where the placenta breaks away after birth. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.
Endometritis can spread through the uterus. Sometimes it reaches blood vessels in the ovaries and pelvis.
Endometritis usually happens 2 to 3 days after birth. If the infection isn’t treated, it can cause more serious health problems, like infertility.
Signs of endometritis include:
- Abnormal or vaginal discharge that smells bad
- General discomfort
- Tenderness or pain in your lower belly
Call your health care provider if you have any of these signs.
If your health provider finds that you have endometritis, antibiotics (medicines that kill infection caused by bacteria) can help clear up most cases.
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is a breast infection that’s caused by bacteria. Bacteria usually get into the breast during breastfeeding.
Bacteria from your skin and your baby’s mouth can get into the breast through a crack in the skin of your nipple. Bacteria also can enter your breast through the opening to milk ducts in your nipple.
Signs of mastitis include:
- One or both of your breasts feel sore, hard and hot.
- One or both of your breasts swell and get red.
- You have a fever.
Mastitis can be painful, but it usually doesn’t lead to serious health problems. Your provider may give you antibiotics (medicines that kill infection caused by bacteria) or acetaminophen (like Tylenol) to reduce your fever and help you feel better.
Even though it may hurt, it’s best to keep breastfeeding or breast pumping if you have mastitis. This helps empty your breasts and takes away some of the painful pressure. You can’t pass the infection to your baby through breast milk, so it’s safe to keep breastfeeding.
What is postpartum bleeding?
Postpartum bleeding is bleeding from the vagina after giving birth. It’s normal. However, heavy bleeding (hemorrhaging) can be a sign of other health problems. The most common causes of serious, heavy bleeding after birth are:
- Uterine atony: This is when the muscle in your uterus (womb) doesn’t contract (tighten). When your uterus contracts, it helps manage bleeding. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. If you have twins or a large baby, or if you are in labor for a long time, you may be at risk of having uterine atony.
- Retained placenta: During the third stage of labor, you deliver the placenta. If the placenta doesn’t pass within 30 minutes after your baby is born, you may have heavy bleeding.
- Tearing: If your vagina or cervix (opening to the uterus that sits on top of the vagina) is cut or torn during birth, you may bleed heavily.
If you have serious bleeding after birth, it most likely happens when you’re still in the hospital. Your health care provider may massage your uterus or give you fluids through an IV needle into your vein. This can help stop the bleeding. She also may give you oxytocin (a hormone that can help your uterus contract). In very rare cases, a woman may need surgery or a blood transfusion.
When will my period return after the baby is born?
Your period may start again 6 to 8 weeks after giving birth if you're not breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding, your period may not start again for months. Some women don't have a period again until they stop breastfeeding.