After completing the monumental task that is giving birth, you would think that your body would give you a break and things would be smooth sailing. So we’re sorry to break it to you that even after you’ve welcomed your tiny human into the world, you may experience after-birth pains that can feel very similar to contractions. Read on for the full lowdown…
What are after-birth pains?
After-birth pains, also known as “involution” are a normal occurrence that happens after giving birth. They are sometimes referred to as after pains, postpartum contractions or uterine cramps. The pain is caused by the uterus contracting as it returns to its pre-pregnancy size and shape.
What do they feel like?
After-birth pains can vary in intensity and duration. Some women may experience mild discomfort, while others may have more intense cramping sensations. The contractions are similar to period pains and may feel like waves of pain or pressure in the lower abdomen or back.
Whilst the contractions can feel very uncomfortable, they do actually serve a useful purpose. The contractions are good for shrinking the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size, reducing postpartum bleeding and speeding up the recovery process.
How long do after-birth pains last?
The duration of postpartum after-pains can vary from woman to woman. Typically, after-birth pains start within a few hours after giving birth and can last for a week or more. The intensity and frequency of the pains tend to be more pronounced during the first few days after giving birth and gradually decrease over time.
Why does it hurt more when I’m breastfeeding?
You may notice that the pains are more noticeable when you’re breastfeeding. This is because breastfeeding stimulates the release of the hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin not only helps with milk letdown but also stimulates the uterus to contract and shrink. Think of it like adding turbo-charge to the uterus to make it contract even quicker.
Does the pain get worse with each baby?
Yes, we’re afraid so. For first-time mothers, after-birth pains are often milder and shorter in duration. You may not really even notice that they’re happening.
In contrast, mamas who have done the baby-thing before may experience more intense and longer-lasting after-birth pains. The uterine muscles will have already undergone some pretty extensive stretching and relaxation during previous pregnancies. This will make the muscles more sensitive (read: painful) when contracting, especially when breastfeeding.
Will I still experience after-birth pains if I have a C-section?
After-birth pains are not exclusive to women who deliver vaginally and can occur after both vaginal birth and C-section. Although the baby is delivered through an incision in the abdomen and uterus during a C-Section, the uterus still needs to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size after birth.
However, there is some good news for C-section mamas. There has been some research which shows that after-birth pains were milder after a C-Section compared to a vaginal birth. This may be because the uterine contractions during a C-section are typically more controlled and direct, reducing the stretching of the uterine muscles.
How can I ease after-birth pains?
There are several ways to alleviate the discomfort of after-birth pains:
- Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers like paracetamol and ibuprofen can be effective in managing after-birth discomfort. Always consult with your midwife though before taking any medication, especially if you are breastfeeding.
- Heat application: Applying a heating pad or warm compress to the lower abdomen can help alleviate the cramping sensation.
- Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, or taking warm baths can help reduce the discomfort.
- Positioning: Finding a comfortable position, such as lying on your side or using pillows for support, can help ease the pain.
After-birth pains are a normal part of the postpartum recovery process. However, if the pain becomes severe, accompanied by heavy bleeding, or if you have concerns, it’s essential to contact your midwife or GP straightaway.
When should I be concerned?
While postpartum after-pains are a normal part of the birth recovery process, there are certain situations where you should pay a bit more attention. Here are some signs that may indicate there’s a problem:
- Severe or worsening pain: If the after-birth pains are extremely intense, debilitating, or if the pain continues to worsen instead of gradually improving over time, it is recommended to contact with your midwife ASAP.
- Excessive bleeding: If you are experiencing heavy bleeding that soaks through more than one sanitary pad per hour or if you are passing large blood clots (larger than a golf ball), it is important to seek immediate medical attention. This could be a sign of postpartum haemorrhage, a serious complication that requires prompt treatment.
- Foul-smelling discharge or fever: If you notice a foul odour from vaginal discharge or if you develop a fever (temperature of 38°C or higher), it may indicate an infection. Infections in the postpartum period can cause increased pain and discomfort and require medical intervention.
- Other worrying symptoms: If you have other concerning symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or any other symptoms that are worrying you, speak to your midwife or health visitor straightaway.
Remember that each woman’s postpartum recovery is unique, and it’s important to listen to your body and trust your instincts. If you have any doubts or concerns about your after-birth pains, it’s always best to reach out to your midwife, health visitor or GP for appropriate advice and reassurance.
Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.