About Postpartum Lower Abdominal Pain

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New mothers may experience pain and soreness after childbirth, especially in the lower abdominal region. The physical exertion of labor and birth strain these tissues, and recovery can take six to eight weeks. But if the pain does not subside, increases or lasts longer than normal, the cause should be identified and treated.

Achy muscles

After giving birth, you can expect some soreness of the abdominal muscles and tenderness of the perineum (pelvic floor.) Your muscles will need a few days to recover if you experienced any labor at all. For moms who give birth surgically via cesarean section, they also commonly report pain, itching and stinging at the site of the incision. Regardless of the method of delivery, remember to take the pain relievers your doctor prescribes, get plenty of rest and try not to do too much, or you will experience more pain, bleeding and delay in getting back to normal activities.

Cramps

The uterus is a large muscle with many blood vessels woven in between the muscle fibers. As it involutes (returns to its pre-pregnancy size) after your baby’s birth, you will feel some contractions similar to menstrual cramps. Also called “afterpains,” these cramps begin immediately after the delivery of the baby and aid in the expulsion of the placenta, as well as reducing the flow of blood to the uterus. It is extremely important for the uterus to shrink down to about the size of a grapefruit within an hour or so after delivery to avoid hemorrhage. By ten days postpartum, the uterus has usually contracted down to a non-pregnant size.

Hemorrhage

If the uterus does not clamp down on the arteries intertwined with the muscle fibers, the site of the placenta can bleed heavily and endanger the mother. Extreme pain within the first few hours after childbirth can indicate hemorrhage, when blood clots may form in the uterus. To reduce the risk of hemorrhage, doctors routinely give patients a dose of pitocin after their baby’s birth to encourage involution. Breastfeeding aids in the involution of the uterus by releasing oxytocin into the bloodstream, which causes contractions and also reduces the risk of hemorrhage.

Infections

Harmful bacteria can be introduced to the mother’s body during childbirth, via cervical exams, obstetric tools or cesarean surgery. Some women who choose epidural pain relief get urinary tract infections from the catheter inserted into the bladder. Mothers who deliver by c-section may develop an infection at the incision site. Endometritis, an infection of the uterine lining, can occur following childbirth regardless of the method of delivery. These infections may be associated with pelvic pain, a burning sensation in the region, fever, body aches, and foul-smelling discharge. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat maternal infections.

Constipation

Many new mothers have difficulty with the first few bowel movements after childbirth. The muscles around the rectum may be slack and fatigued, the perineum may have stitches from repairing a tear or episiotomy and the hormones needed for labor slow down the digestive system. In addition, the medications used for pain relief and the iron supplements commonly given to women to prevent anemia after childbirth also cause constipation. If you have discomfort from slow or painful bowel movements, drink plenty of water, boost the fiber in your diet and eat dried fruit like prunes or raisins. You can also try a stool softener or take a magnesium supplement to help get things moving.

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