Postpartum Emergencies to Know About

Find out which symptoms warrant a call to your healthcare provider

A mom holding her baby.
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The postpartum period is rarely discussed, so what you experience may surprise and perhaps even concern you. Fatigue, soreness, headaches, fever, or bleeding, for example, may come along with the to-be-expected discomfort that comes after delivery and nine months of your internal organs shifting to make room for your baby. It's common to question whether a symptom is normal or not when you likely aren't feeling much like your usual self and especially in the first six weeks after having your child.

As a new mom, your first impulse may be to put yourself on the back burner. However, to best care for your newborn, you'll need to be healthy—and that means caring for yourself. Start by listening to your body and learning which postpartum issues warrant a call to your healthcare provider.

Postpartum Health Issues

Giving birth certainly takes a toll on your body. Some common postpartum health issues you may encounter include:

While most postpartum health issues are minor and experienced by many woman, some concerns require medical attention.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your physician, midwife, or other healthcare provider immediately if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • Chills or fever of 101 degrees F or greater: A fever after childbirth maybe a sign of a endometritis, an inflammation on the lining of the uterus (womb) caused from infection, or other infection.
  • Difficulty urinating: If you continue to experience pain during urination after the first few days, it may be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
  • Blurred vision, headaches, or dizziness: This may be a sign of high blood pressure or postpartum preeclampsia.
  • IV-site pain: While some discomfort near the IV site is to be expected, pain or excessive swelling may indicate an infection.
  • Sore breasts with flu-like symptoms: As your milk comes in, most women experience a degree of pain or discomfort in their breasts and it's hard to know what's normal. If you have soreness, pain with flu-like symptoms, and/or red streaks appearing on the breasts, it could signal mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue).
  • Persistent abdominal pain: As your uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size and your organs shift back to their original place, some pain will occur. But if the pain persists, call your healthcare provider.
  • Painful perineum: Some pain and itching is to be expected as the perineum heals, but if it is prolonged, there may be an infection.
  • Heavy bleeding: If you need to change a soaked menstrual pad every one to two hours, with or without clots, there may be a problem.
  • Shortness of breath: If you are having trouble breathing with or without chest pain, you should be seen by a healthcare provider immediately. It could be a symptom of a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot in your extremities. Other signs include coughing up blood, dizziness, and feeling faint.
  • Pain in the chest, legs, or feet: Any pain that occurs outside your abdominal area could be a sign of a blood clot, such as deep vein thrombosis, and should be checked out.
  • Drainage: Foul-smelling vaginal discharge and any sudden drainage from an episiotomy or C-section incision may indicate an infection.
  • Vomiting: Fluctuating hormones post-pregnancy may cause some women to feel like they have morning sickness all over again. If you are unable to keep food down and experience signs of dehydration, check with your doctor.
  • Overwhelming emotions: Most new moms feel some degree of mood swings—elated one moment and overwhelmed the next. However, if you experience excessive crying, frustration, anger, or feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to care for yourself or your child, you may have postpartum depression and should talk to your doctor.
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Article Sources
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Preeclampsia-and-High-Blood-Pressure-During-Pregnancy

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Postpartum Depression. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Postpartum-Depression

  • March of Dimes. Warning Signs of Health Problems After Birth. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/warning-signs-of-health-problems-after-birth.aspx

  • Mayo Clinic. Labor and Delivery, Postpartum Care. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/postpartum-care/art-20047233