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Postpartum Symptoms: What's Normal & What's Not

Alison Wood |15, May 2013


It's a busy time in your life. You arms are filled with a newborn that demands loads of care and attention, but don't neglect taking care of yourself as well. Postpartum care is very important and can have lasting effects on your health. Your body just underwent major changes and it takes time to return to a somewhat normal body.

As a new mother who's recovering from labor and childbirth, you should know what's normal and what's not so normal during postpartum days. Catching warning signs early can hasten the recovery process.

Normal Postpartum Symptoms

Vaginal bleeding

After delivering a baby, you will experience vaginal bleeding for about 4-6 weeks. This after-birth discharge is called lochia. It is bright red and heavy. You may even experience gushes on several occasions as you stand up from a sitting position. The bleeding should become less and less and eventually turn to pink or brown and then to yellow or white. To prevent infection, tampons are not recommended during the first six weeks of postpartum.

Soreness and pain

You've just delivered a little person. Your personal areas are going to be quite sore from all that pressure, pushing and sometimes a tear or episiotomy. Use ice packs or chilled witch hazel pads to help soothe your pain. Use caution when having a seat and grab a pillow or use a medical, inflatable ring to cushion you as you heal. Try using a water bottle to rinse yourself with warm water during and after urination to ease pain and to fight off infection. Avoid standing and walking for long periods of time. Take short breaks so your body gets a break from added weight on the areas that are healing.

Difficulty urinating

It takes a little time for your urinary system to kick back into action. During labor and delivery you may also have had some bruising or swelling in the urethra or bladder that can inhibit urine flow. Try to relax as you urinate and don't tense up. The first few days of urination will be painful, but the pain does eventually recede. Use a water bottle filled with warm water to help alleviate the pain and encourage urination. Try turning on the water faucet and giving yourself lots of time and privacy. Don't fret about this part of the recovery. The majority of women experience normal, routine urination beginning from a few hours to a few days after delivery.


Some women may develop hemorrhoids during the last trimester of pregnancy or the pushing stage of delivery. This can add a lot of pressure and pain during the postpartum period. Hemorrhoids are stretched or swollen veins located in the anus or lower rectum. If you suffer from hemorrhoids, be sure to eat a diet rich in fiber and keep the liquids coming. A healthy diet can keep your bowel movements regular and stools soft. You may want to ask your doctor for a stool softener for the first few days of postpartum as hemorrhoids are at their worst. Help alleviate the pain by taking warm baths, sitz baths and applying witch hazel pads after a bowel movement.

Engorged breasts

A few days after delivery your breasts may become full, tender and sore. This is called engorgement. During those uncomfortable days, breastfeed your baby more often and ensure your baby is correctly latched on. If a baby is improperly positioned, your nipples can become even sorer and bleed or crack. If your baby is incorrectly latched on, gently break the suction with your finger and then remove the baby from your breast. Try again for proper attachment and do not pull the baby away from your breast without first breaking the suction. This can cause a lot of pain to your breasts.

If you are not breastfeeding, wear a tight bra and compress your breasts. Do not pump your breasts for relief as this just signals your body to make more milk. Use cold compresses to help reduce pain and swelling.

After-birth pains

These are smaller contractions that work to shrink your uterus down to pre-baby size. The pain is typically worse with your second and third deliveries. These contractions will also be stronger during breastfeeding sessions. An over- the -counter pain reliever may help ease the pain of these shrinking contractions.

Abnormal Postpartum Symptoms

Here are some warning signs you need to watch out for. If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your practitioner immediately.

  • You have a pus-like discharge from your episiotomy and the wound has become hot, extremely painful and red.
  • You soak a sanitary pad every hour while lying down.
  • You pass clots of blood that are larger than a golf ball.
  • Your discharge has a foul odor.
  • You develop a fever that is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
  • You have an urge to urinate very frequently.
  • You are not completely emptying your bladder.
  • Your abdomen is tender to the touch.
  • You develop flu-like symptoms.

Source: Mayo Clinic Foundation

Alison Wood is a stay-at-home mom of six and freelance writer and blogger. She enjoys raising her six children and desires to share her experiences to help other mothers.

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