Most pregnant women expect to feel a bit sore and uncomfortable after giving birth.
After all, pregnancy and birth might be among the most amazing things you’ll ever do, but they definitely involve peak physical performance.
Expectant mamas are warned to expect some pretty intense discomfort in the first days after birth, as their bodies return to a non-pregnant state.
What many women don’t realise is the discomfort can have a positive purpose.
Afterbirth Pains – What You Need To Know
In the first few days after your baby's birth, you might experience what are known as afterbirth pains. This can come as quite a surprise if you were expecting all aches and pains to disappear after birth.
What Are Afterbirth Pains?
Before you become pregnant, your uterus is about the size of a large pear.
During pregnancy, it stretches to accommodate your growing baby, and by full term, your uterus is about the size of a watermelon.
After the birth of your baby, it needs to return to its pre-pregnancy size.
This shrinking down, a process called involution, takes about six weeks, although most of it happens in the first few days after birth.
At the moment of birth, your body produces high levels of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for uterine contractions.
This peak of oxytocin sends signals to the uterus, causing it to shrink and contract, and encouraging the placenta to sheer away from the uterine wall. It also ensures blood vessels are ‘clamped’ to prevent excessive bleeding after birth.
Afterbirth pains can happen regardless of how you have your baby – whether via a normal vaginal birth or by c-section.
What Do Afterbirth Pains Feel Like?
When your uterus contracts, the feeling can be similar to the cramps you experience during your menstrual period.
First time mothers typically find their afterbirth pains are quite mild, or they don’t notice them at all. With each subsequent birth, they can become more uncomfortable.
This is because first time mothers generally have better uterine muscle tone, which allows the uterus to contract and stay contracted. After each baby, the uterus has less muscle tone and is more like to relax and contract intermittently, making the process more painful.
C-section mamas might experience a tugging or pulling sensation accompanying their afterbirth cramps. This is normal, but if you have any concerns, discuss them with your care provider.
How Long Will I Feel Afterbirth Pains?
Post birth cramping is most intense in the first few days after giving birth. Usually around the third day you will notice the pains have lessened in intensity. It takes about six weeks for your uterus to return to its normal size.
Breastfeeding can trigger afterbirth cramps or make them feel more intense. This is because your baby’s suckling triggers the release of oxytocin, which also makes your uterus contract.
Although afterbirth pains are uncomfortable, breastfeeding after birth is one of nature’s ways to ensure your uterus shrinks down, and reduces your risk of a postpartum bleed.
If you are still experiencing very strong afterbirth cramping 4-6 weeks after birth, let your care provider know, so you can be checked for any complications.
How Do I Relieve Afterbirth Pains?
You might not experience cramps after birth, but it helps if you are prepared for them. Most care providers recommend new mothers have ibuprofen on hand, in case of severe cramping after birth.
If you prefer to avoid taking medications, you can try some of the following remedies:
- Try to empty your bladder frequently. A full bladder interferes with the uterus contracting
- Place a warm heat pack over your belly
- Gently massage your lower belly
- Lie face down, with either a pillow or heat pack under your belly
- Use movement during the cramps – such as spiralling your hips, drawings your legs up and out, or rocking through the cramps
- Breathe slowly and deeply through the cramps
- There are several herbs that have traditionally been used to ease postpartum cramping and pain – such as crampbark, yarrow, Black Haw bark, valerian and catnip. When taking herbs, check with your care provider with regard to safety and dosage – especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Rest And Recuperate
Afterbirth pains are usually at their most intense in the first three days, which means you can take full advantage of resting.
Create a nest for yourself and your baby, and keep your remedies for dealing with post birth cramps close to hand. Enlist the support of your partner, family, friends or a post natal doula to ensure you get the rest you need in the days after birth.
Three days is the perfect amount of time to recuperate from birth and spend the time bonding with your baby. Your milk will come in around the three day mark and you might feel an emotional wobble around this time, as hormones switch about again.
If you’ve rushed to get back on your feet, trying to deal with this, as well as painful cramps, can set you back a bit. Give yourself permission to rest and let your uterus do the marvellous work of protecting you from post partum bleeding.