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Postpartum Care: What to Expect and When to Call the Doctor

Katlyn Joy |17, July 2012


After having your baby you won't spend much time in the hospital these days. Next thing you know you're healing up on your own sofa and wondering, "Is it normal to feel this way?", "Should I be worried that this is happening?"

Discharge and Bleeding

The vaginal discharge that occurs after childbirth is called lochia. This discharge will range from heavier bleeding than a period, complete with clots, to a spotting, then a yellowish discharge. It will stop completely within several weeks. This is the blood and tissue that lined the uterus during your pregnancy.

Call the doctor if the discharge gets lighter then suddenly becomes heavy and bright red, or has a definite foul smell and especially if accompanied by fever or feeling ill.


A few days after giving birth, your milk will come in. If you don't know what that means, just wait until it happens. It is general an unmistakable experience, with a big increase in size and painful engorgement. The first few weeks of breastfeeding may be difficult due to the soreness. Try ice packs after nursing, and heat pads prior to nursing sessions to see if that eases the discomfort.

If you aren't breastfeeding, consult your doctor on the best methods to ease the pain while waiting for your milk to dry up. Some women swear by placing cabbage leaves on their engorged breasts.

Call the doctor if you have difficulty nursing or the pain interferes with breastfeeding success. Also, if you should notice a red bump in your breast that is swollen and hard and especially painful, you should talk to the doctor as it may be a sign of a breast infection called mastitis.

Bathroom Issues

After giving birth, it may be painful to go to the bathroom especially if you had an episiotomy and your stitches have yet to heal. Try the antiseptic sprays that provide numbing relief, and use a spray bottle to keep the area clean without painful wiping.

You may be given a stool softener to help ease you back into the swing of things. Constipation is a common irritation postpartum. Hemorrhoids are frequently problematic after giving birth too, so try to drink plenty of water and increase your fiber intake.

A bit less common, but not worrisome, is incontinence which may be bowel or urinary. This can happen if your muscles became overly stretched during childbirth. Time and Kegel stretches should help.

Call the doctor if the hemorrhoids or constipation are becoming unbearable. You may need some extra help for awhile.


After pains, or contractions, will continue for awhile even after your home. Your uterus is shrinking back to normal size and the muscles contracting will feel not unlike menstrual cramps. You may try a heating pad or a pain reliever that is OK'd by your physician.

Call the doctor if the pains are sharper and increasing, or accompanied by fever.


One of the biggest issues after giving birth is just being plain exhausted. You may want to sleep nonstop, but of course baby will have something to say about that. You may also feel achy or sore, in a variety of places, depending how labor went. You should put your feet up to ease aching feet and reduce swelling.

Take it easy, and follow any hospital discharge instructions such as on when to drive, whether you can handle stairs yet, and what the weight load is that you may safely lift.

Call the doctor if your fatigue is not improving and seems troubling to your mother or other female relatives who have given birth before. If you have a fever or experience increasing pains, consult your physician.

Baby Blues

You know how hormones can affect your moods and after giving birth, expect the wildest hormone ride ever. The huge change in your body system can give rise to tears and unexplained sadness in the first couple weeks after baby arrives. Just give yourself time and permission to feel your emotions. Let loved ones help you out and trust that you will feel better.

Call the doctor if your baby blues are becoming more severe and perhaps postpartum depression. Depression will involve a withdrawal, a persistent sadness, extreme lethargy, appetite changes, and a feeling of dread, hopelessness or worse such as feelings of unworthiness or even thoughts of harm yourself, or possibly your child. If you feel any of these, please tell your loved ones and seek help from your doctor right away. Putting it off because you feel guilty or embarrassed can make the situation far worse.

Related Articles

What to Expect Postpartum: Your Period

After Pregnancy: Postpartum Care

Your Body after Baby: What to Expect & When

After Your Cesarean: Taking Care of Yourself

After Birth: Taking Care of Mom


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