Having gone through a complication-free, natural birth, I thought my health was safe. Later, I learned the importance of postpartum care – the hard way.
During my first pregnancy, I hadn’t expected the challenges that come with the postpartum period.
I learned the hard way that the fourth trimester, which starts after childbirth, requires as much attention as the first three.
Luckily enough, in the end, the complications I experienced were mild and turned out to be more embarrassing than anything!
I experienced some pain, which made me worry, but the cause wasn’t very serious, and it was easy to treat.
(I’ll let you in on all the details in a moment.)
But, at the time, I was quite worried.
As a new mother, I didn’t have much knowledge about what happens after you give birth.
Lots of first-time mothers worry about pregnancy and labor, but many don’t realize the importance of the postpartum period.
And that included me.
I think it’s important to prepare for postpartum complications — and understand their possible causes — because it helps take the fear away.
The challenge I faced wasn’t serious, but the fear of not knowing made it seem scary.
So, I’d like to share my experience to help you prepare for postpartum so that both your short-term and long-term well-being is protected.
There were times when being a first-time mother was scary for me.
I hope sharing my story makes your experience easier.
(Note: none of this should be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you’re suffering from postpartum complications, seek professional help!)
In this article: 📝
- What I wish I’d known
- When to seek professional help
- What I learned about the postpartum period
- Tips to prepare for the postpartum chapter
What I wish I’d known
Two weeks after the birth of my first child (my daughter, Iman), I woke up in the middle of the night in agony.
A band of pain made its way to the top of my stomach, under my breastbone.
I found it difficult to breathe, and I was forced to hunch over as the pain didn’t let me straighten my spine.
I had no clue what was going on.
At the time, I was staying with my parents and sister as my husband was traveling for work.
My husband is a doctor, making him my go-to for medical advice.
But since he was away, I had to wake my parents up instead.
They were understandably worried and quickly called the medical helpline.
An on-call night doctor came to the house and examined me, but he was unable to diagnose the exact cause of the pain.
Concerned that it could be a serious complication resulting from childbirth, the doctor called an ambulance to take me to the nearest hospital.
Later, I’d learn the reason behind the pain.
(Spoiler alert: it was much less frightening than we were expecting.)
Statistics show that postpartum complications still affect women globally and why it’s so important to take this part of childbirth seriously:
- This review of global maternal research studies emphasizes the importance of postpartum care to lower the risk of death during the postpartum period.
- Data collected by the World Health Organization shows that developed high-income nations still suffer from pregnancy-related death. And while the rate is decreasing in most nations, the United States is seeing its increase. In the UK, 191 women who died after pregnancy between 2017 and 2019.
- Maternal morbidity rates, i.e., life-threatening conditions that women face as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, are also seeing an increasing trend. I’m sharing these statistics not to scare you but because it’s really important to prepare and keep in close touch with healthcare professionals after giving birth. Many women don’t face complications, so take precautionary steps but don’t worry too much!
When to seek professional help
Some symptoms after the postpartum period, like a high fever and severe pain, indicate postpartum complications.
So if you experience these, get in touch with healthcare professionals as soon as you can.
When I started experiencing complications, the on-call doctor called the ambulance, and I reached A&E after a difficult ambulance ride.
My father sat next to me during the journey, looking really worried, and he continuously rubbed my back to give me some pain relief.
The paramedics were very supportive, but they weren’t too sure about the cause.
We found that out later, after a proper examination.
After reaching the hospital, I was placed in a wheelchair and taken inside, where I eventually found my way to the X-ray department.
The technician went through the usual pre-X-ray routine, asking me certain health-related questions, which included whether I was pregnant (😁) or not.
(Having a two-week-old baby, I had the confidence to give that question a resounding no.)
After the X-ray, I was wheeled back to a waiting area for the doctor’s report.
And after all the uncertainty, the reason for my pain turned out to be (wait for it) postpartum gas!
I have to admit to feeling quite embarrassed.
All of that fuss over postpartum gas!
But it was such a relief to find the root cause.
The doctor prescribed me medicine and spoke to me about the need to get rid of my constipation which was exacerbating the gas, and discharged me.
What I learned about the postpartum period
After that anti-climatic experience, the idea that gas could cause so much pain stayed with me.
I felt I needed to understand more about the postpartum chapter.
So, I started reading about it and asking other mothers about their experiences.
I wanted to learn what could cause problems and how to make this period easier for others.
The first thing I learned is that postpartum gas is actually common and typically settles on its own.
In some cases, it’s an indication of an underlying health condition, such as pelvic floor damage, an episiotomy (an incision to enlarge the opening for vaginal childbirth), or constipation.
Mothers with preexisting bowel conditions can also face more severe problems with gas.
For my condition to have become exacerbated to the point of severe pain, I had to take into account the episiotomy, my diet, and my constipation.
The single most important lesson I learned was not to ignore my own well-being.
For the two weeks after childbirth, my focus had been on learning to breastfeed, diaper changes, and calming a crying baby.
Learning to understand my baby and build a meaningful bond had taken most of my attention, and without realizing it, I had not been listening to my own body’s postpartum needs.
I was actually uncomfortable and embarrassed to discuss the problems I was facing.
Women need a good support system in the postpartum period, including support from their family and the community around them.
(Psst. That’s why Peanut is so valuable!)
After labor, the hormonal and physical processes of the body are different from any other time, and we need to know how to adjust.
So, things like following my old pre-pregnancy diet didn’t help my body recover.
I had been drinking a lot of fluids, as breastfeeding made me extremely thirsty, but this wasn’t enough to prevent constipation.
Constipation and gas were also exacerbated by my inactivity — I was lying down much more than usual for me.
The body needs to heal after labor, even when there are no major complications.
So it’s vital to take care of yourself.
Tips to prepare for the postpartum chapter
My first experience of postpartum pain followed my first labor.
Now, I have five kids — and have been through four more labors and postpartum periods.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot more to help me prepare for postpartum, mainly by talking to mothers from different cultures and generations.
I realized that women across the world have many norms that follow childbirth, which we may no longer see the value of.
But, these customs actually arose from an understanding of a mother’s postpartum needs.
For example, in South-East Asian countries like India and Pakistan, women create special mixes of nuts, called panjeeri, to help women regain their strength after labor.
There is also a popular warm drink called golden milk, made by mixing turmeric and honey into warm milk, which is packed with antioxidants and has many potential health benefits.
Here’s some advice I wished I had been given more clearly before my first childbirth.
1. Take the postpartum period seriously.
It’s important to understand that your body has been through a lot.
And it takes time to regain your strength.
2. It’s important to rest, but avoid being inactive.
Walking around helps to get bodily functions moving, which can help prevent problems such as constipation.
It also slowly rebuilds strength.
3. New mothers need a nutritional diet.
This helps us recover our strength and deal with the requirements of a postpartum body.
Here are 10 ideas for a nutritious postpartum diet to help you out.
4. Find your support system.
Whether it’s your friends, family, professional help, or your Peanut community, a support system helps you through the emotional and physical changes that you’ll go through.
So if you’re going through the same, I feel you!
I hope you get the postpartum care you need.
Wishing you all the best as you recover!