What are the Possible Postpartum Complications?

What are the Possible Postpartum Complications?

If you’ve recently given birth, we’re guessing your universe likely revolves around the tiny addition to your family.

And while your mama game is strong (feeding, comforting, changing, adoring), it’s important that you prioritize your own health too.

Giving birth is a big deal—and postpartum complications can happen.

Here’s what to look out for in your postpartum recovery.

In this article: 📝

  • Symptoms of a setback after pregnancy
  • What are some common postpartum complications?
  • How long can postpartum complications last?
  • What are signs and symptoms of postpartum infection?
  • What are the danger signs of postpartum bleeding?

Symptoms of a setback after pregnancy

The postpartum period (sometimes called the fourth trimester because it’s such a crucial part of a healthy pregnancy) can be pretty uncomfortable.

Your body is recovering from an action-packed adventure ‒ no easy feat.

Add to this the fact that your hormones are really doing a number on you right now, and it’s totally normal to be feeling out of sorts.

But how do you know when the postpartum pregnancy symptoms you are experiencing are worth worrying about?

Before we dive in, listen up: your health matters. If you’re at all concerned, don’t hesitate to check in with your healthcare provider.

We know you have a lot on your plate right now, but your health is not something that can be put on the back burner.

What are some common postpartum complications?

Here is a list of postpartum complications. There is treatment available for these complications, and the sooner you get the help you need, the sooner you can start feeling better:

  • Postpartum infections and sepsis: Keep reading below for a list of common postpartum infections and their symptoms.
  • Excessive bleeding: This is usually defined as soaking through more than one pad an hour. We’ll talk more about this below.
  • Postpartum mental health challenges, including postpartum depression, anxiety, and psychosis. The combination of hormonal shifts and the life changes that come with having a new baby mean that it’s normal to experience what is known as the baby blues. But if these feelings persist or get worse, it may signal that you require treatment. (If that feels overwhelming, start by reaching out to your Peanut community. There are so many new mamas going through the same thing.)
  • Breastfeeding challenges, such as clogged ducts and mastitis. These can happen even if you aren’t breastfeeding. Clogged ducts will feel like a tender lump in your breast. Mastitis is a breast infection that causes a fever, breast swelling and pain, and possibly discharge or blood in your milk.

Beyond those common issues, there are also some more rare postpartum complications.

These sound scary, but rest assured, your doctor will be monitoring you for these conditions, so you’re in good hands.

  • Stroke. This is incredibly rare—as in it only appears to happen in about 34 of every 100,000 deliveries—but it is possible. Symptoms include sudden numbness in the face, arm, or leg, confusion, dizziness, and trouble seeing. If you or a loved one display these symptoms, call 911 right away.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Peripartum cardiomyopathy means your heart becomes larger during delivery and may lead to heart failure. It can happen any time in the six-month window starting from the last month of your pregnancy, though it usually happens soon after delivery.
  • Pulmonary embolism. This is when a blood clot blocks an artery in your lung. This is a serious one and can be fatal if not treated immediately. Luckily, it’s not common—0.45 in every 1000 births—but is still a risk worth being aware of.

How long can postpartum complications last?

It all depends on what complications you are experiencing and how soon you get treatment.

For example, some infections can be cured in a week with antibiotics, while postpartum depression can last for months.

The first two weeks after you give birth are crucial, as this is the period when you are at the highest risk of developing postpartum complications.

And the risk of postpartum infection can continue right up to six weeks after your baby is born.

We know it’s easier said than done with everything going on right now, but it’s important to listen to your body at this time and pay attention to any signs that things are not as they should be.

What are signs and symptoms of postpartum infection?

Whether you have a cesarean or vaginal birth, postpartum infections can happen.

There are a number of different types of infections, and it may be tricky to tell the difference between an infection and the “normal” discomfort that comes with the postpartum period.

Here’s what to be on the lookout for.

Uterine infection

Puerperal endometritis is a bacterial infection in the lining of your uterus. It is typically diagnosed within five days of giving birth.

This kind of postpartum infection is more likely to happen if you have an unplanned cesarean, happening in about 15 to 20% of all births of this kind.

Signs to watch out for are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sore or swollen belly
  • Vaginal discharge that has a bad smell or blood in it
  • Pain when you pee or have sex
  • Feeling achy and unwell

If you feel any of these symptoms, get to your doctor. Puerperal endometritis can be treated with antibiotics and will resolve quickly in most cases.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

UTIs happen in 2-4% of all deliveries, with an increased risk if you have had a catheter.

The most common symptoms are frequent and painful peeing. You may also have a fever and lower back pain.

The danger of UTIs is that they can spread to the kidneys, so the sooner you get treatment, the better.

Wound infection

Surgical site infections happen in about three to five percent of cesarean births.

Symptoms include:

  • Redness and swelling at the surgical site
  • Pus discharge from the cut
  • Severe pain in your abdomen
  • High fever
  • Vaginal discharge that has a bad odor
  • Painful urination

If you do have an infection, it can be treated with antibiotics—but it’s important that you get help as soon as possible.

What are the danger signs of postpartum bleeding?

Somewhere between one and five percent of new mamas experience postpartum hemorrhage.

Basically, this is heavy bleeding after giving birth. It usually happens just after the placenta is delivered, but it can also happen later.

One of the most common reasons for postpartum hemorrhage is that the blood vessels around where the placenta was attached start bleeding after the placenta is delivered.

Tears in your vagina, cervix, or uterus can also cause excess bleeding.

If you have placental abruption (where the placenta detaches early) or placenta previa (where the placenta is covering the opening of the cervix), postpartum hemorrhage may be more likely.

High blood pressure and blood clotting disorders can also increase the risk.

If you are bleeding heavily and/or notice large blood clots (bigger than a quarter), get to your doctor.

Decreased blood pressure and increased heart rate can also be signs that something is not right.

So, to sum up, here are the big alarm bells for postpartum complications:

  • High fever
  • Severe pain in your abdomen
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Vaginal discharge that has a bad odor
  • Trouble peeing
  • Generally feeling unwell

If you feel any of these symptoms, it’s worth getting to your doctor as soon as possible. Your health matters.

Look after yourself, mama.


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