Postpartum Recovery

Postpartum Complications: What to Watch Out For

Post-labor complications are rare — but can be extremely serious to a new mom recovering from her childbirth experience. Here, learn what the most common post-birth complications and their symptoms are.

Pregnancy and childbirth are difficult enough processes for any woman to go through — but just because you’ve given birth doesn’t mean your body automatically goes back to normal. It will take some time for your body to recover, and there are certain postpartum side effects you can expect during this time. Remember: This is all 100 percent normal.

However, there are some postpartum issues that aren’t normal — and are actually a cause for concern. Just as there are certain risks and complications you can experience during pregnancy and delivery, there are possible postpartum complications, as well. It’s important that every new mother stay vigilant and pay close attention to her body to make sure is recovering safely and successfully from childbirth.

As always, proper communication with your doctor is key. Postpartum women should always attend a checkup within three weeks of labor and continue to receive regular checkups as long as necessary. If you feel like something is wrong and that you are experiencing complications after birth, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.

In the meantime, you can learn more about some common postpartum complications below. Remember: This information is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice. Only your doctor can best guide you through your postpartum recovery period.

11 Post-Labor Complications to Watch Out For

First things first: If you have recently given birth, you need to remember that every woman’s pregnancy and delivery experience is different. On the same note, your postpartum recovery period may be different from other women that you know. That’s why it’s so important to stay in tune with your body and give yourself the time and rest you need to recover 100 percent from childbirth.

There are some common postpartum issues to expect after both a vaginal and C-section delivery, and your doctor should explain them to you before you deliver. That said, there are some more serious problems after childbirth that can arise. Left untreated, they can cause severe medical issues and even be fatal.

If you are worried about the possibility of developing serious complications after pregnancy, please contact your doctor. There are a few things you should be looking out for:

1. Hemorrhage

However you deliver your baby, you will experience vaginal bleeding and discharge, sometimes for up to six weeks after birth. You may experience heavy bleeding for about 10 days and then light bleeding for the rest of that time period as your body expels the extra nutrients and tissue used to grow your fetus.

However, excessive bleeding is one of the most serious postpartum complications you can experience. If your bleeding is heavier than your normal period or gets worse over time, you may be experiencing postpartum hemorrhage. This condition can occur up to 12 weeks after childbirth and occurs in about 2 percent of births. It is also the third most common cause of maternal death in the U.S.

Your doctor will monitor you closely in the hospital to prevent any hemorrhage immediately after birth. But, if you experience excessive bleeding once you return home, contact your doctor right away.

2. Infections

Your body goes through a lot of stress when you give birth, whether it’s vaginally or by C-section. This, combined with the potential for tearing and introduction of bacteria, can lead to infections. There are a few of these kinds of complications after pregnancy — including uterine infections, infection of C-section incisions, kidney infections and more.

Here are a few signs of postpartum infection to watch out for:

  • High fever and flu-like symptoms
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Swollen, tender uterus
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Red, swollen skin or draining pus around incision site
  • Urinary frequency, strong urge to urinate or painful urination
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or back
  • Constipation
  • Generally feeling sick

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Left untreated, these postpartum problems can lead to serious issues such as toxic shock.

3. Mastitis and Clogged Milk Ducts

If you decide to breastfeed after delivery, there will be a learning curve in which you may experience soreness of your breasts and nipples. However, there are more serious breast complications after childbirth that can emerge, too.

Mastitis is an infection caused by bacteria and exacerbated by reduced immunity from the stress of delivery. Clogged ducts occur when there is blockage in the milk ducts of the breast. Both complications have symptoms of throbbing pain, redness and swollen breasts. If you think you may be experiencing one of these issues, reach out to your doctor or your lactation consultant for guidance.

4. Endometritis

Endometritis is a condition that causes bacterial inflammation of the uterine lining. The condition is often causes by prolonged labor, membrane rupture and C-section deliveries. If left untreated, it can lead to blood and blood vessel infections, pelvic abscesses and septic shock. Symptoms are similar to other signs of postpartum infection: high fever, abdominal pain, vaginal discharge and more.

5. Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a common complication after childbirth. It involves symptoms of loss of interest, sadness, fatigue, weight loss, insomnia and more. While the “baby blues” are normal as a new mother adjusts to her changing hormone levels and the responsibility of caring for a baby, if the symptoms last for weeks, it can be a sign of a more serious mental illness. Postpartum depression doesn’t just occur among new biological mothers; birth mothers and adoptive parents can also develop this condition because of the stress and emotion of childbirth and the loss or addition of a new child in their life.

6. Rectal, Uterine or Bladder Prolapse

After childbirth, many of your organs have to shift back to their original size and location in your body — and this movement can sometimes lead to them slipping out of place. Symptoms include pulling sensations in the abdomen and discomfort and difficulty with urination and defecation. Your doctor is the best person to determine the severity of your prolapse and recommend the best treatment.

7. Thyroiditis

Thyroiditis — an inflammation of the thyroid gland — can occur in new mothers due to the increase of anti-thyroid antibodies in the bloodstream. This complication may, in turn, cause hypothyroidism (weight loss, nausea, fatigue) and hyperthyroidism (tiredness, mood swings, insomnia and heart palpitations). If something feels “off” after your delivery, you may be experiencing either of these postpartum complications.

8. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

As your body heals from childbirth, it needs to create clots to stop excessive bleeding. Sometimes, these clots can partly or completely block the flow of blood in a blood vessel. If you feel pain, swelling, redness, warmth or tenderness in your legs, you may be experiencing a clot in your lower leg or thigh. Contact your doctor right away if you are showing the symptoms of this complication after childbirth.

9. Pulmonary Embolism

If a clot develops in your lungs, it is known as a pulmonary embolism. This is a serious condition; it can affect your ability to breathe and cause chest pain, coughing or gasping for air. If you experience these symptoms, call an ambulance right away. Pulmonary embolism is a serious emergency that can cause death.

10. Postpartum Preeclampsia

You’ve probably heard about preeclampsia during pregnancy — but did you know this condition can develop after pregnancy, too? Preeclampsia causes high blood pressure and troubles with important organs (such as kidneys and liver). Symptoms of this complication after giving birth include:

  • Changes in vision
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headache
  • Pain in the upper right belly or in the shoulder
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Swelling in the hands, legs or face

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.

11. Urine Retention

If you are unable to pass urine within six hours of your delivery, you are likely experiencing urine retention. While it may be difficult and painful to urinate after delivery (due to swelling, bruising, stitches and more), it’s incredibly important to flush the toxins from your body. Let your doctor know right away if you’re having trouble peeing after childbirth.

In an ideal pregnancy, these post-labor complications will never arise — but there is always the possibility. To learn more about these complications and how you can protect yourself during your postpartum recovery, please speak with your doctor.