Fever and Other Postpartum Warning Signs

A mom holding her newborn

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With all the excitement and focus on your pregnancy and new baby, the physical and emotional components of postpartum recovery can come as a surprise. The fatigue, soreness, headaches, fever, bleeding, and other aches and pains that come after delivery and nine months of growing a baby may be confusing or even alarm you. However, it's normal for big changes (and some discomfort) to happen during this time of healing and transition for the mother.

Giving birth takes a big toll on your body. You may feel many different sensations in the days and weeks after your baby is born.

It's common to question whether a symptom is normal or not in the first six weeks postpartum as your body adjusts to post-pregnancy. As a new mom, your first impulse may be to put yourself on the back burner, but it's vital to care for yourself as you take care of your newborn. Start by listening to your body and learning which postpartum issues warrant a call to your healthcare provider.

Signs to Look For

Some common postpartum health issues you may encounter include:

  • Bladder problems
  • Body aches
  • Bowel problems
  • Breast engorgement
  • Constipation and hemorrhoids
  • Cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Pain (including in the perineum, back, neck, shoulders)
  • Pelvic bone problems (separated pubic bones or a fractured tailbone)
  • Postpartum bleeding
  • Soreness in the vaginal area

While most postpartum health issues are expected (by doctors), relatively minor (although they may be painful or uncomfortable), and experienced by many women, some concerns require medical attention.

Know that each person's postpartum experience will be unique to them, depending on the specifics of their pregnancy, labor and delivery, medical history, and other factors. If you have any questions or concerns, always call your doctor right away.

Postpartum Emergencies

While most symptoms are typical to postpartum healing, there are some signs that indicate a call to 911 or a visit to the emergency department.  The signs and symptoms that require immediate attention include chest pain, coughing or gasping for air, seizures, thoughts of hurting oneself or one’s baby, severe pain in the lower abdomen, and pain, swelling, and tenderness in the legs.

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Postpartum Fever and Other Signs of Infection

Sometimes an infection may occur in the postpartum period. While a fever or infection is usually not an emergency, you should contact your doctor right away if you experience any signs and symptoms, including the following:

  • Chills or fever of 101 degrees F or greater: A fever after childbirth may be a sign of endometritis, an inflammation of the lining of the uterus (womb) caused by infection, or other infection.
  • IV-site pain: While some discomfort near the IV site is to be expected, pain or excessive swelling may indicate an infection.
  • Painful perineum: Some pain and itching are to be expected as the perineum heals (from stretching or tearing during childbirth), but if it is prolonged, there may be an infection.
  • Sore breasts with flu-like symptoms: As their milk comes in, most women experience some degree of pain or discomfort in their breasts, but if you have pain with flu-like symptoms, fever, and/or red streaks appearing on the breasts, it could signal mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue).

Other Postpartum Warning Signs

Other signs and symptoms to watch out for include the following:

  • Coughing or gasping for air
  • Blurred vision, headaches, or dizziness: This may be a sign of high blood pressure or postpartum preeclampsia.
  • 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.
  • Drainage: Foul-smelling vaginal discharge and any sudden drainage from an episiotomy or c-section incision may indicate an infection.
  • Heavy bleeding: If you need to change a soaked menstrual pad every 1 to 2 hours, with or without clots, there may be a problem.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shortness of breath: Having trouble breathing with or without chest pain, 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.
  • Vomiting: Fluctuating hormones post-pregnancy may cause some women to feel like they have morning sickness all over again. Vomiting can also be a sign of infection. If you are unable to keep food down and experience signs of dehydration, check with your doctor.

Postpartum Checkups

While postpartum doctor visits were once scheduled at 6 weeks postpartum, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends that patients have contact with their doctors within the first 3 weeks, and then a comprehensive exam by 12 weeks

A Word From Verywell

Postpartum discomforts are normal, but it can be challenging to know if what you are experiencing is part of the typical recovery process or a sign of something else. Know that postpartum recovery typically takes several weeks or months, particularly as you are taking on the intensive job of caring for a newborn at the same time. Give your body (and yourself) time, grace, and nurturing as you heal and get back to "normal," but always call your provider if you have any questions or concerns. 

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  9. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Optimizing Postpartum Care.

Additional Reading

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.