It’s difficult to know, especially for first-time parents, what is and what isn’t normal post-giving birth. There’s a variety of physical changes from vaginal discharge and bleeding to breast engorgement and urinary incontinence. There are also emotional and psychological changes to boot. There are however postpartum symptoms that you should not ignore. Here are some crucial ones.
Postpartum haemorrhage is a substantial loss of blood after childbirth. It is life-threatening if left untreated and should be addressed with urgency. A symptom of postpartum haemorrhage is an increase in heavy bleeding resulting in soaking several pads per hour. It is one of the most common complications and risks after giving birth. It often occurs immediately after delivery or about a month after. Women who have prolonged labours or c-sections are at a higher risk. Bleeding is supposed to get lighter every day so if you experience an increase in bleeding or a really heavy flow about two weeks out, you should speak to your doctor.
Shortness of breath
New moms are at a higher risk for developing blood clots after childbirth for about 6-8 weeks. The danger with blood clots is they travel and can get to the lungs causing what is known as a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is potentially fatal, and symptoms include obstructed breathing or shortness of breath and chest pain. Another symptom is a cough that brings up pink, frothy mucus. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience shortness of breath or sudden chest pain postpartum.
A retained placenta is a condition in which a part of the placenta remains in the uterus after delivery. Symptoms include fever, excessive bleeding and clots and cramping. This can happen because the cervix closed before the entire placenta was expelled or because the uterus did not contract enough to push the placenta out or even because the placenta was unable to detach from the uterus. A retained placenta increases the risk of postpartum haemorrhage so if you experience excessive bleeding and clots with cramping and fever, seek medical attention.
Mild headaches and general pain are normal after birth. It’s a stressful time, you’re probably not getting enough sleep or rest. A headache that does not go away even after you take a painkiller that usually works could be a sign of a problem like postpartum preeclampsia or an impending stroke. Women who are given an epidural for pain often develop what is called a post-dural headache. A severe headache that gets worse when standing or sitting and that doesn’t resolve using the usual measures is cause for concern, speak to your doctor.
A high fever could mean a postpartum infection in the urinary tract, the perineum or the area of a c-section incision. You should call your doctor immediately in case of a high fever.
Mood swings and anxiety
If you are experiencing mood swings, troubling thoughts, and anxiety, it could be a sign of postpartum depression. You should be especially concerned if these thoughts are about hurting yourself and/or your baby. It’s a stressful period and feeling overwhelmed is expected but if you find yourself consistently in the dumps and feeling worse with time, it may be time to speak to your doctor. Postpartum depression is real and it’s not a moral failing on your part, just a medical condition that requires medical attention.
Other general symptoms you shouldn’t ignore include:
- Leg pain and swelling
- Exhaustion, dizziness and feeling generally unwell
- Blurred vision
- Insatiable thirst
- Severe chest pain
- Urinary tract infection
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