Important and Dangerous Postpartum Warning Signs

Postpartum depression
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Having a baby can leave you feeling tired and weak—that's all very normal. There are also many changes in your body, which can make it really difficult to be able to tell what is going on. When you are feeling like you don't know what's going on, you may wonder if what you're feeling is normal or not. When in doubt—check it out! Call your doctor or midwife for advice.

Serious Postpartum Symptoms

Call your doctor or midwife if you have any of the following postpartum symptoms:

  • A fever of 101 or higher. This is another potential sign of an infection.
  • A foul odor coming from your vagina. This can be a sign of infection.
  • Any type of visual disturbance. You may be experiencing postpartum preeclampsia.
  • Bleeding that soaks a pad every hour for two hours. This may be a sign that you are experiencing pieces of placenta retained in your uterus that may require surgery or that your uterus isn't contracting and is allowing you to bleed too much. 
  • Flu-like symptoms, you might have the flu or mastitis, a breast infection.
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting may mean you have gotten the flu or a virus. Just being postpartum doesn't mean you're immune from everyday illness. (Postpartum vomiting is no fun!)
  • No bleeding whatsoever. This is potentially a problem as well because it is normal to have some discharge for several weeks. If you aren't, call to ask for advice.
  • Pain or redness in one or both of your breasts could be a plugged duct or a breast infection.
  • Pain that doesn't get better or you are still in pain after you run out of pain medication. You may need to have an evaluation and/or referral for additional care. Your pain should be getting better, even if slowly.
  • Pain, warmth, or tenderness in your legs may be a sign of a blood clot. Call your doctor or midwife right away for advice.
  • Problems urinating including the inability to urinate, burning while urinating, or extremely dark urine. This could be dehydration, an infection, or other complication.
  • Severe headaches could be hormonal, or related to blood pressure, but should be checked out.Swelling, redness, or discharge from your cesarean incision or episiotomy site. This may be a sign of infection.
  • The feeling that your uterus is swelling or getting larger. This may be a blood clot or other issue.
  • You have signs of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.

If you have problems breathing, call 911.

This list is certainly lengthy but is not comprehensive. If you have something going on and you do not know what's causing it and you're concerned—get it checked out. There is no harm in that. You may be referred to someone other than your midwife or doctor because it's not pregnancy or postpartum related. That's OK.

A Word From Verywell

Your six week check-up may still be far away, but do not wait to ask for help. Something that is a relatively small issue will grow in size if you wait. This can complicate your recovery and make it harder for you to recover fully.

You may also have trouble telling what is normal and what isn't if you've never had a baby before. Use that nurse call line, if you have access, and ask questions as often as you need to ask them. 

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  1. March of Dimes. Warning signs of health problems after birth. Updated July 18, 2019.

  2. Stewart DE, Vigod S. Postpartum depression. N Engl J Med. 2016;375(22):2177-2186. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1607649