After all the anticipation, you’ll be excited to bring your little one home. Your new bundle of joy is sure to be the centre of attention—and rightly so! However, it’s important to take care of yourself too during the postpartum period.
It takes time to recover from labour and birth, with all the physical, hormonal, and emotional changes that happen to your body. It’s likely you’ll have some pain and discomfort in the weeks after you give birth, and you may feel tired and sore.
There are a number of health complications that can happen in the postpartum period, some of them very serious. Life-threatening conditions include infections, blood clots, postpartum depression and postpartum haemorrhage, according to the World Health Organization.
What to look out for
The list of warning signs and symptoms may seem scary and overwhelming. Chances are, you’ll have an uneventful pregnancy and birth, and you’ll recover just fine too.
But knowledge is power, right? By learning what’s normal and what isn’t, you can go into the postpartum phase feeling confident and informed—and prepared to act, just in case.
All mamas should watch out for these signs and symptoms:
- Shortness of breath when you’re resting or lying down, or that wakes you up at night
- Chest pain
- Pain or swelling in one of your legs, especially the calf
- Coughing up blood
- A temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius
- Chills or flu-like symptoms
- New or worsening pain in your vaginal area
- New or worsening abdominal pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding that soaks one pad per hour for two hours, or that contains blood clots larger than a plum
- Pain or burning when you urinate
- New or worsening pain or redness in your breast or breasts
- Feeling like you want to harm yourself or your baby
- Just generally not feeling well or right
Headaches are another troublesome sign, especially if they are accompanied by confusion, memory loss, vision changes, a fever, or vomiting. If your headache is so severe that it awakens you from sleep or can’t be relieved by pain medication, that’s a definite sign something isn’t right.
If you have a caesarean birth, you’ll want to pay attention to how your incision heals. Look out for:
- redness around your incision
- significant drainage from the incision
- discharge or unpleasant odour from the incision (this can be green or yellow)
- new or worsening pain in your incision
- pain not relieved by pain medication
This list isn’t exhaustive, and if you experience any of the above symptoms, or something just doesn’t feel right, call your healthcare professional or go to accident and emergency right away. It’s best to go to a hospital with a labour and delivery unit, ideally the hospital where you gave birth. However, if you can’t make it there, head to the closest medical centre. What matters is that you get effective treatment quickly.
It’s not always easy to tell if something is a true emergency, so use your best judgement—even if your concern isn’t on this list. If you're unsure, don’t brush it off.
“Speak up and be persistent about getting your concerns addressed,” Dr. Rankins advises. “Err on the side of caution and call or go in if needed.”
New mum Emily was diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia just a few days after she gave birth.
She experienced only one tell-tale symptom: high blood pressure. The reading was so high “it looked like a fake number” on the at-home blood pressure monitor she had been using. At first she chalked it up to being tired and overwhelmed and using the monitor incorrectly, but her midwife encouraged her to go to the hospital. “She said, ‘It could be one of a lot of things, but why don’t you just go back to L&D and get it checked out.’”
Emily spent two nights in the hospital, where she was diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia. Not only did she not know preeclampsia could happen after birth, but “I learned that it can happen a really long way out after delivery,” (up to 6 weeks).
Monitoring your body’s signals and listening to your instincts can help ensure your safety during the postpartum period.
Advocating for yourself
Pregnancy-related problems can occur up to 12 months after birth. Here are five ways to keep your health top of mind during this time:
- Stay on top of your postpartum visits with your healthcare provider, even if you feel fine.
- Tell any healthcare provider you see that you were recently pregnant, for up to one year after birth.
- If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. Call your healthcare provider, any time of day.
- When in doubt, seek help.
- Be persistent. Keep asking questions until your concerns are addressed.
Again, some discomfort is to be expected after you give birth (and it does get better!)
Keep this information handy so it’s there when you need it. Consider sharing it with your partner, family members and close friends so they can look out for you as well. Read our postpartum support network guide to learn how to better manage your lifestyle after birth.
Your postpartum period is an important time to be in tune with your body and practice self-care. Stay safe and stay healthy, so you can enjoy your role as a new mum. We have a range of birth recovery products to help mums manage their postpartum pain and discomfort.