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Giving birth is one of the most physically transforming events most women will go through in their lifetime. Some compare it to running a marathon. While it’s exciting to meet and care for your new baby, it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on with your own health. While most mothers leave the hospital without any problems, here are a few things to look out for once you get home.
1) Heavy bleeding
A certain amount of bleeding is normal after both a vaginal and cesarean birth. But if you notice you are soaking through more than one pad in an hour at home or passing an egg-sized clot or bigger, these may be signs of a postpartum hemorrhage.
In fact, hemorrhaging after birth can happen if not all pieces of the placenta are expelled after delivery. Most often this is picked up shortly after delivery while mothers are still in the hospital. However, on rare occasions, this type of hemorrhage can occur weeks after birth. If you have any of these signs, call your doctor or midwife right away.
2) A temperature of 100.4° F or higher
A fever after birth can indicate various types of infection. For example, a fever that is accompanied by bad smelling vaginal bleeding or discharge could mean an infection of a laceration to the perineum or an episiotomy that occurred during delivery.
On the other hand, if you are breastfeeding and see areas of redness on your breasts that feel hot and tender to touch, these are signs of a breast infection. Mothers will often experience fever and flu-like symptoms with this kind of infection.
If you end up with an infection, your provider will prescribe antibiotics accordingly.
3) An incision that is not healing
If you had a cesarean birth, it is important for you or your partner to look at your incision site at least once a day to watch for any signs of infection. If you notice any redness or discharge at the site or if the area becomes increasingly painful, alert your health care provider right away.
Surgical sites that are not healing properly may lead to further infections of the uterus or abdomen. Therefore, it’s important to look out for early signs that something is out of the ordinary.
4) Painful headache
Some women experience changes in blood pressure during their pregnancy or while in labor. If you notice you have a painful headache that is not relieved by pain medication or if you experience changes in your vision, these could be signs of high blood pressure or post birth preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a medical condition characterized by high blood pressure that most often occurs during pregnancy but in some cases can occur after giving birth. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to stroke or seizures.
If you have any of these signs, call 911 immediately or go to your nearest emergency room.
5) Red or swollen legs
During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases to about 50% of its normal volume making mothers more at risk for developing blood clots. Blood clots commonly develop in the deep veins of the leg, usually in the calf area, and can travel to the lungs if left untreated.
If you notice one of your legs has a red, swollen area and is warm or painful to touch, seek medical care. Chest pain or shortness of breath are signs that the clot has traveled to your lungs. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.
6) Low mood or lack of energy
Having a baby is a huge adjustment both physically and emotionally. About 80% of new mothers will go through a short period called the baby blues where they may experience feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or teary. This often passes on its own in a few weeks but some mothers may go on to develop more persistent feelings of low mood or lack of energy or enjoyment in activities. These are signs of postpartum depression and should be alerted to your doctor or midwife.
Postpartum depression is usually a temporary condition and is very treatable. In severe cases, some mothers may have suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming their baby. Call 911 if you experience this. On the other hand, therapy and medication can help with postpartum depression. Fortunately, there are various support groups and programs for mothers experiencing any of these symptoms.
In the end, trust your instincts. If something just doesn’t feel right and you’re not sure what to do, get medical help. There is never any harm in being cautious about your health, especially when you’ve just had a baby. Taking care of yourself is the first step in becoming a new mom and your baby and family will thank you for being healthy and safe.
Author bio: Allison Flynn is a postpartum nurse and lactation consultant on the Jersey shore. She became interested in writing in her current studies as a graduate student of nursing education. In her spare time, you can find her walking her dog along the boardwalk, cooking, and playing violin.